Six Obstacles To a Roman (Gonzalez) Empire – Boxing News
Six Obstacles To a Roman (Gonzalez) Empire – Boxing News
By Cliff Rold
His knockout of Akira Yaegashi for the lineal (and WBC) flyweight honors in September confirmed for a broader audience what was apparent to hardcore fight followers for the past several years—Róman Gonzalez (40-0, 34 KOs) is one of the best fighters in the world.
In any weight class.
Now reigning in his third division—and atop one of the best top-to-bottom flyweight classes in decades—Gonzalez prepares for his first title defense this Saturday in Japan. He’ll face 28-year old Rocky Fuentes (35-7-2, 20 KO) of the Philippines.
It’s the second title opportunity of the year for Fuentes after losing a decision to Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng for the vacant IBF 112 lb. belt in January.
The veteran contender could be a trap fight for Gonzalez. Prior to his loss to Ruenroeng, Fuentes enjoyed a 15-fight win streak dating back to 2007. A pair of knockout losses came in 2004 and 2005; his chin has held up since then. A decent puncher coupled with a careless Gonzalez looking ahead to bigger possibilities could find more trouble than the defending champion wishes.
So far, Gonzalez taking his eye off the ball hasn’t been an issue.
Assuming he handles the game but less talented Fuentes, 2015 could be the biggest year of the 27-year old Nicaraguan’s career. His being mentioned recently on HBO’s “The Fight Game” is evidence the premium outlet is interested. His second consecutive fight will be shown, tape delayed, on beIN Espanol in the US this weekend (11:00 p.m. EST).
Most important, the opponents are there to make for a series of interesting reasons for English language TV to get into the Róman game.
Can any of those opponents prevent a Róman empire? There is more than a top ten’s worth of excellent matches Gonzalez could make with fighters from 105 to 115 lbs. right now.
Here, it’s narrowed to six challenges, ranked by author’s choice of least to most compelling, that stand out from the rest. Any of them would make for tantalizing matches in the year ahead.
Let’s look at who they are, and what the points for and against those fights might be, framed against the possibility of more US TV interest in 2015.
6) Amnat Ruenroeng (14-0, 5 KOs; IBF 112 lb. titlist)
For: Those who wonder what Gonzalez might do against a mover/boxer type would get their answers here. Thailand’s Ruenroeng is a former Olympian with a compelling story of post-prison redemption and a solid ring IQ. His wins over Fuentes, the then-undefeated Kazuto Ioka, and fellow former Olympian McWilliams Arroyo in 2014 have earned him some honorable mention when the “Fighter of the Year” brouhaha starts. A win over Ruenroeng would give Gonzalez a chance at another belt, expand his global footprint, and answer some style clash questions that haven’t been asked yet.
Against: Ruenroeng might be a good story, but he is not always compelling viewing. If US fans who follow flyweight are hoping to see more of Gonzalez, they probably want him seen in a light that entertains. Ruenroeng has some of the same spoiling ability a Bernard Hopkins or Wladimir Klitschko has been known to employ. Getting him out of Thailand for a big fight might be a stretch.
5) Carlos Cuadras (31-0-1, 24 KOs; WBC 115 lb. titlist)
For: Cuadras is an exciting, heavy-handed Jr. Bantamweight. If and when Gonzalez takes aim at a title in a fourth weight class, Cuadras could easily have emerged as the best of 115 lbs. For now, he is the most exciting of the reigning titlists. A fight between Gonzalez and Cuadras would be action-packed and they share a promoter so it’s not impossible to make. If Gonzalez gets some other big business done in 2015, this could be a capper to the year.
Against: Speaking after his most recent title defense, Cuadras alluded to a shared promoter (Teiken Promotions) as a reason the fight might actually be hard to make. It might also be a less attractive option for Gonzalez in Japan by the end of next year. Much hinges on the result of the WBO 115 lbs. tilt between Omar Narvaez and former 108 lb. titlist Naoya Inoue. Only 7-0, Inoue is being moved fast and a showdown with Gonzalez may be big business down the road.
4) Donnie Nietes (34-1-4, 20 KOs; Ring/WBO titlist)
For: Nietes is widely recognized as the man of the moment at 108 lbs. Gonzalez is the man at 112. They’ve been co-titlists at 105 and 108 in the past. Why not see them fight? Nietes is an often exciting, skilled boxer with enough power to make it interesting. After Manny Pacquiao, he might be the best fighter in the Philippines right now. How would his cerebral approach deal with the boxing and pressure of the powerful Gonzalez?
Against: It appeared a move up to Flyweight was imminent for Nietes but, after his most recent defense, there were hints he might remain. A showdown with strawweight titlist Francisco Rodriguez would be bankable in Mexico or the Philippines. It would also be the less difficult fight on paper.
3) Moruti Mthalane (32-1, 20 KOs)
For: The 32-year old South African is best remembered in the US as the toughest challenge Nonito Donaire had at flyweight. Mthalane was battling Donaire on fairly even terms through six before a cut ended his night. Since that night in 2008, Mthalane is undefeated with wins over future titlists Julio Cesar Miranda (112), Johnriel Casimero (108), and Zolani Tete (115). There have been some mild signs of decline, and regrettable inactivity. His combination of athleticism, speed, and power remains potent. In terms of talent, he may still be the best overall package next to Gonzalez.
Against: Some rough business decisions kept Mthalane out of the ring for all of 2013 and cost him the IBF title he picked up after Donaire left the class. His standing in the class was basically the 1a to the lineal crown for a few years. Now he’s been lost in the shuffle. Hardcore fans might know him but is there anyone willing to beat the drums? He might have the best chance to beat Gonzalez of anyone at Flyweight, but if no one is asking for it there isn’t much chance to find out.
2) Brian Viloria (34-4, 20 KOs)
For: If Gonzalez doesn’t go straight at the number-one man on this list early in 2015, and can secure a US television date, this would be the next best foe. The former Olympian and titlist at 108 and 112 lbs. is the most visible current Flyweight to a US audience. Viloria has been quiet since losing the WBA and WBO titles in 2013 but he’s not gone. There is no evidence he’s incapable yet either. Still a big puncher, Viloria’s speed and short-range offense would be a danger to Gonzalez so long as he was standing. Both men would come forward. This would be can’t-miss stuff.
Against: Viloria is rated higher by the WBA and WBO currently than he is the WBC. If he desires revenge for his most recent defeat, that leverage would work against a fight with Gonzalez.
1) Juan Francisco Estrada (30-2, 22 KOs; WBA/WBO 112 lb. unified titlist)
For: This is the one everyone who follows the little men wants to see. Their first fight—in 2012—was one of the best of the year and stole the show on the undercard of Viloria’s title unification win over Tyson Marquez. Estrada is the man who took those belts off Viloria’s hands, defending three times since. His most recent win, over former junior flyweight king Giovani Segura, was a devastatingly efficient beatdown. This has the makings of the best little man rivalry since Chiquita Gonzalez-Michael Carbajal. Estrada’s evolution since the first Gonzalez fight will make this a tough pick should the rematch unfold.
Against: The most desired and desirable match in the division and it might take time to make? In boxing? Comments in the press suggest either or both sides may want to sweeten the pot a little on this one, pushing it to the second half of 2015 at the earliest. For fans that have seen many a marinade go sour, that’s not good news. But if good things come to those who wait, this fight will be welcome anytime in the year ahead.
Gonzalez has Fuentes to deal with first. The boxing world will know soon enough whether these exciting possibilities still have the same shine in a few days.
It’s a big international day with the Pacquiao card in Macau and the Cleverly-Bellew card in the UK. One could make a full day of fights pretty easy this Saturday…Wladimir Klitschko-Shannon Briggs is nonsense. Boxing is a cynical business. No need to encourage its lesser elements…Speaking of Macau, one always knows it’s Pacquiao (or Mayweather) week when one or the other stop name-dropping to juice pay-per-view sales. None of this is going to result in a fight. Everyone gets that by now, right? No? Hope springs eternal…Tell someone you know to watch Constantine. The show is getting good. No need to see it cancelled.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Roman Gonzalez