If there was any doubt that Roman Gonzalez deserves to move to the top of the pound-for-pound rankings in the wake of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s retirement, the Nicaraguan sensation removed it Saturday night, when he stopped two-division world champion Brian Viloria to retain his WBC and lineal flyweight title on the Gennady Golovkin-David Lemieux undercard. Facing one of the best opponents of his career, Gonzalez was spectacular.
U.S. fans don’t always pay a lot of attention to the lowest weight classes. So for readers unfamiliar with Viloria, I’ll provide a brief history: He’s one of the most accomplished professional fighters of this century. He represented the United States in the 2000 Olympics and was a two-time world champion at light flyweight. In 2011 and 2012, he was as good as anybody in the sport. He captured the WBO flyweight title by defeating Julio Cesar Miranda in July 2011. In December of that year, he dismantled Giovani Segura in eight rounds. At the time, Segura was ranked in the pound-for-pound top 10 by The Ring. It was pretty hard to argue with Andre Ward as 2011’s Fighter of the Year, but Viloria was a worthy runner up.
He’s 34 now, but Viloria looked as good as he’s ever looked against Roman Gonzalez Saturday night. He showed very good movement and outstanding conditioning. He put in solid work to both the body and head.
But it was nowhere near enough. In Round 3, he was knocked down for the first time in his entire career, by a short right hand that seemed to come out of nowhere. In Round 9, referee Benjy Esteves stepped in to save him from his own courage, waving off the fight. In his gracious post-fight interview, the left side of Viloria’s face was an angry, swelling fright.
Roman Gonzalez is a brilliant offensive fighter with outstanding defense. His footwork is exquisite. He never wastes a motion and is never off balance for even a split second. He delivers relentless, multiple-punch flurries that leave his opponents no space to return fire.
As a general rule, I do not like to rate active fighters against all-time stars. But Roman Gonzalez is now 44-0 with 38 KOs and at 28, likely has years left to improve on his legacy. At this point, it’s not inappropriate to list him along side great flyweights from the past like Pascual Perez and Jimmy Wilde.
At 5’3″, there is an obvious limit to how high Roman Gonzalez is going to be able to climb in weight. But a meeting at 115 pounds with Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue could give him a shot at becoming a four-division champion. And it would be the biggest fight below 118 pounds in a generation.