Kal Yafai: ‘I’m expecting the best Roman Gonzalez, he’s going to give everything he’s got’
You’re only as good as your last fight.
Prior to Saturday night Tyson Fury was still being vilified for a below-par 12-round decision win over Otto Wallin in September. On Sunday morning, after battering unbeaten WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder to a stunning seventh-round defeat, Fury was being hailed by some as a heavyweight great.
Kal Yafai is in a similar position. Since a near-flawless points win over Luis Concepcion to capture the vacant WBA junior bantamweight title in December 2016, he has lost momentum. Five routine defenses over unheralded challengers failed to ignite the spark of motivation that the Englishman so desperately required and in-ring fireworks have been few and far between.
Yafai, who is rated No. 4 by The Ring at 115 pounds, was disenchanted with the sport he loved and fans were critical of his performances. All of that is behind him now, however, as he readies himself to face former four-weight world titleholder Roman Gonzalez at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. This is a terrific fight.
“I’m buzzing about it all, very excited,” said Yafai (26-0, 15 knockouts) in a recent interview with The Ring. “I probably don’t sound it right now but I really am. I’m just a little bit tired [from hard-training].
“This is the biggest fight of my career against a future hall-of-famer and a former pound-for-pound great. I’m looking forward to the fight and I can’t wait to test myself.”
Gonzalez, who is rated No. 6 by The Ring at 115 pounds, is recognized as a living legend by anyone worth listening to when it comes to boxing. Yafai, a diligent student of the game, has followed the Nicaraguan star for many years and is well aware of his qualities.
“Obviously, his previous accomplishments [tell you how special he is],” said the defending titleholder without hesitation. “Boxing-wise it’s his engine, his variety and he can punch as well. He’s an exciting fighter to watch.
“I also don’t buy into the idea that he’s pushing the envelope at 115 pounds. He moved up and beat [then-WBC titleholder] Carlos Cuadras, who’s a great fighter, and I think that was (Gonzalez’s) first fight at the weight. He’s only lost to one man (Srisaket Sor Rungvisai twice) and I actually thought he won the first fight.”
Gonzalez (48-2, 40 KOs) dropped a controversial decision to Sor Rungvisai in March 2017 and was brutally knocked out by the Thai southpaw six months later. Many insiders felt that was the end for the former pound-for-pound king, but over the past 15 months he’s posted stoppage wins over Moises Fuentes and Diomel Diocos.
“I’ve seen those, but I’ve not looked at them too much because they were tick-over fights,” revealed Yafai. “I’ve had those six and eight rounders, so I know how you perform and behave with those fights as compared to world title fights.
“I’m expecting the best Roman Gonzalez. This is his chance to become world champion again, and if he loses it’s going to be very hard for him to come back. He’s going to come into this fight and give everything he’s got.”
If Gonzalez has returned to anything like the type of form that saw him capture world titles at 105, 108, 112 and 115 pounds, then Yafai is sure to be tested more than he’s ever been. What does the 30-year-old boxer-puncher have that will trouble his decorated challenger?
“My physical strength, my speed, my youthfulness and my all-round ability,” offered Yafai resolutely. “I’ve got a good engine and [come fight night] my engine will be better than it’s even been before. I’m ready and prepared to do whatever it takes to win.
“He’ll be surprised by everything on the night. I know that sometimes I might not be too pleasing on the eye, and people might think there’s nothing special to see because I’m not flashy, but I always win. I’m doing something right.”
Having interviewed him on several occasions since he turned over professional in 2012, I’ve never heard Yafai sound as relaxed and confident going into a fight. The respect he has for Gonzalez is obvious, but there was a visceral sense of destiny when he spoke about what is essentially his first career-defining fight.
“When I win next Saturday night, it’ll be everything to me,” said the self-assured Yafai. “A win in this fight is bigger than winning the world title. I’m beating a legend of the sport and proving a lot of doubters wrong. I’ll be well on the way to achieving everything that I’ve wanted to accomplish in my career.
“I’ve always wanted this fight. I wanted to fight him as soon as I won the world title. This is meant to be and I believe it’s my time. I’m in the prime of my career, I’m fresh and this was all written. I’ve visualized this fight a million times in my head and I know what happens.”
Boxing fans don’t know what happens – but we can’t wait to find out. At the lighter weights, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Yafai-Gonzalez plus the main event bout between Mikey Garcia and Jessie Vargas will be broadcast like on DAZN in the U.S. and Sky Sports Arena in the U.K.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing