Imagine, if you will, that Terence Crawford made his TV debut last month against Julius Indongo when he became the first undisputed champion in any division in nearly a decade. While those who really have a beat on the pulse of the sport would know who he was, the great majority probably wouldn’t care, and why would they? Here was this guy coming essentially out of nowhere fighting somebody nobody knows, and all of a sudden, we were all supposed to embrace his greatness?
That pretty much sums up the last two years of the Roman Gonzalez experiment up until its violent conclusion last weekend at the hands of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Gonzalez was brought to the big stage late in his career only known to the most dedicated of fans and media members, but almost immediately was being sold as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world for those who weren’t paying attention. The strategy to immediately put Gonzalez on a pedestal wasn’t technically sound, but it became evident of how decisive it was in the moments after his brutal stoppage loss.
Just as many people were quick to write Gonzalez up as another HBO hype-job that couldn’t take the heat once he had to face it, there was no loss of people who quickly came to his defense to create a contentious, if not pointless, debate.
The fact is that Roman Gonzalez is a great fighter and if he retires he will be remembered as a great fighter, and how could he not? For most his career, the man was a world champion in four weight classes and ruled the very small weight classes with an iron fist. It wasn’t until he went too far up in weight at the end of his career where his ended awaited him, which isn’t uncommon for the sub-Featherweight divisions. Should we have seen the last of Gonzalez, and I hope it is, we’ll be seeing him again as a first ballot Hall of Famer and he’ll ultimately be remembered as one of the best little fighters of all time.
Then again, that is only if you have been paying attention to the whole ride and not just what we saw over the course of the last two years. Gonzalez went 4-2 during that time frame and one would be forgiven if they hadn’t heard of any of his opponents when he fought them or cared what they did afterwards. Not to mention that his fight with Carlos Cuadras was a chippy affair that had a fair share of people thinking Cuadras should have walked away with the win, and then that brought us to the two-fight series with Sor Rungvisai.
Summing it up, we really got three high-profile squash matches, the Cuadras fight that could have gone either way, then the losses that left him unconscious last Saturday night. Not exactly a lot to like there if there was no backstory behind how good Gonzalez was, and that was a risk that was always on the table bringing him in at this point of his career.
It is a hard sell to bring a fighter so deep in his career to feature him as a must-see attraction, yet doing so with nobody to match him up against. Last weekend’s card was a ploy to either position a trilogy fight with Sor Rungvisai or a return match against former conquests Cuadras and Juan Francisco Estrada, and ultimately end up with a bludgeoning at the hands of new network darling Naoya Inoue sometime in 2018.
Maybe I am just ignorant, but then again, I could just be right in the middle of the argument. How Roman could be considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world escaped me then as it does now. His defense was shoddy at best, hidden behind a high and accurate work rate where he’d usually land two or three punches to his opponents one, and his technique was one that placed him on a path to ruin. And again, Gonzalez’s accomplishments are nothing to scoff at, but his resume falls in line with many of the other little greats of recent memory when it comes to lack of depth with more filler fights than defining ones over the course of his illustrious career. How many came to crown Gonzalez not as one of the best, but the ABSOLUTE best, outside of filling a void for the soon to depart Floyd Mayweather is beyond me.
It was both a pleasure and a shame to have brought Roman Gonzalez to the game when they did, because in his prime and with the same media campaign that followed him he could have been for the Flyweights and the like as Naseem Hamed was for the Featherweights. We got a version of “Chocolatito” that was too close to the end for everyone to properly appreciate him, so instead we have two sides of an argument that carry equal weight and may not come to a settlement, at least not until his inevitable enshrinement in Canastota.