The first time I saw Roman Gonzalez fight, I was amazed how such a petite boxer with an angelic demeanor could fight like a demon inside the ring. Once I found out that he had been mentored by the greatest boxer to ever hail from his homeland of Nicaragua, I understood why. Alexis Arguello, Chocolatito’s idol and mentor, was the epitome of a cerebral assassin. While handsome and gentlemanly outside the ring, Arguello inside the ring dissected you behind a wicked left jab and pulverizing power from both hands. The man we would affectionately call “Chocolatito” possesses similar traits. It’s one of the many reasons he’s my 26th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.
After a sensational amateur career in which he reportedly went undefeated in over 80 fights, Chocolatito turned pro at the age of 18 on July 1, 2005 in his hometown of Managua, Nicaragua. The 5’3 Nicaraguan youngster won his first 12 fights all in Managua as a 108-pound fighter. Chocolatito then moved down to 105 pounds and nine fights later received a shot at the WBA version of that world title. Chocolatito travelled to Yokohama, Japan to face the Japanese world champion Yutaka Niida on September 15, 2008. The 21-year-old challenger completely dominated Niida with his signature aggression and pressure from the opening bell until referee Mark Nelson called a halt to the fight with about a minute left in the fourth round. It would be the beginning of as dominant a run at 115 pounds and under that any boxer has ever had.
After three successful defenses of his 105-pound crown, Chocolatito moved up to 108 and on October 24, 2010 destroyed Francisco Rosas in just two rounds to win the WBA jr. flyweight title. He would decimate his first four challengers before he would engage in what up to that point was his first major challenge. On November 17, 2012 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Chocolatito defeated future Mexican multi-world champion Juan Francisco Estrada in a hotly contested 12-round fight. Estrada was the first fighter who was able to stand his ground and have success countering the incredible pressure and volume punching of the great Nicaraguan fighter. Even though he lost, I could see that Estrada was going to be a future great world champion. I also knew that eventually these two greats would meet again.
Immediately after his win over Estrada, Chocolatito once again moved up a weight class, this time to 112 pounds. After four devastating wins in a row, the now legendary Nicaraguan fighter would once again travel to Japan to face the reigning Japanese WBC and Ring flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi on September 5, 2014. In what I consider Chocolatito’s greatest performance of his career, his head movement, constant pressure and wicked body punching was just far too much for Yaegashi to deal with. After Chocolatito dropped Yaegashi for a second time in the ninth round, referee Michael Griffin mercifully stopped the fight. Chocolatito was now a three-division world champion, matching his former mentor and countryman Arguello. It would also be the beginning of the now 27-year-old becoming an American television star.
On May 16, 2015, Chocolatito made his HBO and American television debut. You couldn’t have asked for a more ideal debut as he destroyed former Mexican world title holder Edgar Sosa in two rounds. The American fight fans finally got to see what I had seen for several years; that Roman Gonzalez was not only the best kept secret in boxing, he was also the best fighter in the world at that particular stage of his career.
After two more scintillating defenses of his 112-pound world title on HBO, Chocolatito would win his fourth world title at 115 when he defeated the always difficult Carlos Cuadras on September 10, 2016 to win the WBC super flyweight title. This was the first fight in which I saw that Chocolatito had maybe lost a step as he was hit far too often by the tough-as-nails Mexican champion. The slippage would be fairly obvious in his next two bouts.
On March 18, 2017 I attended one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen live. Chocolatito made the first defense of his crown versus Thai power puncher Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. The Thai challenger shockingly dropped the Nicaraguan great in the opening stanza and a clash of heads in the third opened a huge gash above Chocolatito’s right ear. Despite the knockdown and nasty cut, I thought Chocolatito had done more than enough to win a decision. A shocked Madison Square Garden crowd saw Sor Rungvisai win a highly disputed decision which ended the Nicaraguan’s undefeated streak after 46 fights. Then came the rematch.
On September 9, 2017, the two faced off in a highly anticipated rematch in Los Angeles that was once again aired on HBO. Chocolatito looked listless from the opening round as Sor Rungvisai completely dominated him. In the fourth round, the Thai champion dropped Chocolatito with a beautiful left cross. Chocolatito got up on very unsteady legs and then walked into a spectacular right hook that resulted in him crumpling to the canvas in a heap. Referee Tom Taylor immediately stopped the fight. It was at this point in time that I wished Chocolatito, now 30-years-old, would retire. I felt he was done as a great fighter. The Nicaraguan legend would eventually prove me wrong.
Chocolatito returned to the ring exactly a year later. After two feel good wins, he fought WBA super flyweight champion Kal Yafai on February 29, 2020. Yafai was a slick boxer who many experts claimed would finally put the iconic Nicaraguan into permanent retirement. I too was very skeptical of Chocolatito’s chances at turning back the clock. That night, he did more than turn back the clock. The 32-year-old Chocolatito put on a vintage performance as he completely dominated the 30-year-old British champion with his signature pressure, head movement, and ferocious body punching. Just 30 seconds into round nine, the resurgent Nicaraguan landing a booming right cross that dropped Yafai for the third and final time. Referee Luis Pabon finally called a halt to the fight and Chocolatito was back on top of the world.
As soon as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, he signed to fight the WBC champion Estrada in a rematch almost nine years in the making. I thought this would be a fitting ending to an incredible career. Once again, Chocolatito proved me dead wrong.
On March 13, 2021, the rematch between Estrada and Chocolatito was an absolute war. Despite being 33 and in his 53rd pro fight, Chocolatito showed the exuberance of a fighter 10 years younger. He forced the counterpunching master Estrada into a phone booth war and I’m my opinion was the deserved winner of the fight. Unfortunately, two of the three official judges saw Estrada as the winner. It would be the second time I felt that Chocolatito had been denied a decision he more than earned. A rubber match between the two men has been signed and looks to occur in early 2022.
Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has done something his mentor Alexis Arguello attempted twice and failed both times; to become a four division world champion. He has also carried himself in the same manner as Arguello did, with the upmost dignity and grace. It’s been 12 years since Arguello was mysteriously gunned down in his home while Mayor of Managua. Were he alive today, he would undoubtedly have nothing but admiration for the man he once took under his wing. With his 50-3 record with 41 knockouts, Chocolatito has solidified his standing as not only one of the greatest athletes to ever come from Nicaragua, but also the 26th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.