By James Blears
According to Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, who´s won world championships in four weight divisions, there are NO small opponents, and he of all people should know.
On March 5th, at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, he´s yet again in the firing line, this time up against rough diamond, hard edged, curbstone tough WBC flyweight champion Julio Cesar Martinez, who needed no second bidding, in order to move up three pounds and take on an all -time legend.
No championship belt at stake. The glittering prize is Superstar Status. Reinforcing and maintaining it, or on the other hand, the interloper/usurper, seizing the spoils, becoming Lord of The Ring, via/fire hand to hand combat leading to conquest. As Chocolatito so aptly points out, it only takes one hand to dish up and dish out a KO.
Chocolatito, who´s Nicaragua´s most successful boxer, has fought his way all the way from straw weight up to super flyweight, where he now resides. Arguably at his best, when he was at light fly, Chocolatito has since beefed up to his current poundage, retaining the plain common sense sobering appreciation that the bigger they are the harder they hit. However… at this level, the little guys distinctly and distinctively pack a mule kick wallop, way harder than their poundage suggests or indicates. Mini sizzlers aren´t small fry!
Chocolatito (50-3, 41 KO´s) has fought em all. The sluggers, the head bangers, the cuties, the runners…the lot. No softies included! At this level, they´re all hard men. Although not unabashed, he´s unfazed. Why should he be?
His nemesis is power puncher southpaw and twice champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. The Thai dropped him with a mighty body shot in their first fight and went on to win a MD, and then KO´´d him in alarming fashion in the rematch, during a wild whirlwind fourth round. Two titanic, seismic knockdowns. Ouch!!
Chocolatito then took a well- earned breather, which transformed into a longer break. A lot of pundits and fans thought, decided and concluded that this was the end of him, and they were entirely wrong! Two mid- level comeback fights and then he blasted out Kai Yafai with a cannon shot overhead right in the ninth, to win the WBA Regular title, which positioned him nicely to fight superlative WBC champion Juan Francisco Estrada. Chocolatito lost a split decision in their mesmerizing rematch. This time around, the extra weight didn´t do him any favors, but his skill level plus sheer tenacity made it so very close.
Fully expecting and diligently training for the trilogy decider, Chocolatito was taken by surprise, yet not aback by a change of opponent, because Gallo was known to be struggling with the after effects of Covid 19.
Enter the dragon, in the form of fiery, NO FEAR Julio Cesar “Rey” Martinez (18-1, 14 KO´s, 2 no contests) the WBC flyweight monarch. A fearsome body puncher who´s particularly adept at switching upstairs to the head with mighty left hooks, Julio Cesar has leapt at the chance. Can´t wait. Not concerned about the weight!
Normally Rey is by far the shorter fighter. He stands just five feet two inches tall, with a sixty four inch reach. Chocolatito “Towers over him,” a full one inch taller, with exactly the same reach-span.
Chocolatito´s pro debut was way back in 2005. Rey´s first pro fight in which he lost his only contest, via split decision, was mere decade later! Every punch Rey throws is a potential master blaster. As the London Evening Standard´s Late Great Boxing Correspondent Wordsmith Maestro Reg Gutteridge said of Rocky Marciano: “He heaves punches like cobblestones, but he makes every one count!”
Yet in his last fight against Interim WBC Champion McWilliams Arroyo, Rey got careless and was dropped hard in round one with a corker of a right hand, followed by a brush off left hook. Up he got for an eight standing count, furious with himself. Straight back into the fray landing a pile driver left hook to the jaw, which put McWilliams down even harder. The Pride of PR got up dazed and two seconds later the bell rang.
A clash of heads in round two, left the Puerto Rican with two thin neat cuts over the right brow. That eye rapidly swelled shut, significantly affecting overall vision. On the advice of the Ring Doctor, the Referee who´s the sole arbiter of such matters, declared it a no contest.
Both Chocolatito and Julio Cesar like to fight close in at almost toe to toe proximity. Arms´ length seems way too tame. Rey has nowhere near the experience of Roman, yet he hasn´t had to weather as many squalls and scrape off as many barnacles.
Is this the beginning of the end and retirement closing in on Chocolatito? While… is it more the end of the beginning for Rey?
Rey won´t be able to get away with the magnitude of technical error he committed in his last fight. It would be punished with even more curt severity. On the other hand, Chocolatito must avoid those planted feet concrete wrecking ball punches from the younger man. Rey is still a fresh faced twenty seven. Chocolatito is eight years older and of an elder generation.
Rey´s fight against McWilliams was postponed due to a hairline fracture of his right hand, which worsened in a sparring session. An affliction, not uncommon to big hitters. One time when Chocolatito was in Mexico, we shook hands and I noticed they were tiny. Almost child-like, almost bird like. Yet the grip was rock solid firm and his knuckles were as hard as scuffed, dinted playground marbles.
What has Chocolatito got left? Has the hunger been sated or is he still peckish? Is he tired? Can ravenous Rey temper and refine his instinctive aggression and fight smarter, with more latent guile, plus subtle variation of head movement in defense, proving a more elusive target, without discarding that natural ruthless streak?
The way these two fight, how can it go the distance, given the level and intensity emanating from their give and take bombardment?