In some ways, every time you hear, “first X to do Y in Z divisions,” you’re reminded that boxing has too many weight divisions. In other ways, the results in the ring often demonstrate why that many weight classes are a good idea.
Saturday night on HBO, when pound-for-pound king and flyweight champ Roman Gonzalez moved up yet again, to junior bantamweight, we were given both at the same time.
Gonazlez beat Carlos Cuadras to win his fourth alphabet belt. (Set aside, for now, that it’s easier to win a belt when there are four or more per division than a true championship, of which there is only one.) That made him the first man from Nicaragua to do so in boxing history, which was the headline for many a publication. Some of them included the proper caveat about how this feat wasn’t possible in earlier eras, but the headline is often what sticks in people’s heads.
But under boxing’s original weight division formulation, Gonzalez would still have just two such belts, because he won belts in divisions that wouldn’t have existed then. It matters, and diminishes the accomplishment such that it SHOULDN’T have been the headline.
Really, the headline right after should’ve included some or all of these elements: Gonzalez is still the best fighter alive after beating a helluva good junior bantamweight in a cracker of a bout. We’re on day two, or mine would’ve looked like that.
But purists — a label that has come to take on a derisive tone in the mouths of critics — aren’t always right, same as anyone. Some purists will tell you that the weight difference at these classes near the bottom of the scale is insignificant. Saturday night shows us how much of an influence three pounds can have.
You can suggest, as HBO’s Roy Jones did, that Cuadras just has a good chin (aside: Jones diminished Cuadras early for facing no one “we” had heard of, but speak for yourself, pal — Cuadras has beaten some good fighters). And he might. But Gonzalez has moved up in weight from 105 to 108 to 112. He’s carried his power well. Starting from the moment he secured the lineal flyweight crown, Gonzalez has stopped six of the seven 112-pounders he faced. Some of them aren’t guys who have been easily dispatched before.
Cuadras, to be sure, had not previously been KO’d. But Gonzalez never even shook him, and, again, Gonzalez is used to KOing guys who don’t get KO’d. And he looked pretty beat up afterward.
Three pounds doesn’t sound like a lot. But if you weight 112 pounds, it’s a difference maker. Perhaps Gonalez grows into the 115-pound division; he really went after a very, very tough challenge in his intro to the division, the #2 man in the class, a real puncher. That he didn’t knock him out doesn’t mean he won’t be a terrific 115-pounder, same as he’s been a terrific fighter at every other weight.
He just got a reminder of an oft-neglected lesson about how much one weight class can matter, even as he earned an achievement that that was diminished by how many of them there are.
(INGLEWOOD, CALIF. — Carlos Cuadras of Mexico and Roman Gonzalez of Nicaragua in action during their junior bantamweight fight at The Forum on Sept. 10; Photo: Josh Lefkowitz,Getty Images)