By Jake Donovan
It’s been a pairing deemed too good to be true, just a matter of time before the consensus top two pound-for-pound boxers in the world become too big to continue to appear on the same shows together. For the third time in as many outings, Gennady Golovkin and Roman Gonzalez co-headline an HBO-distributed event. Only, this weekend’s showing could prove to be the last.
For now, fans get to witness the dynamic duo in action at the site where it all began, as they return to The Forum in Inglewood, California. Golovkin – after failed efforts to shame fellow middleweight titlists Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (also the lineal champion) and Billy Joe Saunders into the ring – squares off versus unbeaten mandatory contender Dominic Wade in the headliner.
Opening the show – and perhaps for his final time in that role – Nicaragua’s Gonzalez (44-0, 38KOs) will defend his World flyweight championship versus Puerto Rico’s McWilliams Arroyo (16-2, 14KOs).
With a win, it’s almost certain that his next ring appearance will top the marquee.
“We’ve been pushing for that and Roman has gotten a great response form the HBO viewers,” notes Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions who has feverishly worked with Mr. Akihiko Honda of Teiken Promotions to broaden Gonzalez’ industry-wide appeal. “If he wins on Saturday we will have more discussions.”
Gonzalez is regarded to have the more difficult task of the evening, although he and Golovkin are both considerable favorites to win their separate HBO-televised bouts this weekend. Golovkin comes in as high as a 125-1 betting favorite against the virtually unknown and unproven Wade (18-0, 12KOs) while Gonzalez is a “mere” 60-1 favorite against the 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian.
Both were massive favorites in their separate showcases last May. Golovkin forced Willie Monroe Jr. to quit after six rounds, while Gonzalez enjoyed a celebrated HBO debut with a two-round whitewash of former junior flyweight titlist Edgar Sosa.
The win marked the second defense of the World flyweight crown Gonzalez acquired in a 9th round stoppage over another boxing cult favorite, all-action slugger Akira Yaegashi in their Sept. ’14 clash in Tokyo, Japan. Gonzalez became just the second fighter ever from Nicaragua to win titles in three weight divisions with that victory, joining his childhood idol and Hall of Fame entrant, the late great Alexis Arguello.
He has since added another title defense to his run, proving his worth in a 9th round stoppage of former two-division titlist Brian Viloria last October. The win came on the same night that Golovkin won his first title unification bout, tearing through David Lemieux in eight one-sided rounds in leaving the ring with the WBA “super”, IBF and IBO regular and WBC “interim” titles in tow in his debut as an HBO Pay-Per-View headliner
Still, it was Gonzalez’ win over the credible Viloria that left most viewers in awe. Golovkin’s star had been on the rise for the past couple of years, while Gonzalez was still the latest next great thing ahead of his debut at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“It’s been a fantastic pairing and the fans really respond when they see the No. 1 & No. 2 pound-for-pound fighters on the same show,” views Loeffler. “We really worked hard to make it happen this time – this is the third time they have been on the same show together.
“If everything goes the right way, and I mentioned this is a very difficult fight for him, if everything goes the right way against McWilliams then I think he will have earned the right to be a main event fighter on HBO.”
To his credit, Gonzalez has taken it all in stride and remains grateful for the additional exposure to his long overlooked career.
“I believe that both fighters, Golovkin and myself, are both main events and I hope that after this fight they give me an opportunity to be my own main event,” notes the reigning pound-for-pound king who has dominated at strawweight, junior flyweight and now flyweight.
Still, for all of his greatness, his earning power remains limited to the weight class in which he campaigns. At best, his time spent at the championship level likely tops out at bantamweight, which still remains a tough market in the United States.
Few fighters south of that weight have been able to gain notoriety in North America, much less earn a decent living. Michael Carbajal and Humberto ‘Chiquita’ Gonzalez remain the standard bearer for the sport’s little big men in terms of in-ring accomplishment and drawing power.
Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero were able to parlay their long-standing crosstown rivalry into a lucrative payday, with their July ’97 head-on collision airing live on HBO. Ricardo Lopez, easily the greatest strawweight of all time, didn’t even make a six-figure payday until late in his legendary career.
With that, Gonzalez has become the new standard for the earning potential in the lower weight classes, a mark that figures to rise as he eventually tops his own shows.
“[D]ue to the fact of my weight class, the purses are not as high,” Gonzalez acknowledges. “I do believe that after this fight, where Arroyo and I will give such a great fight, that soon I will be receiving the purses that I deserve.”
Carbajal became the first junior flyweight – in fact the first ever boxer below featherweight - in history to earn a $1 million payday. The 1988 Olympic Gold medalist and then unified titlist earned that amount for his Feb. ’94 rematch with Gonzalez, against whom he rallied from behind to score a stunning 7th round knockout in their March ’93 unification match.
As Carbajal had Chiquita, Tapia had Romero and – to a lesser degree – Lopez had Alvarez, Gonzalez will likely need a divisional rival big enough to command the sizable fight purse his talent deserves.
To fill that void, many point to reigning unified flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada. The talented boxer-puncher from Mexico is credited with handing Gonzalez his stiffest challenge to date, stemming from their Nov. ’12 war in Los Angeles. Gonzalez prevailed by unanimous decision in what was the final defense of his junior flyweight title, soon thereafter vacating the belt and moving up to flyweight.
Gonzalez had nothing to be ashamed of from that night, but still attributes the less-than-dominant showing to weight struggles and also poor pre-fight preparation. The amount of media attention he gets back home in Nicaragua remains a blessing, but also distracting at times.
For that reason, he opted to relocate to Costa Rica in preparing for this weekend’s adventure. A lot is at stake in this, the fourth defense of his flyweight championship. Chief among them is the ability to fatten his bank account and open the door for his divisional peers to follow suit.
“That motivates me because God gives me the will to win on Saturday,” Gonzalez admits of the possibility of playing that role. “I know that after that fight there will be a lot higher purses and bigger fights and that motivates me.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox