Even in defeat, Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez displays Hall of Fame greatness

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 03: Roman Gonzalez (R) of Nicaragua lands a right hook on Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico during their WBC super flyweight title bout at Desert Diamond Arena on December 03, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

This is the fight, perhaps the only one, in the illustrious career of Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez in which he’ll leave the ring with regrets.

In their third fight in a 10-year span on Saturday, Juan Francisco Estrada eked out a majority decision victory by scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 114-114 in a bout that Gonzalez may have let slip through his hands.

Gonzalez is on a short list of the greatest fighters under 118 pounds who ever lived, but an inability to keep Estrada pinned to the ropes on Saturday at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona, doomed him.

Estrada raced out to an early lead only to have to hang on down the stretch as Gonzalez mounted an impressive comeback. The fight could have gone either way — Yahoo Sports scored it 114-114 — but Gonzalez made it too easy for Estrada.

They first fought in 2012 at flyweight in an incredible bout that Gonzalez won. They fought again in 2021 at super flyweight, an Estrada win that many believed Gonzalez also deserved.

The culmination of the trilogy was a brilliant display of boxing by both men. Gonzalez, as he often does, pressed forward, and in the second half of the fight, he was his typical self, throwing thudding shots to the body and combinations to the head that rattled Estrada, who won the vacant WBC title that he had never lost in the ring.

But Estrada showed great lateral movement and frequently pivoted away from the ropes, particularly in the early part of the fight. Gonzalez didn't make much headway in those rounds and Estrada built up a lead. Gonzalez suggested the strategy early was to get a feel for what Estrada could do, but it may have cost him the fight.

“I wanted to see what he had,” Gonzalez said of Estrada.

What Estrada had was the ability to avoid being pinned to the ropes and not get stuck in a position where he had to endure Gonzalez’s withering body shots. Repeatedly in the first few rounds, Gonzalez would stalk forward, taking punches from Estrada, but would back him into the ropes. When the fight got there, the experienced Gonzalez couldn’t keep him where he wanted him.

Estrada was also able to change speeds on his punches and like a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, that strategy was much more effective than throwing heat all the time.

“I always go from less to more, but Chocolatito can’t do that because he is always going 100 miles per hour in a fight,” Estrada said.

It was a classic battle that, while maybe not as high-quality as their first two engagements, lived up to the billing. Promoter Eddie Hearn loved what he saw, and Estrada said Gonzalez deserves a rematch.

Gonzalez, 35, said he’d need to think over whether he fights again in a career in which he’s all but a lock to earn induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on his first attempt. He’s 51-4 with 41 KOs and has lost to only two men, Sor Rungvisai and Estrada. Two of the losses were by majority decision, one was by split decision and the other was a KO by Rungvisai.

It is rare to get two future Hall of Famers into the ring against each other, let alone for them to do it three, or perhaps more, times.

“The age we’re in is an age of money and the big fights aren’t happening,” Hearn said. “These guys have done it three times.”

No one who has seen any of the first three fights would complain. Nor would anyone complain if Gonzalez chose to hang up his gloves and work on his Hall of Fame acceptance speech after all he has done over a memorable career.

Gonzalez is so acclaimed and so great that it’s easy to forget that Estrada, too, will make it into the Hall of Fame. He’s also fought everyone and compiled a 44-3 mark.

It would be somehow fitting if they’d go into the Hall together, as an entry.

This loss, though, may gnaw at Gonzalez more than others. It’s a fight he could have won and didn’t, and part of the reason he didn’t was because of his own miscues.

Regardless, the two put on another memorable affair and again showed their peers how it’s supposed to be done.