Pound-for-pound king and junior bantamweight world titleholder Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez has one opponent in front of him in tough former titleholder Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, but rival Carlos Cuadras, fighting on the same card, is waiting in the wings.
Gonzalez, the Nicaraguan star, surpassed his countryman, idol and mentor, the late Alexis Arguello, to become the first boxer from their country to win world titles in four weight divisions in September. Gonzalez accomplished the feat at the expense of Cuadras, whom he outpointed in a rough-and-tumble battle at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
Now Gonzalez and Cuadras are back for their next fights, which if they both win would pave the way to a mandatory rematch.
Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KOs) will defend his 115-pound crown against Thailand's Sor Rungvisai (41-4-1, 38 KOs) in the co-feature of the highly anticipated Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs middleweight world title fight Saturday (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at Madison Square Garden in New York.
"He is very strong and always moves forward with courage," Gonzalez said through translator and manager Carlos Blandon. "He is a southpaw, which is also an extra challenge to this fight."
In the fight that will precede Gonzalez's, Cuadras (35-1-1, 27 KOs) will take on crosstown Mexico City rival David Carmona (20-3-5, 8 KOs) in a 10-rounder.
Gonzalez took more punishment against Cuadras than he has perhaps in his entire career. His eye was swollen and he really had to dig down deep to earn the decision in one of the best fights of 2016. He is not getting a soft touch in Sor Rungvisai.
"I always know it's going to be a different rival and challenge," Gonzalez said. "Against Carlos Cuadras it was a great fight and I certainly learned a lot in that matchup and especially in my training camp. On this one coming up on (Saturday), I expect a great fight and I want to put on a great fight for the fans and I realize what I have to do because at the end of the day I want to have my hand raised in victory."
Sor Rungvisai held the same junior bantamweight belt from 2013 to 2014 and made one successful defense before losing it to Cuadras when an accidental head butt left Cuadras cut and unable to continue after the eighth round, and he won a technical decision. Cuadras then defended the belt six times before losing it to Gonzalez.
Sor Rungvisai said he believes he is the harder puncher than Gonzalez and that it would make the difference in the fight.
"I do believe that he is running from me. He has fear of me. Look, if he wants to fight me at 118, no problem. I will go up to 118 pounds. Whatever weight he is, if he will give me the fight, I will be there and I will fight him in the rematch." Carlos Cuadras
"I respect Roman Gonzalez. He is a legend. He has done great things for boxing, especially by showing the world how talented and exciting smaller weight fighters can be," Sor Rungvisai said through a translator. "I am happy for Nicaragua to have such a great hero. However, (115 pounds) is my weight. I will do whatever it takes to win my belt back, and I am confident I can do it.
"I was able to hurt Carlos Cuadras in the way that Gonzalez could not. Cuadras did not hurt me when we fought but he hurt Gonzalez throughout their fight last year. I am confident I can beat Roman Gonzalez and the fight will not go 12 rounds."
Cuadras is not in nearly as tough of a fight as Gonzalez is, but there are Mexico City bragging rights at stake against Carmona, 25, not to mention Cuadras' chance to regain his title later this year.
"I have watched Carmona fight. He is from Mexico City and we are fellow countrymen. I think he is a very tough fighter," Cuadras said through a translator. "I watched his last fight when he lost by unanimous decision, but I am going to go out there and I will be looking for the knockout."
Carmona has twice fought for junior bantamweight world titles, including a unanimous decision loss in his last fight to Naoya Inoue in Japan last May. Carmona also suffered a seventh-round knockout loss to then-titleholder Omar Narvaez in Argentina in 2013.
While Gonzalez and Cuadras have business in front of them to handle, both know that a rematch looms if they are victorious and both made no attempt to hide the fact that they want it.
"As I look at a fight coming up against Carlos Cuadras, again I realize I have to train harder," Gonzalez said. "Every opponent presents different challenges. I do believe that the second fight, the rematch, will be better. But heading into the rematch, assuming all goes according to plan, I will be confident and I know he will be a little bit more because of the time we shared in the ring. I do believe I can go out there and get the knockout in the rematch."
The 30-year-old Sor Rungvisai, who will be boxing in the United States for the first time, said Gonzalez and Cuadras should not get too far ahead of themselves. He may not be well known outside of Thailand, but he has proven to be a formidable fighter who has dreams and goals of his own.
"It doesn't really matter what he says. If he wants to go ahead and get into a verbal match with me, that's not what I am going to focus on. I am the champion right now. I realize that the rematch is down the line. I have a lot of respect for him." Roman Gonzalez
"I will fight for Thailand and my family. I will fight to bring back the WBC belt to Thailand where it belongs," said Sor Rungvisai, who has won 14 fights in a row since the loss to Cuadras. "Some fans in America might not know me well, but I have knockout power and I will go there to win. I cannot be more excited to show you and the world who Srisaket Sor Rungvisai is."
Cuadras would have preferred an immediate rematch with Gonzalez, but when the fight with Sor Rungvisai was finalized instead, Cuadras, 28, accused Gonzalez, 29, of ducking him. That just gave him added incentive to try to get a rematch with him, even if means going up to another weight class.
"I do believe that he is running from me. He has fear of me," Cuadras said. "Look, if he wants to fight me at 118, no problem. I will go up to 118 pounds. Whatever weight he is, if he will give me the fight, I will be there and I will fight him in the rematch.
"I will do it at whatever weight he wants to do it at. We can even do the rematch in the heavyweight division. It will be a great fight. I am going to bring the fight to him. I have the medicine in my hands and the power to get after and to (dispose) of Chocolatito."
Gonzalez, going into his first fight since trainer Arnulfo Obando died in November following a brain aneurism and subsequent stroke at age 54, brushed off Cuadras' accusations that he avoided the rematch and said he will fight him again should all go well for each on Saturday.
"It doesn't really matter what he says," Gonzalez said. "If he wants to go ahead and get into a verbal match with me, that's not what I am going to focus on. I am the champion right now. I realize that the rematch is down the line. I have a lot of respect for him.
"A rematch will be in the cards. That will happen down the line and I am all about fighting for the lower weight classes to make them prominent in boxing."