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Forgotten Champions: Rodolfo Gonzalez


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Known as "El Gato (The Cat)", Gonzalez really is a forgotten champion. Despite having 80 wins on his resume and scoring 66 ko's and not losing more than 8 times, few boxing fans today know of El Gato Gonzalez. Like his contemporary Mando Ramos, he was a tall lightweight at 5'9 who was a tough brawler who could punch but also possessed good boxing skills and IQ. It took him a long time to reach the top however, and because of that he experienced a sudden end to his career, even though that was against a world class fighter, Guts Ishimatsu, who ended his championship reign and his career, in 1974. Before winning the WBC title, he only faced one famous fighter, so one might say he didn't have the best manager or the best of luck.


Born 16 December 1945 in Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, Gonzalez became a pro a month before his 14th birthday, 2 November 1959! He was spurred onto boxing by his cousin, the world bantam champion Jose Becerra, who was also his first trainer and manager. Amazingly enough, he scored 33 consecutive knockouts, showing he had serious power, and went undefeated in his first 37 fights. His first loss was to a fighter that shared the name with a famous fighter who would fight much later-Jose Luis Castillo. El Gato dropped an 8-round decision to him on 3 October 1961. He continued winning and won his 14 next fights, before relocating to Long Beach, California. He lost in his American debut by a TKO10 against Licho Guerrero, due to a bad cut. He had been doing well until then, despite being down to one knee in the first round. He reportedly took the fight on only 4 hours notice! He lost his next fight, a PTS5, to Bobby Valdez and then had a technical draw against him in their second fight, before losing the third one by a KO9, thus getting koed for the first time. He progressed and started winning and won 12 straight fights before getting to fight Antonio Cervantes, who would soon become the world champion at 140. This fight was just above 135 and took place on 17 December 1970, at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Gonzalez was down in the first, but came back to put Kid Pambele down in the third, but eventually, Gonzalez developed a bad cut over his left eye which led to a premature stoppage in round 8. Gonzalez wanted a rematch, but never got it. He rebounded with a KO2 against Ernesto Villaflor, brother of Ben. It was a left to the body that did the trick. He then beat the contenders Jimmy Robertson (UD10) and Ruben Navarro (MD10), before finally getting his big break-a fight for the WBC title against the newly-crowned Chango Carmona.


Carmona was a fearsome puncher who had destroyed Mando Ramos in 8 rounds to win the title and Pedro Carrasco had turned down the fight first, however, Gonzalez had watched him train prior to the fight and noticed he had one weakness-whenever he was pushed back, he didn't do well. "But if you let him do the pushing, you better get out of the ring", Gonzalez said many years later. The fight was held at the Sports Arena in LA on 10 November 1972. El Gato simply stayed on Carmona and didn't let him do the pushing and in the end, Carmona was hammered into submission, retiring on his stool after 12 rounds. It was a very one-sided fight, so much so that two judges gave Gonzalez all the 12 rounds! For his first defense, El Gato fought Ruben Navarro again, 17 March 1973, and stopped him by a TKO9. He was simply the stronger and better man and clubbed Navarro into submission. El Gato's physical strength and endurance often gave him the edge, as well as his overall size for a lightweight of that time. He then faced the top Italian contender Antonio Puddu for his second defense. Puddu was 50-1-1 and was the European champion, having previously stopped Miguel Velazquez in 4 to win that title. He was also as tall as Gonzalez, but that wouldn't be of much help, as he suffered the same fate as the two previous guys. El Gato was again very dominant and in the end closed Puddu's left eye so badly the fight was stopped in the 10th. He also put Puddu down once in the 2nd. After the fight, Gonzalez stated he wanted to fight Roberto Duran to settle the lightweight picture-but it didn't go that way, as the negotiations broke down pretty quickly. Duran's people didn't seem willing to risk their man's title, it seems. Surprisingly, Gonzalez would lose his title in his third defense, against the man few would expect to beat him-Guts Ishimatsu. Ishimatsu had been already stopped by Duran in 10 rounds, not so long ago, and was considered a dirty and wild, unpredictable fighter. He had also been stopped by Ismael Laguna and Shinichi Kadota. However, Gonzalez came into the fight struggling to make the weight and was put on some kind of water diet that seriously weakened him. The fight happened 11 April 1974 at Nihon University Auditorium in Tokyo and Gonzalez did his best and was actually up on one of the cards going into round 8. It was then he was dropped three times and stopped.


It was a devastating blow to his career and he had lost something he had waited to win for 13 years. He had one smaller fight which he won by a technical decision in 2, before again flying to Japan, this time to Osaka, to rematch Ishimatsu. This time, he was in a better shape, but he got butted by Ishimatsu in round 3 and a cut opened which got worse as the fight went on. He was still ahead on two of the scorecards going into round 12, when he was caught by a big right hand and that was it-El Gato was unable to beat the count and the fight ended at 2:23. With it, also El Gato's career, for that day, 28 November 1974, was the last time he would be seen in the ring. He was almost 29 when he retired, wisely, without trying to chase another title fight, for he surely knew his time had passed. He had simply been unlucky to finally win a world title so late in his career, however he proved his worth in all the championship fights he had. After retirement, he went into managing boxers and also working as a motivational speaker. He says he got his nickname because he used to play with his opponents before knocking them out. And yep-at his best, he was that good. This was the story of Rodolfo "El Gato" Gonzalez, another FORGOTTEN CHAMPION!



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