Quite a shocking image has been carved into the minds of boxing fans last night as they witnessed Roman Chocolatito Gonzalez laying supine and motionless at the center ring of the StubHub Center in Carson CA.
The victim of two successive right hooks thrown by Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.
Chocolatito lost to Sor Rungvisai by decision six months ago in a close but dramatic fight that many boxing fans and many in the press row felt should have gone the other way.
However, I believe Chocolatito was beaten by himself last night. Chocolatito fought like a parody of himself without confidence or even a game plan to back up the plodding but powerful Thai boxer.
Chocolatito has been criticized in the past for poor defense and his detractors who never understood his listing as the Pound for Pound King when he left the ring even in victory with both eyes swollen shut seemed to have their opinions validated after the one-sided trouncing that ended with a clean KO of Gonzalez in just the 4th round.
Gone is the frenzied offense.
Gone is the torrent of volume punching.
Gone seemingly is the heart of the Biggest Little Man in boxing.
A Fitting Analog
Born Henry Jackson in Columbus, Mississippi Henry Armstrong – known as Homicide Hank died a year and a half after Roman Gonzalez was born in Barrio La Esperanza Nicaragua.
A veteran of the phone booth era of fighting where two men often stood toe-to-toe trading shots and beating the shit out of each other Armstrong seemed to have almost invented the style.
Of course, there was far more to it than meets the eye and Armstrong’s style possessed significant nuance. His compact frame allowed him to become a small target indeed crouching low forcing his opponents blows to glance off the shoulders, elbows and Armstrong’s hard head.
All the while he buried his head in your chest backing you up landing ripping body shots, vicious hooks and exploding up with powerful upper cuts.
Armstrong was the boss in that ring.
It was some of these same qualities that could be found in the style of Roman Gonzalez.
Relentless pressure, concussive power for the weight class and masterful inside fighting.
Armstrong finished his 15-year career having fought over 181 bouts.
In 1937 alone Armstrong went 27-0 with 26 knockouts and that pace was sustained for most of his career. Armstrong is also the first boxer to hold undisputed world titles in three different weight classes – and he was the last.
Chocolatito also made history with his win over Carlos Cuadras 364 days prior to his rematch with Sor Rungvisai. He became the first Nicaraguan to claim a world titles in four different weight categories.
Armstrong entered the pro game in July 1931. Though he fought on until the age of 36 Armstrong was essentially a shot fighter at 28 from war after war in the ring. Such was the plight for many African American boxers since they could not count on significant opportunities nor rich purses even as a champion Armstrong would be forced to fight week after week month after month.
All things being equal the modern athlete has every advantage. They fight less, there are exercise scientists who can gauge every aspect of training, elite nutrition and all sorts of analysis go into crafting an unbeatable game plan for fight night.
Now fighters mostly get old in training, less so in the ring.
For Chocolatito it seems a mix of both.
During the fight Max Kellerman and Jim Lampley opined that in the lead up to the fight during interviews and the fighter meeting Chocolatito seemed spiritually broken. The loss to Sor Rungvisai though close and controversial seemed too much for the Nicaraguan to take psychologically. He seemed to lack confidence and that was evident in the way Chocolatito fought nearly from the opening bell.
Chocolatito complained early on about a head butt from the Thai fighter, he broke away from the action, threw his hands up and gestured for help from the referee who did admonish both men.
This seemed uncharacteristic to me immediately. Throughout his career that at this point has spanned nearly 50 fights it’s not as though Chocolatito didn’t know what he had in front of him. Moreover, having fought Sor Rungvisai already what else could he have expected from the powerful but inelegant Thai boxer.
In round two there were only brief flashes of Chocolatito in his zone, cruising in the pocket letting his hands go.
Mostly he looked uneasy, almost fearful.
Sor Rungvisai landed all the harder blows, nothing Chocolatito threw backed up the champion.
Sor Rungvisai instead waded forward, when Chocolatito pivoted to gain a new angle to launch offense which was infrequent – we’re used to much more movement from the Nicaraguan, Sor Rungvisai was right there in his face again.
Between rounds three and four new trainer Sendai Tanaka attempted to spur his man on and reiterate the game plan. Sor Rungvisai appears the bigger man in the ring but crouches almost as low as Chocolatito, a perfect opportunity then presents itself for the upper cut and shovel hook, two punches that are in Chocolatito’s arsenal. However, the look in the eyes of Chocolatito said it all…he just didn’t have it.
Sor Rungvisai looked for the right hook twice in the finishing sequence.
First, he landed it doubling the hook on a body-head attack but the first attempt was glancing, the second wobbled him though it was partially blocked. What was telling was that at no point did Chocolatito return fire. As in the previous three rounds Chocolatito was being out landed!
The first knockdown came as Sor Rungvisai piled on the pressure continuing to throw punches and hid the right hook again behind a lazy one-two sending Chocolatito down. The replay shows Chocolatito’s eyes were closed during the moment of impact.
Another flurry followed as Chocolatito reentered the fray and was caught cold with the final right hook that sent Chocolatito down for good, referee Tom Taylor waived the fight off immediately.
Another analog for the career of Roman Gonzalez seems to be the final fight between his late mentor Alexis Arguello and nemesis Aaron Pryor.
One of the lasting images of the rematch was Arguello slumped against the ropes on his backside seemingly at a loss, heartbroken unable to find a way to win after the last knockdown he suffered at the hands of Pryor.
Lampley and Kellerman both referenced the moment as Chocolatito was assisted onto his stool as he was examined by doctors.
Chocolatito’s style has caught up to him. He endeared himself to fans and won championships based on his bravery and fortitude however he’s too small to be competitive in the super flyweight division and if he doesn’t have the confidence to fight back in any meaningful way is risking serious injury at any weight.
At just 30 years old the end has come for an exciting and inspiring fighter who only seemed to gain recognition as his career was essentially over.4 min