Late starter gets chance to shine

Despite not picking up the sport until age 24, Jose Gonzalez is one win away from a lightweight title. Courtesy of JOEL COLON-PRBB

Jose "Chelo" Gonzalez enters Saturday's lightweight title bout against Ricky Burns surrounded by a complex life story. But the time has come for him to prove if he's really got the value he only knew, and many other trainers completely ignored.

Gonzalez, a Puerto Rico native, is a man who grew old with a great appreciation for boxing. But it wasn't until the "mature" age of 24 when he was able to convince a trainer to help him develop a career in the pro ranks, and he just got to the point where men are separated from children.

Now 29, Gonzalez will put his undefeated record (22-0, 17 KOs) on the line as he challenges for Burns' 135-pound title Saturday at Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland.

If he becomes the champion, it will be quite the Cinderella story.

Gonzalez is Burns' mandatory challenger and the champion arrives after dealing with two previous cancellations and a legal battle with his former promoter, Frank Warren.

In his last fight, Burns (35-2, 10 KOs), a 12-year veteran in the pro ranks, defeated Kevin Mitchell by TKO in the fourth round last September in Glasgow.

In October, Gonzalez's name was thrown into the mix during the WBO Annual Meetings in Florida. However, Burns decided to face Liam Walsh, who withdrew with an injury. His second choice was Philippines' Jose Ocampo, who got out of the deal after his trainer passed away. And finally, Burns agreed to unify belts with Miguel Vazquez, who canceled the fight claiming he still was dealing with a lengthy health issue, something that was not totally clarified.

It seems that a world title shot for Chelo was meant to happen.

"When I was younger, I used to watch all the big fights and tell myself that I would be up there," said Gonzalez. "My career has been very difficult. Many trainers shut the doors on me. But, while men closed those doors, God opened them no matter what. I really want to thank my trainer, Roberto Nevares, for believing in me. I never imagined that I would win a belt, and then a shot for the world title."

In his career, Burns has achieved many big wins. In 2010, he took the belt away from junior lightweight champion Roman "Rocky" Martinez, who last September claimed back the title with a win over Miguel Beltran Jr. Martinez and Gonzalez share the same promoter, Puerto Rico Best Boxing.

Gonzalez, a former construction employee who has devoted himself full time to boxing in the last four years, said he is very aware of the huge challenge that awaits him on Saturday, facing the champion on his turf. At least, he finds comforting the fact that the referee and the judges won't be locals.

The referee for this fight will be American Rusell Mora, and the judges will be Lisa Giampa, Julie Lederman and Glenn Feldman -- all three from the United States.

"This will be a very important shot to me," Gonzalez said. "I know that, if everything happens as we planned, we will be on the map, and even more by pulling the upset at Ricky Burns' turf. He is a fighter, just like me, with two hand and two legs. I respect him. But when the bell rings, it will be a whole different story. We are ready to get the job done, and win round by round."

Gonzalez will not only have his first world title shot, but also will have his first fight outside his home soil.

But, when you are his age, you must take risks. Gonzalez surprised the British media when they arrived at Morrison's Gym to see him, not only for his great physical shape, but also for his fluency while speaking English.

There, he took the time to talk a bit about Burns: "He boxes a lot, and learns a lot. But we are relaxed, because we are here to take home the victory."

To Puerto Rico, a small island that historically has proven to be the cradle of many world champions, Gonzalez's challenge represents the opportunity to get a second current champion, since the current list is very thin.

Amongst the former world champions born in Gonzalez's hometown of Toa Baja are Edwin "Chapo" Rosario, Samuel Serrano and Santos Cardona.

Gonzalez hopes to join the club.

"We expect victory, and we have the chance to do it against Burns," Gonzalez said. "We are going to win, in any way."