Roman Gonzalez: The silent rise of Alexis Arguello’s heir – part two
Diego Morilla continues the inspiring and uplifting story of THE RING magazine flyweight and pound-for-pound champion, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. Also the reigning WBC flyweight titlist, he faces Brian Viloria at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Part One can be found here
Chapter Three: God and country
“We all believe in God and humans need to believe in God because He is the one who has taken us where we are,” said Gonzalez, who bears a sign declaring ‘Cristo Te Ama’ (Christ Loves You) prominently on his trunks. “When you make the effort, God gives you what you want to conquer. I never really asked to be a three-division champion, much less the No. 1 fighter in the world. But when one searches for God and asks for him, God blesses you and He has blessed me not only with the help of the government but also with many companies that have helped me. I believe in the government we have today because to all the champions that we have, they have given them houses. We all dream about having our own houses for our kids and I believe this is a blessing from God. And whatever comes later is a blessing from God too. Today I have a lot of people helping me, a lot of companies helping me and it’s an extra blessing that the government is helping me but always serve the one God. Not men but God.”
Gonzalez’s attempt to balance the help of God and that of his government, however, may prove a bit tougher to explain than expected. The government he supports is the one led by Daniel Ortega, leader of the far-left, armed-insurgents-gone-legit, no-translation-needed Frente Sandinista de Liberaci├│n Nacional, which was also the party under which Alexis Arguello ran for office during the final years of his life. Arguello became vice-mayor of Managua in 2005 and was elected mayor in 2008, with his mandate cut short by his suicide (an event not exempt of numerous suspicions of foul play) in 2009. His brother Eduardo had died fighting as part of the FSLN’s guerrilla outfits in the mid-’70s, in their dispute against the brutal dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.
Far removed from those early years of violence that led to the military triumph of the leftist revolution in spite of the US-backed “Contras” (a de facto government that was later validated by a democratic election), Gonzalez dismisses this dilemma between God and country as irrelevant.
“Honestly, yes,” said Gonzalez, when asked whether the change from his earlier Showtime deal to his new HBO contract would make him feel sad about missing the voice of ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. hailing him as ‘the pride of Nicaragua’ at the end of his fights. “It is a great pride to represent my country. I am the only champion that Nicaragua has right now and that’s my biggest motivation in life to continue training more and more. Hearing my name announced away from my country is an extra motivation. When I hear people say ‘Chocolatito’ in the streets, I feel that everyone in Nicaragua is watching my fights and sending their blessings.
But as much as his country’s political allegiances may matter to him, the presence of his creator always weighs heavier in his mind frame. In fact, the presence of God is felt on Gonzalez, even when it comes to facing the underlying challenge of fighting on the same night as his closest pursuer in the race to the top of the pound-for-pound rankings.
“I never envied anyone or wished harm upon anyone. On the contrary, I am always praying for those who are out there fighting and working hard in their gyms,” said Gonzalez, when asked about the possibility of losing his newly-acquired prestige at the hands of the night’s headliner, a situation that may come to fruition if their respective performances should merit it. “I know that boxing is hard. We always remember them and wish that God would grant them the wisdom and strength so that the best man will win. We wish [WBA middleweight titlist Gennady] Golovkin the best of luck. He is a good guy, very humble and a good friend. We’re not trying to be better than the other one, we’re just hoping that God will bless us both to leave the ring with our hands raised in victory.”
With the fight between God and the FSLN already settled in his heart and mind, his only remaining true enemy comes in sight: greatness. And Gonzalez feels he only needs a firm guiding hand through the rest of his career to achieve it.
“If God allows it, Teiken and HBO will take care of this,” said Gonzalez about his future prospects in the fight game. “I hope to see bigger things after this fight. Being the No. 1 fighter in the world will surely open a lot of doors for me. This motivates me more, to give my best in the gym and to work hard during training, to demonstrate I am the best champion out there.”
And even though Gonzalez doesn’t make it sound like an uphill battle, it may very well be just that.
Not that he isn’t training for that already.
Chapter Four: Charging against the windmills
There are very few differences in the training regime for every fighter. The mandatory sessions of road work, gym training and sparring leave very little room for improvisation.
And yet, “Team Chocolatito” seems to have found a way to tilt things in their favor, both physically and inspirationally.
“The training camp in Costa Rica has been great. We have a great uphill run here that we can’t get in Nicaragua,” said Gonzalez, in reference to the ‘Subida del Parque E├│lico,’ a pedestrian path that ends at the top of a steep hill in which a series of wind turbines resembling giant windmills are located. “And we are working out at a good height just above sea level. That gives me the confidence because I know I’ll be in the best shape of my life.”
Uphill roadwork is rarely a novelty for fighters training for a big fight. It provides both a physical and respiratory challenge that improves endurance on a level practically unattainable in conventional roadwork. But the added incentive of charging toward the windmills in Quixote-esque fashion is quite a fitting way to gather the mental and spiritual endurance needed for the challenges that await Gonzalez in the near future. This includes the challenge of keeping his position as the game’s best practitioner for the duration of his still-young career.
“I never expected to be named the best in the world. Once I heard [Floyd] Mayweather [Jr.] was about to quit, people told me that I was going to be No. 1 but I left it all in the hands of God,” said Gonzalez, about the last remaining giant he charged against – and finally bested. “Everyone in Nicaragua is now excited that I am No. 1 in the world, and they’ll all watch the fight. I am excited to be able to show my abilities, my quality as a fighter, my punching power and my strengths. I hope this leads to more opportunities for me to give good fights.”
Uphill roadwork aside, his training camp for his long-awaited match-up against Viloria was exceptional for Roman in many other ways. It took place in Costa Rica, away from the distractions at home and was also close enough to bring some of the best talent his country has to offer to help him in this new stage of his career.
“I brought some sparring partners from Nicaragua with a few guys who were already world champions but they didn’t have a visa to enter the US, so, for that, we trained here,” said Gonzalez. “But it has been worth it because we’re very focused, very well prepared for the fight and I hope to demonstrate that on Oct. 17. I hope to show my desire to win on that night and keep my title. We have to put on a great fight and demonstrate to Nicaragua that they will have a champion for a long time.”
His training regime included a one-hour, seven-mile run at dawn, followed by coffee and honey for breakfast. Gonzalez claims he has no problem making weight and so his diet has included all major sources of proteins and different types of meat. His training included 171 rounds of sparring.
“Viloria is a tough opponent but I feel we’re at 100 percent and I will demonstrate what I did in the gym during this fight. Being considered the best in the world is another challenge to conquer and maintain,” said Gonzalez, without missing the chance to deflect the usual “pressure to perform” question with his customary “motivational” answer.
“I am not committed to the knockout right now but it’s an additional motivation,” said the 28-year-old. “It’s not pressure but motivation, rather. Today we have a big commitment to stay at that level and, for that, I have to work hard in the gym but if people consider me as the number one in the world it’s because they keep me in their minds and have seen my style of boxing. Truly, being among the best champions is great. For all this, it’s going to be an extraordinary night, where my family and the people of Nicaragua will enjoy a great victory.”
Chapter Five: Sweetness in the making
Boxing history has had its fair share of “Sugars” through the years (and even boxing journalism had its own in the iconic Bert Randolph Sugar). But for a guy named “Chocolatito,” the definition of true greatness requires a stronger kind of sweetness to be properly described.
Truly, leaving a permanent impression in the hearts and minds of boxing fans worldwide for years to come will require not only the superb boxing technique that he has developed to such a high level. It will also require the boxing idiosyncrasy of the true Latin warrior: The take-no-prisoners attitude of a fighter who doesn’t just out box and outsmart his opponents but has the implicit obligation of demolishing them both physically and mentally into a state of submission, just to suit the philosophy of the true Latino fight fan.
“When one has the right conditions, one always figures a way to do things right at fight time. I can box. I can throw combinations. I can brawl it out during the fight. This is what helped me. If I have to box, I can do it and if I have to brawl, I often do that as well. And when I need to knock out my opponent, I work on it little by little until I can score the KO. I think my solid technique is what really helped me in boxing but being in great condition is what carries you through a fight,” said Gonzalez about his style, widely perceived as one of the most balanced combinations of boxing ability, punching power and stylistic finesse.
“It is my style,” said Gonzalez. “We come from a boxing family, so my uncle and my dad had it. We have that style in our blood. When you have the natural talent and the conditioning, all of that explodes during the fight. Today more than ever, as I get ready to face such a good fighter as Brian Viloria, I want to give everyone a terrific fight. I will see how things develop once the bell rings. At that moment, I will see how each round goes. I always listen to my corner but the pace of the fight will tell me what to do.”
Gonzalez’s almost perfect mix of dispassionate technical prowess followed by a surreptitious whirlwind of destruction has already captured the imagination of hardcore boxing fans and it won’t be long before he can expand his appeal to an even wider audience. His aggressive style is something to behold. Gonzalez connects with frightening ease and unstoppable pace with his left hand until he sets his opponent up for his lethal, straight right. At times, it feels as if he is dribbling his foe around like a basketball with his left, only to slam-dunk his knockout punch with the right when the moment comes.
The gaze of media attention and major networks is leading him toward crossover appeal comparable to the greatest of Latino fighters, such as Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya. And, as a smaller-weight fighter, making it big as a headliner on pay-per-view, he may succeed where all-time flyweight great Ricardo Lopez once failed and thrive at the box office.
But in order to achieve that goal, Gonzalez requires a solid level of opposition in a division where he has already defeated some of the best fighters available. In fact, his stock rose when former foes like Katsunari Takayama and Juan Francisco Estrada became champions in their own right. And Gonzalez’s greatness will continue to grow because although he has already defeated a myriad of quality fighters in a talent-rich era, there are still plenty of options to keep his career on an upswing, whether he decides to make the jump in weight or not.
“All in due time,” said Gonzalez, in response to his eventual invasion of the junior bantamweight division and beyond. “We’re defending this title for the third time and we’ll see whether we can get a new title someday at 115 pounds. There are a lot of opportunities out there. I am hoping for a chance.”
With talent and hunger in large supply, “esperanza” (“hope,” in Spanish) is just the final ingredient Gonzalez needs to produce a historic career that will leave an indelible mark in the memory of his people and of boxing fans worldwide, matching or even surpassing (as much as he may reject the idea) the legacy of Alexis Arguello. And a great way to one-up his illustrious predecessor would be a celebratory fight in his homeland, in front of his adoring countrymen, to finally share with them the same hope that has brought him this far.
“I don’t know what the plans are for after this fight. Fighting in my country would be great, in front of my family and friends,” said Gonzalez, showing that, as relentless as his boxing style may be, nothing is quite as relentless as his hope. His barrio, as it turns out, is still La Esperanza, the place where his modest childhood dreams of glory still dwell.
Diego Morilla, a bilingual boxing writer since 1995, is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He served as boxing writer for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com, and is now a regular contributor to RingTV.com and HBO.com, as well as the resident boxing writer for XNSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MorillaBoxing