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Roman Gonzalez and Julio Cesar Martinez promise to deliver on Saturday

Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Julio Cesar Martinez pose after the final press conference for their March 5 showdown in San Diego. Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom
Fighters Network

SAN DIEGO – Appreciate Chocolatito in the ring while you still can.

With as many battles as he’s been in over the years – the hard-fought late stoppages (vs. Akira Yaegashi, Brian Viloria and Kal Yafai), the hotly contested victories (vs. Juan Francisco Estrada and Carlos Cuadras), and the heart-breaking majority/split-decision losses to rivals Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (I) and Estrada (II) – we have no idea if he can go to the well one more time.

But we’ll find out on Saturday when he takes on hard-charging WBC flyweight titleholder Julio Cesar Martinez in a 12-round junior bantamweight main event of a Matchroom Boxing promotion at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, which will be streamed live on DAZN.

Martinez (18-1, 14 KOs) is a late-sub for Estrada, who couldn’t compete on March 5 date to a bout with COVID that interrupted his training camp, but while not as polished and experienced as the Ring/WBA 115-pound champ, “El Rey” is every bit as dangerous for Gonzalez.

Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

The Mexico City native is a ruthless puncher with a penchant for body shots and unpredictable haymakers. The 27-year-old is the kind of confident young gun that can push a fading veteran off the proverbial cliff, and while Gonzalez (50-3, 41 KOs) looked sensational against Estrada last March it’s entirely possible that it was his last great effort.

He’s been world-class since 2007 and he’s faced the best fighters of four weight classes, winning world titles in each division along the way. Gonzalez is only 34, which isn’t “old” by most standards, but it could be for a former strawweight with a relentless pressure-fighting/volume-punching style.

However, to Chocolatito’s credit, he still has fire in his belly. And his willingness to take no shorts on the road to recapturing his glory has presented Martinez with a tremendous opportunity – one that he and his team (led by 2021 Trainer of the Year Eddy Reynoso) jumped at. And just like that, fans got a matchup that in some ways is even more compelling than the Estrada rubbermatch.

“I had goosebumps when I saw Chocolatito and Martinez come up on the stage,” Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn said at the final press conference on Thursday. “As a fight fan, this fills me with so much excitement. Six weeks ago, it was announced as Estrada vs. Chocolatito, the trilogy, then I got a text that Juan Estrada won’t be ready for March 5.

“I started thinking about the possible replacements, maybe a fight with (recently deposed IBF titleholder Jerwin) Ancajas. Then I thought about this crazy Mexican we represent, Julio Cesar Martinez, and I thought ‘He wouldn’t take that fight, would he?’ I texted Eddy Reynoso, asking if he’s interested and 30 seconds later, he said ‘My crazy guy is ready.’”

There’s nothing crazy about the quiet and humble Chocolatito, but despite accomplishing enough to be considered a future first-ballot hall of famer by anyone who really knows and respects boxing, he still relishes challenges.

“When they offered me that fight, I accepted it with pleasure,” Gonzalez, The Ring’s No. 2-rated junior bantamweight, said during the press conference. “I have an opponent that comes forward but I’m going to come forward (too). It’s going to be a tremendous fight and I think the fans are going to be really happy with the fight.”

Julio Cesar Martinez speaks at the final press conference. Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

Speaking of the fans, Hearn expects at least 8,000 to gather to watch the intriguing crossroads bout. Hearn initially thought that his company would have to deal with a slew of refund requests after Estrada withdrew but he was pleasantly surprised to learn that the change in opponent sparked an increase in ticket sales. A strong fight-day “walk up” crowd from nearby Tijuana is expected – and welcomed by both fighters.

“I love all the Mexican people; I’ve had the opportunity to fight against many Mexican (fighters),” said Gonzalez, who has fought six times in Mexico.

“I want to thank the fans and people for their support,” Martinez, The Ring’s No. 1-rated flyweight, said during the press conference. “As always, we’re prepared for everything… for it to be a clash (or) a technical fight. We’re coming in here well trained; I want to make sure the public walks away with a good taste in their mouth.”

That’s pretty much guaranteed given their styles and mentalities, but also because Gonzalez, who has been training since November, is also “coming in here well trained.”

“This has been our best camp, mentally speaking,” Gonzalez’s head trainer Marcos Caballero told The Ring. “Physically speaking, it was just the same as his previous camps. Training is training, and with Roman, all I have to do is keep him from overtraining.

“But he was more focused for this camp, he was more mentally dialed in, asking me questions and really listening, not just following orders.”

Caballero, a Coachella, California-based coach best known for guiding his son Randy to the IBF bantamweight title in 2014, said Gonzalez only took off two weeks from their desert camp – to spend Christmas with family in Nicaragua – but he accompanied his star fighter and says they continued to train over the holiday.

Gonzalez in camp with Caballero. Photo by Lina Baker

Caballero, who has been partnered with Gonzalez for five bouts, also reports that Gonzalez has had a lot of quality sparring in Coachella, “doing 10-round sessions with 4-minute rounds with no problem.”

Gonzalez sparred with bantamweight fringe contender Alejandro Santiago (24-3-5, 13 KOs), who held Jerwin Ancajas to a draw in a 115-pound title shot in 2018 and gave Gary Antonio Russell hell in his most recent bout, and junior lightweight Jose “Mega” Soto (11-2, 8 KOs), according to Caballero, who added that Chocolatito also sparred with amateur boxers, including Emiliano Alvarado, the No. 2-rated 114-pounder in the U.S., and Diego Molano, who boxes in the 145-pound division.

If Saturday does indeed turn out to be Gonzalez’s last stand, he’s going to make sure this matchup lives up to its hype.


Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and join him, Tom Loeffler, Coach Schwartz and friends via Tom’s or Doug’s IG Live every Sunday.