INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Roman Gonzalez observed the raucous scene in the ring through swollen eyes. His battered ears absorbed the cheers from thousands of fans celebrating his arrival at the apex of Nicaragua’s boxing history.
Chocolatito had to put in 12 rounds of punishing work for his latest world title, which only made it all the sweeter.
Gonzalez won a championship in his fourth weight class Saturday night, taking a unanimous decision over Carlos Cuadras to claim the WBC 115-pound belt at the Forum.
The Nicaraguan pound-for-pound star better known by his nickname persevered through a brutal slugfest with Cuadras, who was outstanding on the biggest stage of his career. The fighters traded big shots and frenetic flurries all night, but Chocolatito’s remarkable skills earned the victory on all three judges’ cards: 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113.
“It was a very difficult fight,” Gonzalez said through a translator. “It was complicated. We both came in with great conditioning. This is the most difficult fight I’ve had.”
The Associated Press also scored it 115-113 as Gonzalez (46-0) surpassed his mentor, Alexis Arguello, by becoming the first Nicaraguan to win titles in four divisions. Gonzalez landed 322 total punches to Cuadras’ 257, but both fighters connected on 36 percent of their power shots.
Gonzalez acknowledged he had been thoroughly tested by Cuadras (35-1-1), who fearlessly took the star’s biggest shots in a name-making performance.
“(Gonzalez) is relentless,” Cuadras said. “He just wouldn’t stop all night. He never got tired. It’s all night long. I felt that I did enough to win the fight. I hit him more tonight than he’s ever been hit, and he kept coming, but I felt like his defense was better than I expected.”
Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai also stopped Mexico’s Jesus Soto Karass after the eighth round on the undercard, winning a rematch of their entertaining draw five months ago. Deep into another physical bout, Kamegai (27-3-2, 24 KOs) finally wobbled Soto Karass (28-11-4) with a big right hand in the eighth, and his corner waved off the fight before the ninth round began.
The vociferous crowd of 6,714 at the famed arena was thoroughly warmed up for the main event, sending alternating chants of “Nicaragua!” and “Mexico!” echoing through the rafters.
Gonzalez appeared to lose none of his power or speed when he moved up 3 pounds from flyweight to super flyweight. He attacked Cuadras from the opening moments with relentless combinations, pressuring with his usual stellar footwork and movement.
But Cuadras replied with toughness and flair, shuffling his feet to taunt Gonzalez in the middle rounds. He repeatedly caught Chocolatito with creative shots while Gonzalez relentlessly stalked the champion.
Blood began dripping from a cut near Cuadras’ right eye in the ninth round, but Chocolatito’s face swelled on the right side in the late rounds. Wearing more damage than he has incurred in several recent fights combined, Gonzalez still had a smile when he claimed his next belt.
The 29-year-old Gonzalez has assumed a spot among the top pound-for-pound fighters in boxing during a steady rise through the lightest weight classes. He moved into the U.S. spotlight in his last three bouts by fighting in the co-main events of shows starring Gennady Golovkin, the unbeaten middleweight champion.
With Golovkin fighting Kell Brook in London on Saturday, Gonzalez assumed the headlining role at the Forum — and he was ready for the spotlight.
Gonzalez wanted the fourth title to avenge Alexis Arguello, the most accomplished boxer in Nicaragua’s history and a longtime mentor to Gonzalez before his death in 2009. Arguello fell just short of a title in a fourth weight class during two memorable losses to Aaron Pryor 34 years ago.
“I will never be better than Arguello,” Gonzalez said. “He is the teacher. I am his son. He will always be number one.”