SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Although Roman Gonzalez can become the first Nicaraguan boxer to win championship belts in four weight classes on Saturday night, that historic achievement is only one part of his motivation.
The fighter best known as "Chocolatito" also feels that a win would avenge the late Alexis Arguello, his mentor and friend, who fell just short of that fourth world title in two epic losses to Aaron Pryor three decades ago.
And the mere act of getting in the ring for the main event at the historic Forum will be another landmark in the remarkable career of Gonzalez (45-0, 38 KOs), who takes on Mexico's Carlos Cuadras (35-0-1, 27 KOs) for the WBC 115-pound title.
In just four fights over the past 16 months, Gonzalez has risen from a well-regarded regional attraction into a pound-for-pound international star who can sell thousands of tickets as a headliner in boxing-savvy Los Angeles.
Chocolatito is on a mid-career surge resembling the evolution of Gennady Golovkin, his fellow pound-for-pound champion and new training partner. Gonzalez's last three fights were on U.S. cards headlined by Golovkin — but with the Kazakh star fighting Kell Brook in London on Saturday, Gonzalez has become the main event in LA.
He thinks he's ready, even in a problematic matchup against an unbeaten Mexican champion.
"I feel the strongest I've ever felt in my life," Gonzalez said through a translator. "I'm ready to go. I'm very motivated for this fight. The public is going to enjoy a fight that they've never seen before."
Southern California fans are expected to crowd the Forum to see an intriguing card also including the rematch of a spectacular 154-pound draw between Mexico's Jesus Soto Karass and Japan's Yoshihiro Kamegai in April. Before the show, fans will be able to watch Golovkin's fight on video screens around the arena.
But Gonzalez's incredible power at boxing's lower weights is the main attraction. Chocolatito had stopped 10 consecutive opponents before McWilliams Arroyo survived a lopsided 12-round loss to Gonzalez on his feet at the Forum in April.
Gonzalez will be challenged to put down Cuadras, who believes he can use speed and movement to handle a smaller opponent fighting at super flyweight for the first time. Cuadras also hopes to be the crowd favorite with the thousands of Mexican-American fans who typically attend big local shows.
"A lot of great Mexicans have fought at the Forum, and I'm going to make them proud," Cuadras said.
Gonzalez's thoughts won't be far from Arguello, the greatest fighter in Nicaragua's history. Gonzalez, who believes he has watched Arguello's first loss to Pryor in 1982 well over 100 times, was trained as an amateur and a pro by Arguello before he died in 2009.
"It's very important to Roman," said Carlos Blandon, Gonzalez's manager. "He wasn't only just trained by Alexis Arguello, but he saw him as a father figure. He gave Roman an opportunity to shine and taught him everything he knew. Roman sees himself as a challenger in this bout, even though he still maintains the (WBC flyweight title). He feels that way in order to give all the importance to what Alexis Arguello tried to do 34 years ago and came up short.
"He wants to avenge that. He wants to break the curse and bring that fourth title to Nicaragua."