Loathe as I am to concede it, I’ll still be first to raise my hand and admit that a smidge more than five years ago – when a 30-year-old version of Roman Gonzalez was pummeled by a then-unappreciated Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in the small-town fight capital of Carson, Calif. – I thought he was done.
Not just done with the world-class set. But done. Period.
And I wasn’t alone.
Here’s a piece of an early a.m. post-fight recap written for ESPN.
“Having lost two fights in a row – and having engaged in several grueling slugfests – Gonzalez's best days appear behind him. He won world titles in four weight divisions, from strawweight to junior bantamweight, and became the pound-for-pound No. 1. But Gonzalez, a disciple of the late, great Hall of Famer and Nicaraguan legend Alexis Arguello, appeared undersized in the 115-pound division. That, along with age, appeared to have caught up with him.”
I dare anyone to rewatch the tape – while acknowledging the mileage he’d already traveled in 47 fights across four weight classes – and come up with a different verdict.
Undaunted, he took a year and six days off, returned with a couple victories over something less than the cream of the 115-pound crop, and seemed set to serve as high-profile fodder for the coming-out party of Khalid Yafai when the British Olympian signed to meet him in early 2020.
We all know what’s happened since.
Not only did Gonzalez dominate on the way to a ninth-round stoppage – driving Yafai into a two-plus-year absence – but he reestablished himself as a legit player at super flyweight, defending his belt once, losing it in a threadbare rematch to Juan Francisco Estrada in March 2021 and returning to deconstruct late fill-in Julio Cesar Martinez when a would-be trilogy bout fell victim to COVID.
It’s as amazing a career recovery as I can recall for a 30-plus fighter after a brutal KO loss.
And considering where he was 62 months ago, it almost doesn’t matter how this weekend goes.
Whether the now-35-year-old wins or loses an on-again third bout with Estrada – set for Saturday night at the Desert Diamond Arena in suburban Phoenix – my perception of him in the final act of his career is far better than it would have been had he pulled the plug when it looked necessary.
And though he never ascended to a Manny Pacquiao-level pay-per-view star or even a full-time HBO headliner before the “Network of Champions” called it quits, the body of work for the man labeled “Chocolatito” surely warranted the praise heaped on him by then-executive Peter Nelson.
“I think fans are incredibly sophisticated and that they don’t look to the sport simply on the narrowness of is someone American or not,” he said. “I think it’s a global sport and it speaks to people based on the quality of athleticism that you see, and that’s what attracts people. I don’t think that how big or small a fighter is, or what nationality he is, has anything to do with the ultimate arc that a fighter’s career can take. If you’re in the gym working harder than everyone else, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.”
Titles in four weight classes. A brief stint as the sport’s pound-for-pound king. And an impressive 5-1 run with three KOs and another championship claim after many claimed the fire was competitively out.
That’s Hall of Fame mettle of the highest grade, regardless of trilogy results.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant WBC super flyweight title – Glendale, Arizona
Roman Gonzalez (No. 1 WBC/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Juan Francisco Estrada (Unranked WBC/No. 1 IWBR)
Gonzalez (51-3, 41 KO): Twenty-first title fight (17-3); Held titles at 105, 108, 112 and 115
Estrada (43-3, 28 KO): Thirteenth title fight (10-2); Held titles at 112 and 115
Fitzbitz says: Trilogies are amazing. And great trilogies are amazing to the third power. Gonzalez won big in 2012. Estrada won narrowly in 2021. I think the latter man has more left. Estrada by decision (70/30)
WBC heavyweight title – London, United Kingdom
Tyson Fury (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Derek Chisora (No. 13 WBC/No. 23 IWBR)
Fury (32-0-1, 23 KO): Third title defense; Beat Chisora in 2011 (UD 12) and 2014 (TKO 10)
Chisora (33-12, 23 KO): Second title fight; Lost WBC title try in 2012 (UD 12, Vitali Klitschko)
Fitzbitz says: This one doesn’t warrant the trash label because Fury is the legit WBC champion. But it’s close. This one will reek for a long time unless it’s followed by a Usyk showdown. Fury in 9 (99/1)
WBC flyweight title – Glendale, Arizona
Julio Cesar Martinez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Samuel Carmona (No. 18 WBC/No. 64 IWBR)
Martinez (18-2, 14 KO): Seventh title fight (4-0, 2 NC); Fifth fight in the U.S. (2-1, 1 NC)
Carmona (8-0, 4 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled for 12 rounds
Fitzbitz says: I could wonder about a guy with eight fights and no significant wins getting a title shot. But hey, boxing. Martinez is not Pacquiao 2.0, but he should be plenty here. Martinez in 8 (90/10)
This week’s trash title-fight schedule:
WBA “world” heavyweight title – London, United Kingdom
Daniel Dubois (champion/No. 31 IWBR) vs. Kevin Lerena (No. 12 WBA/No. 22 IWBR)
Why it’s trash: The WBA puts on a lot of trash title fights. But few seem to resonate as much as the ones for a ridiculous heavyweight strap that’s worked its way to Dubois after residing with the likes of Trevor Bryan, Mahmoud Charr and Lucas Browne. It’s about as embarrassing as embarrassing gets.
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Prograis)
2022 picks record: 36-15 (70.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,245-407 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.