Gonzalez is focused on Nishioka . . . but a dream match would be another shot at Vazquez
Story & photos by Chris Cozzone
For several years now, former bantamweight champion Jhonny Gonzalez has been one fight away—sometimes, one punch away—from big paydays and big name fights.
In 2006, Gonzalez, WBO bantam champ at the time, moved up four pounds to challenge Israel Vazquez for his WBC belt. After flooring Vazquez twice, on the verge of a win by kayo, the champion staged a comeback that resulted in a tenth round TKO loss for Gonzalez.
A win over Vazquez might have changed the historic trilogy between Vazquez and Rafael Marquez into Gonzalez-Marquez I, II and III.
Then, in 2007, Gonzalez, ahead on the scorecards, lost his bantam belt when a single shot to the torso made Gerry Penalosa the new champion.
Since then, Gonzalez, on a six-bout winning streak, has worked himself back to another shot at a world title, stopping all but one opponent on several Telefutura-televised cards.
If all goes well Saturday night, Gonzalez might not just be a world champion again, in his second division, but be next in line for the big names out there—a list that includes Vazquez, Marquez or Juan Manuel Lopez.
On Saturday, Gonzalez, 40-6, 34 KOs, will take on WBC Super Bantamweight Champion Toshiaki Nishioka, 33-4-3, 20 KOs, of Japan. Their 12-round battle will headline a fight card promoted by Promociones del Pueblo in Monterrey, Mexico—a card that shares billing with the return of Rafael Marquez.
Should Marquez win his fight, he will be the mandatory challenger for the winner of Gonzalez-Nishioka.
But Gonzalez isn’t looking past the task at hand—Nishioka.
“Right now, the best 122-pounder for me is Nishioka,” said Gonzalez from his training camp in Mexico City, before arriving in Monterrey early in the week. “It seems to be the most important fight of my life.
“He’s a southpaw and very talented, or it’s just that I’m so focused on him. He’s very good and adapts to different styles. He has good skill, decent power in his punch, so I need to be 100% concentrated. He changes his styles.”
Gonzalez says he hasn’t been frustrated with the waiting game.
“When I lost to Penalosa, I knew that I had to go to a new division and that I needed at least six fights to be in great position for a world title. It’s part of the sacrifice in this career.”
As concentrated as Gonzalez is on Nishioka, however, he can’t help but reveal his dream match.
“My dream match would be me as a champion against Vazquez for a rematch,” he says.
Gonzalez considers his loss to Vazquez to be the biggest setback of his career.
“Everything was very good. My preparation was in Big Bear, staying at Oscar De La Hoya’s house and training with Oscar Suarez, who was terrific.
“I was winning the fight . . . . I had Israel Vazquez knocked down twice. The fight was in my pocket.
“And I let it go. I lost focus and in seconds it just flew away. It was terrible.”
By comparison, the loss to Penalosa was minor. In fact, Gonzalez does not even care about a rematch with the former Filipino champ.
“It’s less important now with Penalosa losing to Juanma Lopez,” says Gonzalez. “I never had it in my mind, to this date, that Penalosa beat me.
“I lost to the scale.”
This time around, Gonzalez says his training, his weight—and his focus—is better than ever.
“It’s been a terrific group, with very talented sparring partners, all styles and shapes,” says Gonzalez. “We’re ready for anything from Nishioka. Everything seems perfect.
“I wouldn’t like to anticipate what’s next, after the result of my hard fight against Nishioka—I will go step by step, starting with Nishioka.”
Whether it’s another champ at 122 lbs., a showdown with Marquez that is already paved, should both Mexicans win, or an eventual showdown with Vazquez, Gonzalez says his ultimate goal is not so much, to be a Hall-of-Fame champion, but something on the humble side:
“I want to be remembered as a professional, disciplined fighter, who respects this wonderful sport,” says Gonzalez.
“And as a great Mexican champion.”