Pay-per-view undercards rarely get much attention, especially given the gruel that boxing’s power brokers have ladled forth over the past few years, but, Saturday night from Madison Square Garden, one of the sport’s most unique talents takes the stage in the chief supporting bout: Nicaragua’s Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (left) meets Brian Viloria (right) for Gonzalez’s flyweight championship, and it promises to be a fun fight.
For years, Gonzalez (43-0, 37 KO) was the darling of boxing “purists,” i.e. people who will actually wake up at 5 a.m. to watch a grainy stream of a fight between two 112-pound men being contested halfway across the world. It has only been recently that the rest of us (and HBO) have taken notice. Turns out the hyperbole wasn’t actually hyperbole. Gonzalez is a complete fighter. He has phenomenal speed, concussive power, and flawless technique. He is also a consummate professional, always in shape and always on weight.
In truth, only two of Gonzalez’s fights have been close: a 2009 majority decision victory over Francisco Rojas at 105lbs in Rojas’s back yard. And his 2012 scorcher with Juan Francisco Estrada that entertained mightily, but was a clear victory. Last year, Gonzalez claimed the lineal flyweight title by systematically dismantling then-champion Akira Yaegashi, leaving the Japanese fighter a lumpy, bloody mess. With the exception of Estrada, Gonzalez has stopped every one of his opponents in the last four years. He’s fucking terrifying.
Across the ring from him is mercurial Hawaiian Brian Viloria. A 2000 Olympian, Viloria (36-4, 22 KO) has often been a disappointment, despite his prodigious physical gifts. He breezed through the first five years of his career before dropping three straight to Omar Nino Romero and Edgar Sosa in 2006-2007 (his rematch with Omar Nino Romero was changed to a No Contest after Romero failed a drug test). Viloria rebounded with a series of wins before being outworked, and ultimately stopped by Carlos Tamara in 2010. Again, we were told, Viloria had dedicated himself to training and was taking his career seriously. It showed. After moving up to flyweight, Viloria blitzed highly-regarded Hernan Marquez and Giovanni Segura, and avenging his earlier loss to Omar Nino Romero with a crushing 9th round TKO.
Then in 2013, Viloria took a backward step. Immediately following his destruction of Hernan Marquez, Viloria dropped a split decision to Juan Francisco Estrada. There’s nothing wrong with losing to Estrada. He’s an excellent fighter, and six months before defeating Viloria, he’d given Chocolatito the toughest fight of his career. It was how Viloria lost. He controlled much of the early action with graceful footwork and sharp combination punching, but as the fight wore on, Viloria’s output lagged. He didn’t look old, so much as breathless, and people again began to wonder if he’d trained as hard as should’ve. He’s gone 4-0 with three knockouts since the Estrada loss, but against mediocre competition.
A prime superstar facing a faded contender shouldn’t be interesting, but to me, it is. Yes, Viloria is old; 34 is old in boxing years, and it’s goddamn archaic in flyweight years. And I don’t think he’s going to win. But he’s not going to get blown out, and he won’t get comprehensively outboxed. Viloria is quick, agile, and has good power in either hand. He also punches fluidly in combination. He’s going to need every drop of talent he can wring out to keep up with Gonzalez, and I think he will.
Expect a game of blitz chess early, with Gonzalez getting the better of exchanges. Both men are marvelous combination punchers who can lead or counter, but Gonzalez will put Viloria on his back foot at some point, and then we’ll either get a Fight Of The Year candidate or an execution.
Pick: Gonzalez by late stoppage.