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Roman Gonzalez delivers a masterpiece against Kal Yafai

Roman Gonzalez
Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA
Roman Gonzalez turns back the clock to topple Kal Yafai, writes Jack Hirsch

IT was supposed to end with Kal Yafai making a successful sixth defence of his WBA super-flyweight title – then Yafai and the rest of us would reminisce what a great fighter Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez had once been.

There was no reason to think it would be any different. The unbeaten Yafai was the boxer whose career was on an upswing, who needed that one name opponent on his ledger for us to start shortlisting him among the premier title-holders. And who better than Gonzalez to provide that?

Yet there was still a feeling of uncertainty when both entered the ring at The Ford Center at The Star (Matchroom promoted).

Few were picking against Birmingham’s only ever world champion, despite that he was no more than a slight betting favourite. It would be a good night to put a few bob on the champion. After all, Gonzalez was past his best, trying to revive a career that had been in tatters after a brutal knockout defeat to Sisraket Rungvisai in 2017, since when he had boxed only twice since against modest opposition. 

Hold back the tears and save the nostalgia for another time. In the most stirring and spectacular fight of the legendary Nicaraguan’s career, he picked  Yafai apart before stopping him at 29 seconds of the ninth round.

At the time of the stoppage, Gonzalez led on the scorecards of judges Rafael Ramos by 80-71, Wilfredo Esperon 78-73, Dave Moretti 77-74.

If there was anything more surprising than the result, it was the tactics Yafai employed. Rather than box from the outside, where he is usually most comfortable, Yafai continuously waded in and tried to overpower Gonzalez in close. Even when that strategy failed to work the champion stubbornly refused to adjust.

Yafai’s trainer Spencer McCracken was perplexed, pleading with him at the end of the second round to box, saying he was fighting Gonzalez’s fight.

Yafai professed to having idolised Gonzalez, once even paying to see him box. Whether it was hero worship or something else, Yafai was not functioning on this night. His mouthpiece came out twice early in the fight and he stayed stationary for long periods, allowing Gonzalez to double up on left hooks to the body and uppercuts to the chin. Yafai’s jab was non-existent. 

Chocolatito was in a rhythm and breaking Yafai down. It was shades of Roberto Duran and Davey Moore all over again. Gonzalez was cut over the right eye from a butt, but the punches he was delivering were making Yafai’s facial damage worse.

By the eighth round it looked like Yafai’s confidence was totally gone. Textbook combinations from Gonzalez had Britain’s longest-reigning current world champion unsettled. With about 10 seconds left in the round, a combination topped off by a right hook dropped Yafai. The bell soon rang, but the minute’s rest between rounds did not matter: Yafai was a tired fighter, mentally beaten.

Gonzalez put the finishing touches on his masterpiece soon after the ninth began, landing a jab followed by a booming right to the chin. Yafai crashed hard on his back and started to pull himself up, but referee Luis Pabon had seen enough.

Chocolatito was a world champion again. Maybe he has other big fights left in him – if not, the memory of this evening is sure to endure.

Unfortunately for Yafai his run at the top might be destined to become no more than a footnote to the Chocolatito legend. But if he needs any encouragement that he can come again, he need look no further than his idol, who is living proof of that.

Jay Harris was distraught over not only losing a 12-round unanimous decision against Julio Cesar Martinez in an unsuccessful bid to win the WBC flyweight title, but also how the match was scored; he felt he deserved no worse than a draw.

The man from Wales was being hard on both himself and judges Fernando Barbosa at 116-111 (same as me), Jesse Reyes 115-112 and Herb Santos’ 118-109. Laurence Cole refereed.

Harris can take some positives from his first fight outside the UK. He acquitted himself very well, proving he was of championship caliber despite failing to achieve his goal this night. Harris’ problem came down to what he was up against – a superior fighter in Martinez, who is fast gaining a reputation as a champion who might turn out to be special.

“One of boxing’s must-see attractions,” ring announcer Dave Diamante bellowed to the crowd in introducing Mexico City’s Martinez. Although Harris had some support from those who made the long trip overseas, the huge Mexican contingent drowned them out.

Martinez attacked from the start and never let up. His flexibility, speed and ability to unload hard blows from long range troubled Harris in the opening round, but then he settled in.

Harris moved around, boxed, all the while looking for ways to get inside and land blows that would make a difference. But Martinez’s timing was superb and his power greater. From time to time an accumulation of blows from Harris would be cancelled out when Martinez landed, heavily forcing him to regroup.

The challenger’s blows were straight, down the slot and technically perfect at times, but Martinez’s were generally more damaging.

Martinez landed thudding body punches throughout and cut Harris’ left eye in the fourth. Harris also bled from the nose. Martinez did not escape unscathed, his cheeks being badly bruised.

The pace was quick with neither willingly conceding anything to the other, but Martinez grabbed a firm foothold on the contest early in the 10th round when a left hook to the body dropped Harris. A lesser challenger might have folded, but Harris showed resolve, getting to his feet at eight and battling on even terms the rest of the way. 

With his eyes swollen, the left virtually closed, said: “I thought I nicked it. I wanted to win the title so badly, I’m gutted I didn’t win it.” 

Harris had given everything yet came up short. Another fight on another night against a champion a little less formidable than Martinez, might very well see him achieve his dream somewhere down the line.

After defeating Jessie Vargas in the nominal main event by a unanimous 12-round decision, Mikey Garcia emerged as the front runner in the Manny Pacquiao sweepstakes.

The reason is that the Filipino legend, the WBA’s welterweight king, will probably find Garcia more beatable than fellow champions Terence Crawford and Errol Spence, who are reportedly being considered as well.

Not that Garcia is chopped liver. He might even start as a slight betting favourite against Pacquiao, but regardless of how he might do in that fight, the drubbing the Oxnard, California, man suffered against Spence last March should convince him not to take up residence in the welterweight division. He is simply not big enough to be a force there, even after having won world titles in multiple weight divisions leading up to that.

Garcia did well to emerge with the victory in his first fight since the Spence debacle, but his vulnerabilities were exposed in the early going against Las Vegas’ Vargas, a former champion whose current form suggests he is more gatekeeper than title contender. Whether Garcia himself is still an elite fighter we shall see, but what is indisputable is that he’s still an elite attraction. The victory over Vargas keeps him in the mix for big things, be it Pacquiao or whatever.

Vargas fought confidently the first four rounds, jabbing and controlling the pace, but then it all turned quickly in the fifth when Garcia landed a right to the side of the head two minutes in. Vargas’ equilibrium was gone and it took several rounds before it came back. During that time Garcia forged ahead, putting everything behind his blows and hurting Vargas at various intervals. Mike McCallum, Vargas’ trainer, looked on the verge of stopping it in the corner after a couple of the rounds. 

Garcia tired in the later stages, which enabled Vargas to come back a bit  over the last two rounds, but by then the fight had gone away from him. I had it 115-112 Garcia.

Judges Kathy Leonard and Steve Morrow both had it 116-111, while David Sutherland scored 114-113. Jon Schorle refereed.

Joseph Parker scored a nice victory in stopping Illinois’ Shawndell Terell Winters at 2-40 of the fifth round in a scheduled 10, but it was a more competitive fight than expected.

Parker dropped Winters in the third round, but then was cut on the right eye from a left hook in the fourth. 

Feeling a sense of urgency, the former WBO heavyweight champion from New Zealand came out firing in the fifth. Right hands were landing flush. Winters could not withstand the attack and was sent sprawling under the lower ring rope. He got up at the count of seven and gamely tried to convince referee Rosario Solis to allow him to continue, but it was wisely stopped.

Joel Diaz says Israil Madrimov 25, is the most talented boxer he has ever worked with. Considering the men Diaz has trained, that says quite a lot.

Madrimov, with only five fights as a professional, finds himself as the WBA’s mandatory challenger in the super-welterweight division. The Uzbekistan native earned that distinction by stopping 40-year-old Venezuelan Charlie Navarro at 2-24 of the sixth round in a scheduled 10.

Bouncing in and out, and switching often from lefty to righty, Madrimov created a web of confusion for Navarro, who never mounted an attack. He was content to survive and was on the retreat throughout.

“C’mon Israil, finish this guy,” said Diaz in the corner at the end of the fifth. Madrimov duly cooperated by sending Navarro to the canvas twice, first from a left to the body, then later from a right to the chin, at which point referee Rafael Ramos called a halt.

Las Vegas prospect Alexis Espino was given firm resistance but did enough to win a unanimous six-round decision over Tuscaloosa’s Delvecchio Savage. Judges’ Rudy Chapa and David Iacobucci had it 59-55, Don Griffin 60-54. Neal Young refereed.

Los Angeles prospect Diego Pacheco, 18, continued his progress with a unanimous six-round decision over Mexico’s Oscar Riojas. Riojas was being battered in the closing moments and on the verge of being stopped when the final bell rescued him. Judges Chapa, Iacobucci and Javier Martinez all had it 60-54. Young refereed.

Californian Leo Ruiz Acevedo had little problem with Oklahoma’s Dennis Knifechief, stopping him at 1-44 of the third round in a six refereed by Solis.

Jesse Rodriguez of San Antonio dominated his scheduled eight against Californian Marco Sustaita before referee Cole stepped in to call a halt at 1-10 of the final round.

The Verdict Yafai will have to rebuild, while Garcia can look forward to a monster Pacquiao payday.

FULL RESULTS
Roman Gonzalez (114 1/2lbs), 49-2 (41), w rsf 9 Khalid Yafai (115lbs), 26-1 (15); Julio Cesar Martinez (111 1/2lbs), 16-1 (12), w pts 12 Jay Harris (111 1/2lbs), 17-1 (9); Mikey Garcia(146lbs), 40-1 (30), w pts 12 Jessie Vargas (147lbs), 29-3-2 (11); Joseph Parker (245 1/2lbs), 27-2 (21), w rsf 5 Shawndell Terell Winters (208lbs), 13-3 (12); Israil Madrimov (153lbs), 5-0 (5), w rsf 6 Charlie Navarro (153lbs), 29-10 (22); Jesse Rodriguez (111lbs), 11-0 (7), w rsf 8 Marco Sustaita (111lbs), 12-3-1 (10); Diego Pacheco (167 1/2lbs), 9-0 (7), w pts 6 Oscar Riojas (167 1/2lbs), 21-13-1 (10); Alexis Espino (165lbs), 6-0 (4), w pts 6 Delvecchio Savage (163 1/2lbs), 3-6-1 (3); Leo Ruiz Acevedo (153lbs), 7-0 (5), w rsf 3 Dennis Knifechief (155lbs), 12-12-1 (7).

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