SAN DIEGO – Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez isn’t even close to being done at the top level.
A world class performance in a career filled with many saw Nicaragua’s Gonzalez dominate Julio Cesar Martinez en route to a twelve-round, unanimous decision victory Saturday evening at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, California. Scores were 118-110, 117-111, 116-112 in favor of Gonzalez, the former four-division champion and one-time pound king who is eager to return to the championship picture after a masterclass performance in the DAZN main event.
Gonzalez was initially due to face longtime rival and WBA “Super” junior bantamweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada (42-3, 28KOs), who was forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid in January. Martinez stepped in on six weeks’ notice, agreeing to move up in weight as his WBC flyweight title was not at stake.
The fight was initially in jeopardy of being canceled after Martinez was well over the junior bantamweight, weighing 117 pounds on his first attempt for a fight where he was moving up one full division. Martinez returned less than two hours later but still registered at 116.4 rounds, 1.4 over the contracted limit and leading to heated discussions between both camps in figuring out how to proceed.
Martinez did his part during Saturday’s mandatory same-day weigh-in, hitting the scale at 122.8 pounds—nearly four pounds lighter than the 10% over the contract allotment per California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) rules. The snafu at Friday’s weigh-in resulted in a 20% forfeiture of his reported $250,000 purse, with $25,000 going to Gonzalez in addition to his reported $725,000 payday and the remaining $25,000 to the commission.
Martinez never appeared to be depleted at any point during any of the weigh-in sessions and was at full strength by the opening bell. The 27-year-old Mexico City native brought the fight to the legendary Gonzalez, seven years his senior but who remains one of the busiest punchers from bell to bell.
“I wanted to feel Martinez’s power,” Gonzalez admitted to BoxingScene.com after the fight. “I told my corner that I wanted to feel his power in the opening round and then make him feel my power. My corner didn’t want me to take any (unnecessary) punishment.”
Gonzalez did just that, outworking Martinez in round two and really never looked back. The two engaged in an entertaining round three that had the crowd on edge. Martinez came forward, ripping off right hands set up by his steady jab. Gonzalez—a former champion at strawweight, junior flyweight, flyweight and junior bantamweight—picked up the pace in a big way, firing right hands and left hooks to the body and punching in combination upstairs. Chants of ‘ME-XI-CO’ rang out throughout the venue in efforts to will Martinez back into the lead.
Martinez did just that at the start of round four, using his jab to slow down Gonzalez’s attack and creating room for his own combinations. Gonzalez was forced to cover up as Martinez launched a series of left hooks and looping right hands, several of which found the mark. The momentum swung back in favor of the former four-division champion, who bounced sweat off Martinez’s head after landing cleanly upstairs near the end of the round,
Chants of ‘Choco’ were belted out at the start of round five, which saw Gonzalez boxing on his toes while pumping a steady stream of jabs. Martinez kept flipping between conventional and southpaw solely for defensive purposes, with counter left hooks and winging right hands partially blocked or avoided altogether by Gonzalez.
Martinez jumped out to a strong start in round six, connecting with three right hands behind Gonzalez’s tight guard in the opening minute. Gonzalez—who landing 39-of-101 punches in the round—responded with a right hand to snap back the head of Martinez later in the round, Martinez landed a left hook, only to once again leave himself open for Gonzalez’s right hand and an uppercut that appeared to have hurt the streaking flyweight titlist.
Gonzalez had Martinez pinned along the ropes midway through round seven, with Martinez not throwing back but daring his rival to keep throwing, Gonzalez’s momentum was briefly stalled after slipping to the canvas. Martinez showed restraint in circling away from his fallen foe, with the two touching gloves in a measure of respect.
The end of round eight saw Martinez look deflated, as Gonzalez did not show any let up in what is supposed to be the twilight of his career. Martinez did his best to turn the tide in round nine, landing wide right hands and left hooks but leaving himself open for Gonzalez counter shots straight down the middle.
Martinez spent most of round ten with back touching the ropes and with Gonzalez on the attack. Gonzalez’s combinations and side to side movement on the inside proved far too problematic for Martinez to solve, getting clipped with a left hook and right uppercut before managing to push the fight back to the center of the ring.
With the fight well out of reach, Martinez needed a knockout in the twelfth and final round. He nearly landed on the wrong end, with Gonzalez continuing to come forward and landing nearly at will—fight highs 58 connected shots out of 129 total punches. Martinez’s world class chin kept him off the canvas but not out of the loss column.
“I’m very surprised he took that much punishment,” Gonzalez noted after a fight where he landed 374-of-1076 punches (35%)—including a mind-blowing 346-of-682 power shots (51%)—compared to 182-of-713 (26%) for Martinez, including 168-of-451 power punches (37%).
The landslide decision in favor of Gonzalez results in Martinez’s first defeat since his pro debut, having rattled off a 20-fight unbeaten streak including an active WBC flyweight title reign. However, he has struggled in the past to make that weight, along with injuries and illness serving as a disruptor to an otherwise entertaining title reign.
The next step remains unclear even in returning to flyweight as Martinez falls to 18-2 (14KOs).
As for Gonzalez, there is still plenty of life in a career long ago destined for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The uncrowned junior bantamweight champion improves to 51-3 (41KOs) with the win, his first since October 2020. The lone fight in between was his controversial split decision defeat to Estrada in their Fight of the Year-level rematch last March 13 at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
“Everyone knows that I won that fight against Gallo Estrada,” insisted Gonzalez. “In all honesty, the only fighter to truly beat me was (Srisaket) Sor Rungvisai. I consider myself to have won every other fight.
Two separate efforts to schedule the rubber match both fell prey to Covid. Gonzalez tested positive for the infectious disease in having to cancel their planned October 16 meeting before Estrada had to shut down camp this past January after experiencing mild symptoms.
The WBC Diamond belt that was at stake is supposed to provide Gonzalez with a clear path to Estrada, who holds the WBC “Franchise” title in addition to the physical WBA “Super” belt. Estrada was ordered by the WBA to next face WBA ‘World’ junior bantamweight titlist Joshua Franco in a title consolidation clash, which is being eyed for June but not yet finalized.
Whatever is next for Gonzalez, it will merely add to what has now become two Hall of Fame careers.
“My bosses will decide what is next for me,” noted Gonzalez. “Whatever they decide, as long as it pays well.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox