Beyond the hype, below the glam divisions and beneath it all at 118 pounds and below lies an invisible world. A world of fisticuffs not restricted by promotional warfare and sleazy matchmaking.
Too few pay attention. Too few see it.
Friday morning, before the sun touched down on most of the United States, history was being made on the other side of the globe.
Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez made his way to Tokyo to seize the WBC flyweight title from Akira Yaegashi via Round 9 TKO. Following in his hero Alexis Arguello's savage fists, Gonzalez became just the second fighter from Nicaragua to claim world titles in three separate weight divisions.
Gonzalez's ninth-round drumming of the excellent Yaegashi not only demonstrated the most polished two-fisted attack in the sport but also consummated his place atop the 112-pound weight class: the best division in boxing.
Rounds 1 and 2 were tame, even a bit too predictable. Gonzalez took the center of the ring, and Yaegashi sprung from corner to corner on the outside. Both men traded jabs. It was in the second that Chocolatito found his range. He interchanged overhand rights, long stabbing lefts to the body and his patented uppercut to drive the Japanese champion into the corner. There, Gonzalez punished Yaegashi's body with punches.
Even still, Yaegashi looked no less a worthy adversary. Punches slam into his face, and he hardly flinches. He relishes war. His firefight with Kazuto Ioka in 2012 is an apt example. His melee with the hard-hitting Pornsawan Porpramook could be the greatest fight in minimumweight history.
In other words, he's the most hardened of Japanese warriors.
So when Yaegashi went tumbling down from a vicious left hook to the chin in Round 3, you can forgive this writer’s astonishment, even against one of the most damaging punchers in recent memory.
But Yaegashi got up. He always does. And the two slugged it out for the last 10 seconds.
The fourth stanza was brutal and fast-paced like only the little men can provide. Just a round off from taking a trip to the canvas, Yaegashi gave his best. In Round 5, he did even better. The Japanese’s output was just intense enough to throw Gonzalez slightly off rhythm and deter his ferocious attack.
Three or four of the first five rounds for Gonzalez seemed about right at this point.
Round 6 and 7 saw the Nicaraguan wonder return to the basics. He shot left jabs into Yaegashi’s face, followed by well-aimed hooks. The Japanese champion’s eyes really began to swell. They always do. His body was beginning to let him down—never the everlasting storage cell his heart is.
In the eighth, two things became painfully obvious: This was Gonzalez’s fight to lose, and Yaegashi—exhausted, broken, gutsy—was going to go out on his shield. Chocolatito continued to lay into him with every punch in the book. In the ninth round, his punches still looked just as crisp as they did in the opening stanza.
The end came by way of a five-punch series of hooks and uppercuts. Yaegashi fell to his bottom, with his face dazed in the worst possible way. He made a frail attempt back to his feet. He always does. But, for once, no one wanted him to. This included referee Michael Griffin, who justly called the bout with 36 seconds to go in Round 9.
Taken over with emotion, Gonzalez (40-0, 34 KO) covered his face with his gloves. Yaegashi would eventually give the crowd a bow, swollen face and all—he maintained a warm smile. There were no insults hurled between corners. There was no animosity between fighters.
Gonzalez and Yaegashi embraced, took pictures and shook hands with each other’s teams. They held each other’s hands up before the crowd in respect, knowing they were a part of something bigger than themselves.
This crazy sport of ours gave a kid like Gonzalez an outlet to climb his way to the top of three different weight classes and look as brilliant and flawless as anyone in doing so.
Chocolatito is the sport’s premier boxer-puncher. He proved it again against the excellent Yaegashi (20-4), Ring Magazine's flyweight champion, an unshakable combatant who had never been stopped.
Gonzalez, a protege of the late, great Hall of Famer Arguello, is a lot like Gennady Golovkin. But better. He wastes no motion. Combinations trickle down from optimum distance, with every punch followed by another. He’s a lot like Sergey Kovalev, with terrifying power in both hands coupled with a full arsenal of punches.
But he’s better.
Neither GGG nor The Krusher has faced off with—let alone completely taken apart—as unique a stylist or as accomplished a boxer as Yaegashi. The Japanese fighter has been the No. 1 flyweight in the world since beating Toshiyuki Igarashi in 2013 and a pound-for-pound claimant over the last year, making three title defenses of his WBC belt, highlighted by veteran Oscar Blanquet and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s No. 4-rated flyweight Edgar Sosa.
The former Japanese champion was the very best fighter in the very best division in boxing, and Gonzalez just wrecked him.
Golovkin holds two top-five knockout wins over Matthew Macklin and Daniel Geale and a top-10 victory over Curtis Stevens. But he’s only fought in one weight class and isn’t even clearly the No. 1 middleweight in the world. Miguel Cotto is the one who stopped Sergio Martinez.
And Kovalev is even worse, with just two top-10 wins (Gabriel Campillo and Nathan Cleverly), the most recent dating back to late 2013.
Chocolatito, only 27, has been the top-ranking fighter in his weight class as far back as 2008 when he stomped Yutaka Niida in four rounds for the WBA minimumweight title. He defended that belt three times including a unanimous-decision victory over former No. 1 strawweight Katsunari Takayama.
He fought his way through the 108-pound division, becoming the No. 1 fighter in that weight class as well, winning and defending the WBA portion of the light flyweight title four times and knocking out former WBO light flyweight champion Ramon Garcia Hirales in four rounds. And over the last two years he has gone 8-0 with wins over current No. 1 strawweight Francisco Rodriguez Jr. and the two best flyweights in the world in Juan Francisco Estrada and Yaegashi.
Andre Ward—for one reason or another—has fought just twice over the same time period.
Gonzalez should have been a staple on everybody’s pound-for-pound top-10 lists. Now with such a thorough thumping of a fighter like Yaegashi (the biggest win of the Nicaraguan’s career), Chocolatito is a bona fide shoo-in for the top five.
And fighting at flyweight—the most stacked division today—he has a chance to put together the best resume of his generation, regardless of weight class.
As for the rest of the weekend, only two flyweights matter: Estrada (rated No. 1 by the TBRB) and Giovani Segura (No. 6). The two Mexicans fight Saturday night, and the winner is the perfect matchup for the newly minted champion Gonzalez.
And WBA and WBO flyweight champion “El Gallo” Estrada is more than game. He said, per TheBoxingTribune.com: "I know I'm the best in my division and I'm going to prove it. Giovani is the first on my list, and then I'm going after 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez. I want to be the champion of each of the four sanctioning bodies, and I'm already halfway there."
Those are some serious words. But it's what we've come to expect from these flyweights. They long for glory and are willing to go through anyone to get it.
That's the kind of world they fight in. And they'd be pleased to have you.