April 11, 2003

Julio Gonzalez: “I Have Become The Man To Beat!”

By Fiona Manning

Julio Gonzalez, California’s superstar light heavyweight contender makes a most welcome return to the ring on Friday night – unfortunately for his legion of local fans, his Telefutura bout takes place in snowy Chicago so they’ll have to be content with watching it on TV.

Gonzalez, who is 32-1, 21 KOs, faces durable opposition at the DePaul Athletic Center when he touches up with Chicago southpaw Ken Bowman, 31-5, 21 KOs.

“I am not looking at this as an easy fight,” Gonzalez said. “I have never seen this guy fight but he has been in with some really strong opposition. I know he lost to Derrick Harmon but he also beat Merqui Sosa. I’m expecting a tough fight.”

Following his less than stellar performance against Glen Johnson in January, Gonzalez is right to be wary of the sort of big-time spoiler Bowman represents.

Julio Gonzalez. Photo Courtesy of Chris Farina/Top Rank

His regular sparring partners, the La Habra Gym brothers Librade Andrade and Enrique Ornelas turned southpaw for him and Gonzalez has thrown himself into training with military precision.

His motivation is his last opponent - Johnson, a very clever, very tough opponent who almost won their January battle but gave away the last round by dancing and running – giving the fight to Gonzalez in most people’s estimation by a single round.

In perhaps the most heated debate seen ringside in California in recent years, Johnson and his manager Norman Foster went berserk at the decision screaming “fraud” and “favoritism” but while a draw wouldn’t have been contested by anybody, Johnson felt the fight was his.

“I definitely did not take him seriously,” Gonzalez told La Prensa San Diego on the eve of his departure for Chicago. “I did think I did enough to win but I know I wasn’t my best.

“Glen was very upset though. I heard he was screaming and yelling ringside and then I ran into him inside the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel where the fight was held and he was really angry.

“He was demanding a rematch. I would be happy to give him one. I want to prove to the world I am better than he is.”

Nobody would enjoy a rematch more than the fans who have loved Gonzalez’ slick yet powerful displays for the last few years. Another longed-for rematch would be his fight-of-the-year battle from two years ago with Julian Letterlough.

Gonzalez, knocked down twice, the second time, seemingly out on his back (he was, he confirms), rose to his feet to win the ESPN2 fight and securing the respect of division champ Roy Jones Junior.

Though Gonzalez lost his title shot with Jones, he has done what few other fighters have done. He went the distance with the man who, when their fight was over, hugged him and whispered in his ear: “Don’t feel bad. You just went the distance with the greatest fighter on the planet.”

Gonzalez doesn’t see these words as arrogant. He laughed when he realized how it sounded, but actually agrees whole-heartedly with Jones’ self-analysis.

“He is the best fighter there is and it hasn’t hurt me a bit to have lost to him,” Gonzalez said,

“I have become the man to beat because of Jones. Everybody is calling me out. Even their dogs are calling me out! I have read some stories on the Internet of fighters claiming they are fighting me. Some of these guys I have never even heard of but I guess I should be flattered that they think I am the guy they have to get past. Let them think they can beat me – I’m willing to fight anybody.”

Gonzalez has his eye on another title shot and like the other big names of his division is eagerly awaiting the whims of Roy Jones on the subject. Does Gonzalez think he will abdicate his 175 pound throne?

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I can’t imagine he would have too many fights as a heavyweight. Chris Byrd is a good fight for him I think. I think he wins that fight more easily than if he fought Mike Tyson.

“Tyson is not an easy fight for him. But he could never fight Lewis or Klitschko or any of the big, bug guys. He’d have to fight somebody smaller. Hoylfield is an interesting fight for him too, I think but I see Byrd as being the easiest fight because he’s a blown up super middleweight.”

Regardless of Jones’ decision, Gonzalez has other options: There’s Dariusz Michalczewski for one.

“I would love to fight the French guy [Mehdi Sahnoune] who beat Bruno Girard but I leave all that up to my manager Norman Kaplan. I trust Norman completely. He has never let me down. In fact, I know he works very hard to get me the best fights.”

Gonzalez has matured considerably since his single career defeat to Jones. Relying more than ever on his faithful crew: manager, LA based criminal defense attorney Norman Kaplan, trainer Samuel Gomez and his stablemates Yoni Vargas and Raul Franco, Gonzalez can still be seen working the fight corners of Vargas and Franco and they work his.

Kaplan travels to Chicago today with all three fighters. He has bought seconds’ licenses for them and encourages their close friendships.

Gonzalez was unable to be in the corner of his best friend Vargas for his January ESPN2 date with Joel Casamayor because he was in the middle of heavy training for the Johnson fight. He did however, watch it on TV.

“I honestly, honestly never thought Casamayor would knock him out like that,” Gonzalez said. “I always thought Yoni was very strong, very aggressive. Their sparring matches have always been very competitive but I am just relieved he wasn’t hurt. I realized in boxing, you just never know. You cannot take anybody for granted.”

Which is why when he hits Chicago, he will figure out how to negotiate two feet of snow to do his road work.

“Me and snow,” he said with a laugh. “We are not the best of friends. But you do what you gotta do. And this is something I gotta do.”

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