Chocolatito, a champion in old money

The truth is rarely pure and never simple. 

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

Truth has become an elusive quarry in boxing, perhaps the truth about truth is that it has always been so or that its very existence and supposed purity is, itself, merely a fable. A fantasy. Things, people, events, facts, can only exist in the perspective from which they are viewed after all. And with a meritocracy suffocated by the destructive ingenuity and self interest of those appointed to provide it, many of the old ways have been lost too.

Last weekend, Birmingham’s Khalid ‘Kal’ Yafai discovered one truth that boxing’s chameleons and racketeers, with their prisms of subterfuge and bullshit, have yet to obscure or subvert. That being; within the ropes, whatever the path to the steps, however loud the fan fare or shiny the garb, there is no hiding place and the higher quality fighter, if prepared, will always prevail.

Yafai’s preceding standing, as the WBA’s Super Flyweight belt holder was taken from him and his quest to become the, rather than a, champion was thwarted. It took a fighter worthy of the champion moniker, in the classical, authentic, ‘there can be only one’, definition to which we are all still devotees, to reveal the limitations of the previously unbeaten 30-year-old. And in doing so, illuminate much about the superficiality of a generation of fighters who will soon sit in rocking chairs and look back on their time as a ‘world’ champion when in truth, they were no such thing.

Even those of us too young to remember those less duplicitous days of one champion per division still apply that timeless measure. Lineal, champ, no singular term seems to capture it succinctly any more. If it ever did. World Champion has lost its meaning.

Credit to Yafai for daring to find the truth beyond the mirage of the belt he had held. He dared to believe in his own talent, the brevity of the strap he wore and the growth in confidence boxing mythology insisted it would impart.

Matchmakers dared on his behalf too. Dared to conclude that Roman Gonzalez’s muted performances in isolated outings in 2018 and 2019, following a surprise pair of defeats in 2017, were sufficient evidence of his decline.

With footwork and timing as smooth as a Pip or a Four Top, Gonzalez, born of Nicaragua and as tenacious as our lazy generalisation would presume, stayed within the range of the longer Yafai and won every exchange with quality and quantity. Belying his veteran status and patchy form of late, Gonzales learned from every flurry, from everyone of the shots he landed and those Yafai parried too. It seems cruel to suggest Chocolatito, as he has come to be known, took an Olympic medalist and WBA ‘Champion’ to school. But it is the most fitting term available in boxing’s diverse lexicon.

Two years the veteran’s junior and with a thousand fewer miles on the clock, Yafai, a quiet and likeable professional, appeared to have banked on that youth, his natural size and left hook to the body to prove enough. It wasn’t. Chocolatito didn’t wilt. He grew. Rounds added fluency. Smoothed the splintered edges of 2018 and 2019. The polish became more luminous round by round, the brilliance of the light exposing flaws 26 previous foes had failed to find.

In sacrificing distance to employ his natural size advantages, Yafai unwittingly boiled the fight down to gaps measured in inches, and fractions of inches, the margins all time greats can excel in, the windows of opportunity only the most gifted can steal through but too small for someone of even Yafai’s distinction. And so it proved. Yafai was relentlessly and incrementally dismantled, punch by punch, until eventually natural size and will gave way and Chocolatito landed the conclusive blow. His 41st knockout win in 48 victories and against those two defeats.

Yafai was defending a portion of the world championship he won in December 2016. His unbeaten run to last Saturday wasn’t without merit. A champion in digital currency, a contender in old money.

Roman Gonzalez meanwhile, is renewed. A resplendent reminder that among the millions awash in boxing, behind the hyperbole, the lies and the confusion, there remain one or two truths which can not be betrayed, can not be impersonated and, like Gonzalez, have a sense of timelessness.

Gonzalez would’ve been a world champion in any era.

As undeniable as the resurgent Chocolatito proved last Saturday.


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