The main event, or so we were told, for last night’s solid DAZN card from Texas was a showdown of welterweight contenders, Mikey Garcia and Jessie Vargas. But for the vast majority of serious fight fans, that wasn’t a match-up to get the blood flowing, even though it proved to be an entertaining clash and one that showed the stubborn Garcia is nicely set up for future defeats in a weight class he’s actually too small for. Instead the bout that should have been top on the bill – and was the major attraction for many, if not most – was Gonzalez vs Yafai, a match which marked the return of Roman Gonzalez to the championship fold. With only two fights under his belt since suffering a devastating knockout defeat to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2017, the jury was still out as to whether or not “Chocolatito,” our Fighter of the Decade, still had something left to compete at the elite level in this decade.
After all, the legendary Nicaraguan is entering senior citizen territory for a flyweight at 32-years-old and there’s no shortage of hard miles on his diminutive frame. And if the younger Yafai was not on anyone’s pound-for-pound list, he was a legit, undefeated titlist looking for a breakout fight. All agreed, there was some serious risk in this match-up for the great Gonzalez, while this was Yafai’s big chance.
But if Yafai had the chance of a lifetime to score his biggest ever win and take himself to a new level, there were two things working against the Briton. One, the undeniable greatness of his opponent, who clearly has power and ringsmarts to spare, even at this late stage of his career. And two, a strategy that made little sense as he gave Gonzalez precisely the kind of fight the veteran wanted. Instead of using movement and distance to try and outbox and outlast “Chocolatito,” the defending champion willingly went into the trenches with one of the best in-fighters in the game. In the past, Yafai had inspired disdain for his negative and, frankly, boring style, but now was not the time to try and change that. But that’s exactly what he did and he paid the price.
The champion had a decent start as he won the opening round with activity and an effective jab, but soon enough Gonzalez was finding his range and rhythm and scoring with right hands and uppercuts. By round four it was clear Yafai was out-gunned as Roman’s potent right put the champion on the defensive and kept him there. A clash of heads in round six gave Yafai an opportunity to reverse the momentum as Gonzalez suffered a cut on his right eye, but the Briton could not capitalize as the veteran went back to breaking down his opponent with sharp, accurate blows.
At the end of round eight a beautiful uppercut-right hand combination put Yafai on the canvas. The champion beat the count but it was clear to all the match was decided. Another vicious right hand produced another knockdown to start round nine and the referee wisely called a halt at the 29 second mark to give Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez yet another world title belt to add to his collection.
Few active boxers are as highly respected and admired as Gonzalez and a truly major win and another championship puts him in an enviable position in the super flyweight division. Arguably the most lucrative and intriguing match-up now is a return bout with Juan Francisco Estrada. That match made our list of the Top 12 bouts we want to see this year, and with good reason as “Chocolatito” and “El Gallo” gave fans an excellent twelve round war in 2012 and it’s a damn shame there never was a rematch. Roman got the decision that night, but it’s anyone’s guess what would happen should they do battle again in 2020.
As for Yafai, it’s back to the drawing board as they say, and his options may be limited. Not a major attraction outside of his home country, but with enough skill to be a dangerous out for anyone in the super flyweight division, it will take some patience and persistence to get himself back in the title picture. But no matter what, decades from now he can tell his grand-kids that he did battle with the great “Chocolatito,” and even won a round from one of the true greats of the era. Only a select few can say the same.
— Robert Portis