Roman Gonzalez and Julio Cesar Martinez didn't deliver the fight-of-the-year contender many expected, but that's only because "Chocolatito" was far too good to allow the matchup to be competitive.
Gonzalez schooled Martinez and once again displayed why he's a future first-ballot Hall of Famer with a unanimous-decision victory on Saturday in San Diego.
Gonzalez was "very surprised" that Martinez made it to the final bell after absorbing a brutal beating, and the scores (118-110, 117-111 and 116-112) belied how truly one-sided the contest was.
"My corner told me not to give him any rounds," Gonzalez, ESPN's No. 2 115-pound boxer, said in Spanish via a translator. "He was very courageous. He took a lot of punishment."
The punishment was inflicted by combinations delivered in classic "Chocolatito" fashion: with precision and impeccable technique. The beauty of Gonzalez's game is the way he flows offense and defense. Even as he unloaded 1,076 punches, Gonzalez was able to fend off Martinez's reckless attack with a high guard tightly wrapped around his ears.
The 34-year-old Nicaraguan landed 374 punches, more than double Martinez, who landed 182 of 713. Gonzalez landed 58 of 129 punches in the final round, displaying the sort of elite condition that is a hallmark of his game.
Martinez, fighting out of Mexico City, held his hands low, providing an easy target for Gonzalez's well-placed shots. The victory was Gonzalez's 21st against a boxer from Mexico, the lone loss a highly controversial decision defeat to rival Juan Francisco Estrada in a 115-pound title unification last March. They were set to meet a third time on Saturday, but Estrada withdrew after he tested positive for COVID-19. Gonzalez defeated Estrada in a 108-pound title fight in their first fight in 2012.
Martinez, ESPN's No. 1 112-pounder, stepped in for his countryman on six weeks' notice and agreed to move up one weight class to 115 pounds. However, he was overweight Friday at 116.4 pounds. The fight proceeded after Martinez weighed 122.6 pounds Saturday, within the 126.5-pound rehydrating limit governed by the California commission (10% of contracted weight).
Martinez was also fined 20% of his $250,000 purse, with $25,000 paid to Gonzalez and the other half to the commission.
"He looked too small, he looked too inexperienced," promoter Eddie Hearn said. "He'll go back to flyweight."
At 112 pounds, Martinez could be matched with fellow champion Sunny Edwards in a title unification bout.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, has plenty of options to sort through with Hearn. The trilogy battle with Estrada remains a compelling matchup for supremacy at 115 pounds.
"Everyone knows that the last fight I had with 'Gallo' Estrada, I won," Gonzalez said.
Another tantalizing trilogy possibility: a meeting with Thailand's Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who owns a controversial decision victory over Gonzalez but also a devastating fourth-round knockout that left many wondering if "Chocolatito" would ever return to form.
Surprisingly, Gonzalez didn't just return to the pound-for-pound list but clearly remains better than ever. Even against a highly regarded 27-year-old power puncher, Gonzalez was in total control from bell to bell in a masterclass performance that adds to his Hall of Fame legacy.
Age is particularly unforgiving to smaller boxers who rely on speed and reflexes and absorb more damage than bigger boxers, but Gonzalez has never been held back by conventional wisdom.
"'Chocolatito' seems to be getting better and better, that was just a sublime performance tonight," Hearn said. "You saw the difference between a very good world champion and a pound-for-pound legend."