<
>

Flyweight champ Roman Gonzalez not bothered by spot on undercard

Pound-for-pound king Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, the flyweight world champion, is as humble outside the ring as he is fierce inside it. While many top fighters would feel compelled to bark and talk about being disrespected if a promoter or television network deigned to put them on an undercard, it's simply not the case with Gonzalez.

He is a man who goes about his business with class and dignity, appreciative of everything he has received as he fought his way out of poverty in Nicaragua to rise to the top of boxing, anointed by virtually everyone as the best in the business after Floyd Mayweather retired in September.

Gonzalez is not at all unhappy about being the co-star to unified middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin. He is fine with biding his time until he is eventually the star of his own show, which he and his team believe will be the case as long as he retains his title for the fourth time by beating 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian and top contender McWilliams Arroyo on Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET) at The Forum in Inglewood, California.

"It motivates me because God gives me the will to win on Saturday," Gonzalez said through translator and manager Carlos Blandon. "I know that after that fight there will be a lot higher purses and bigger fights, and that motivates me."

In the main event, Golovkin (34-0, 31 KOs), 34, the Kazakhstan native living in Santa Monica, California, will make his 16th title defense -- a mandatory one -- and seek his 22nd consecutive knockout against massive underdog Dominic Wade (18-0, 12 KOs), 25, of Largo, Maryland.

Gonzalez (44-0, 38 KOs), 28, will fight in the co-feature of a GGG main event for the third consecutive time. The initial idea was hatched by K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler and HBO Sports executive vice president Peter Nelson, who were looking for an exciting and qualified fighter to serve as an opening act for emerging star Golovkin.

Loeffler was able to work out a co-promotional deal with Japan's Akihiko Honda of Teiken Promotions, Gonzalez's longtime promoter, and the doubleheaders these fighters have had together have become must-see events. Loeffler is expecting a sold-out crowd of more than 16,000 at The Forum.

When Golovkin and Gonzalez appeared together in October, they played to a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York. That was the night Golovkin unified the 160-pound belts by knocking out David Lemieux, with Gonzalez setting the table with his knockout of former unified flyweight titleholder Brian Viloria.

The one-two punch of Golovkin and Gonzalez made its first appearance in May 2015, also at The Forum, where a raucous crowd watched as Golovkin knocked out Willie Monroe, and Gonzalez electrified with his sensational second-round destruction of former junior flyweight titlist Edgar Sosa.

The pairing has helped vault Gonzalez from essentially an unknown fighter in the United States to recognition as the pound-for-pound best with an almost cult-like following.

Fighting alongside Golovkin has done wonders for Gonzalez's career, Loeffler said.

"His awareness internationally and also the respect he has received has skyrocketed with the boxing media and the boxing fans," Loeffler said. "We are looking to have a sold out Forum and also the biggest capacity they have had for any boxing event since they transformed the historic venue."

Gonzalez, easily the best fighter in the history of Nicaragua other than his mentor, the late Hall of Famer Alexis Arguello, is a big part of the reason for the expected sellout. But it raises the question -- how much longer will it be possible for such a talented fighter, one with a burgeoning fan base, to continue fighting on an undercard?

Not much longer.

While Gonzalez, who has also won world titles at strawweight and junior flyweight, is happy and appreciative of the arrangement for the time being, he does want to headline his own card. And he wants to do so the next time out, assuming he turns back the challenge from the 30-year-old Arroyo (16-2, 14 KOs), twin brother of junior bantamweight world titleholder McJoe Arroyo.

"I believe that both fighters, Golovkin and myself, are both main events, and I hope that after this fight they give me an opportunity to be my own main event," Gonzalez said.

Loeffler is aware he caught lightning in a bottle with the pairing, but he knows the end is near and that Gonzalez will soon headline his own shows.

"It's been a fantastic pairing and the fans really respond when they see the No. 1 and No. 2 pound-for-pound fighters on the same show," he said. "We really worked hard to make it happen this time. If everything goes the right way -- and I mentioned this is a very difficult fight for him -- if everything goes the right way against McWilliams, then I think he will have earned the right to be a main event fighter on HBO.

"We've been pushing for [a main event], and Roman has gotten a great response from the HBO viewers, and if he wins on Saturday we will have more discussions."

If there is one fight out there for Gonzalez that could carry a show as the main event, it would have to be a rematch against unified titleholder Juan Francisco Estrada (33-2, 24 KOs), 26, of Mexico. In 2012, Gonzalez outpointed Estrada in a highly competitive fight to retain his junior flyweight title. Since then, they have both moved up in weight and won 112-pound world titles. Estrada has gotten a lot better since the first bout, and fans and media have called for the rematch -- one both sides and HBO are interested in pursuing later this year.

Blandon is much like Gonzalez, in that he is appreciative of the opportunity Gonzalez has been given to be featured along with one of boxing's most popular fighters. But he too knows the time is coming for Golovkin and Gonzalez to go their separate ways.

"My personal opinion is that I am just so happy that Roman is fighting on the undercard of one of the greatest fighters pound-for-pound, GGG," he said. "I think it's a great blessing that HBO puts us on the card with the knockout artist. I do believe that eventually Roman will be the main event and we leave that up to HBO and K2.

"We know that they do their jobs to the best of their ability with Teiken Promotions and we will be ready for that when it comes. But for now GGG is the main event and we will be taken under consideration."

When the separation finally comes, boxing fans will surely be saying that the GGG and Chocolatito show sure was fun while it lasted.