Walking through Managua, the bustling capital city of Nicaragua has its challenges. It has been fighting a battle not measured over twelve rounds, but over forty-five years. An enormous Earthquake in 1972 coupled with the Civil War of the 80’s impacted its cultural development.
The city is the largest in Nicaragua. It is messy, with litter and food waste in certain areas. One man missing from this picture used to handle that.
This was one of two jobs that a 10-year old Roman Gonzalez would work every week after leaving school permanently.
“On Saturday and Sunday we would go to throw away my neighbours trash with some childhood friends that, until this day, have always been here with me.”
As you and I traded Pokémon cards and football stickers, ‘Chocolatito’ would follow his father through the housing estates of Managua driving a hard bargain.
“I studied until 5th grade and then I had to work with my parents and friends in the neighbourhood. We come from very humble beginnings. I would sell pesticide from door to door with my father.”
These experiences could make a man bitter about his upbringing, though the ever-smiling Gonzalez seems content, “I feel blessed though because every experience has made me who I am today and cherish every blessing even more!”.
Following his first and only defeat, a contentious points loss to Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai, Chocolatito faces adversity for the first time in his career. He was widely regarded the pound-for-pound number one before his bout with Rungvisai and had racked up forty-six straight wins to cement four world championships. All four coming in different weight classes.
The defeat was hard for Gonzalez to take. It came on the heels of the passing of his long-time trainer and father figure Arnulfo Obando. Obando had told family members he had a headache, only to be suddenly taken to hospital and pronounced brain dead.
One loss could be rectified. The other left a gaping hole in the camp and the heart of Nicaragua’s most succesful fighter.
“It was very difficult because more than a normal trainer, he was like a father to me. He took care of me more than anyone and would always know how to activate me in my job as a boxer.”
Chocolatito chooses not to answer whether the passing of Obando impacted his performance when facing Rungvisai, focusing on the task facing him in their eagerly anticipated rematch on September 9th. Some observers have claimed Gonzalez has reached his weight limit, maybe even exceeding it. The constant climb taking its toll on his small frame and energy reserve. Others chalk it up to poor strategy or an ‘off night’.
The key to victory was scathing, yet clear in Gonzalez’ mind.
“(I will) not leave it in the judges hands and if so, I’ll make sure that I do not recieve intentional headbutts and get robbed again.” Gonzalez changes tact, almost disappointed in himself for allowing emotion to encroach on the answer. “God willing, I will be even better than my last performance. There is something special about training as a challenger, I have learned alot. I feel motivated and thankful with the WBC for ordering an immediate rematch.”
Normal service resumed.
There’s a fire burning deep inside Chocolatito. After a reported unbeaten amateur career and an unblemished professional reign, he finds himself chasing a victory he previously had taken for granted. His passion for the sport remains, that much is unquestionable.
Ironically, Chocolatito doesn’t place too much weight on talks of pound-for-pound rankings.
“I believe it is a blessing to be regarded by the fans and experts as a (top) pound for pound fighter but, right now what matters the most to me is winning my title back and whatever comes through that process I will embrace with happiness and faith. I feel blessed with the support everyone gives me and my team.”
Nicaragua has a population of just over six million people, similar in number to Scotland for example. Boxing has long been popular in the country, producing eleven world champions to date including infamous characters Alexis Arguello and Ricardo Mayorga. Gonzalez is their only four-weight world champion, their most succesful. I struggled to have him agree, though.
“I believe that everyone really enjoys boxing and if I help motivate the youth then I feel even more blessed because it is a nice feeling to know that what you work so hard for is helping the youth to stay out of troubles and drugs. So, I feel very happy. Alexis will always be number one though!”
The youth and the drug problems faced by the youth are two issues close to the former champions heart. A man who holds faith in such high esteem, having overcome the odds at a young age.
With the WBC world title up for grabs in his bout with Rungvisai, attention turned to another world champion in the division. Birmigham’s Kal Yafai holds the WBA belt and Chocolatito isn’t ruling out a massive unification with the Olympian in the future.
“My manager has told me about him and we saw his last fight. I think he is an excellent champion and it would be a dream to fight in the UK! One of my biggest supporters, Vinny and his wife, are from the UK.” Gonzalez continued, “Ever since GGG fought there I have been wanting to make it out there, I know they have amazing boxing matches and fans.”
The potential battle with Yafai on these shores will have to wait as Gonzalez chases vengeance. His eyes are trained on Rungvisai. All of the hurt, the struggles, the long days spent in camp and the healing physical wounds sustained from their initial meeting have led us to this point. It is crystal clear that the lone defeat tainting his record has upset him. What’s more obvious though, is his focus as a man rejuvinated.
“I believe I landed in good hands even more now than ever with Sendai Tanaka and Nakamura San here in Japan in the best gym, Teiken, alongside my father figure also, Mr Honda.”
The confidence creeping back into the placid natured Chocolatito is encouraging for any fans of the sport. “They are teaching me a lot more techinque than before and I feel I will be ready with God’s help on Septemeber 9th to make my fans and countrymen proud!”
Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez steps into the ring again in a couple of weeks time throwing punches at redemption. The passing of his long-time trainer and mentor, his only defeat to date when facing a heavy underdog and everything in between have left the purist’s favourite in a dark place.
When he faces Rungvisai in the second chapter of their rivalry, he will look to banish any demons from his corner. The groups of Nicaraguan natives waiting at airports to welcome him and the adoration of the boxing public spurs him on.
The love of God and of his family keeps him ticking. When all is said and done, Chocolatito knows there is light at the end of the tunnel. He knows exactly how he’d like to be remembered.
“As a fighter that always put God in the front of his life, a boxer that helped the youth to stay out of drugs and that gave his heart every time he trained and fought.”
Written by Craig Scott