Fight Report: Gonzalez vs Arce

The Event
Last night in Los Mochis, Mexico, WBC featherweight champion Johnny Gonzalez made the second defense of his title against veteran action-hero Jorge “Travieso” Arce, who was aiming for his sixth title in a sixth different division. While the contest would’ve been welcomed as a guaranteed fireworks festival had it occurred a few years back, large portions of the boxing public were skeptical as to the current version of Arce competing with a dangerous, experienced puncher like Gonzalez.

In fact, most observers believed Gonzalez, who acquired the title by dismantling the talented Abner Mares in one round 14 months ago, would have no problems dispatching Arce early, in a manner similar to what occurred in “Travieso’s” last high-profile bout: a humbling third round KO loss to Nonito Donaire almost two years ago. But in a year in which enticing boxing matches have been the exception and not the rule, a small number of fight fans looked at Gonzalez vs. Arce as a sleeper, clinging to the hope that both fighters’ penchant for warfare could maybe, just maybe, provide some measure of excitement.

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At the weigh-in both men looked ready to rumble, but in truth only one was.

The Result
The contest was fought entirely on Gonzalez’ terms with the Mexico City native easily controlling the distance and pace. He proved too capable and too disciplined to allow Jorge Arce a chance to compete, even as Arce himself proved too gun shy and lacking in ideas to close the distance. Johnny stuck to an elemental plan which saw him box behind an effective jab, which he would follow up with a straight right and occasionally mix up with his vaunted left hooks. Despite Arce’s vocal encouragement while standing against the ropes or in a corner, Johnny refused to deviate from his gameplan, devised by trainer Nacho Beristain, and instead focused on winning one exchange at a time, and piling up the points.

These ingredients made for an uninteresting encounter which nonetheless resulted in Arce absorbing large amounts of punishment and getting dropped by three of Gonzalez’ left hooks. While the TV broadcast showed Arce yelling at his team between rounds that he would “die in the ring!”, the fading veteran is now far from the windmilling machine of old. Short of reach compared to Gonzalez and short of breath as early as the fourth round, Arce had no chance to land his blows, which he only threw sporadically via easily avoided wide, roundhouse swings. The lack of suspense alternated with Arce’s melodramatic gestures and screams as he tried to cajole the champion into a brawl, and this mirrored the crowd’s shifting mood as they oscillated between booing their hometown hero and then propelling him forward with cries of “Travieso! Travieso!”.

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But unlike past occasions in which the always game Arce found almost miraculous ways to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, the 35-year-old Sinaloan just didn’t have enough left in the tank after 74 fights and 18 years as a pro to match Gonzalez’ precision and efficacy. The end finally came in round eleven, after Arce spit out his mouth guard for the second time with the apparent intention of getting some extra time to catch his breath. But the referee had seen enough, as he stopped the contest with a few seconds left in the round and granted the champion a TKO victory.

The Take Away
From the moment Gonzalez vs Arce became a possibility, it resembled less a genuine boxing match than a cash-grab by all parties involved, and that is precisely the end it served. Both the champion and the challenger were well rewarded for staging this mismatch in Arce’s hometown, and so it does little to enhance either combatant’s ledger. What good can come of it depends on whether Arce sticks to his announced plans to retire after the defeat, which he voiced after telling Johnny, “Goddamn, you hit hard, motherfucker!” Jorge has regaled boxing fans with a long and successful career, filled with many more dramatic and exciting fights than disappointments. But one can only hope the Mexican warrior sticks to his promise to hang up the gloves, something that is overdue by at least half a dozen fights.

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Challenges lie ahead for Johnny Gonzalez, who remains one of the best featherweights around, and whose fearsome punching power and no-nonsense technical approach are a threat to anyone competing at the weight. A much rumoured rematch with Abner Mares beckons, and a fight against the winner of the upcoming Nonito Donaire vs. Nicholas Walters contest would be a treat. Any of those opponents represent true challenges for Gonzalez, and much fairer contests for the paying public to see.

–Rafael García

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