A Perfect Day To Do Or Die
By Coyote Duran, DoghouseBoxing.com (Aug 8, 2008) Doghouse Boxing  
It had been five long years since Julio Gonzalez last traveled to The Windy City for business. Eight minutes and 58 seconds later, he left with a victory; a TKO over Kenny Bowman. Two fights and six months later, Gonzalez, 41-5 (25), beat then-undefeated Dariusz Michalczewski in ‘The Tiger’s’ backyard, via split decision, for what many fans consider the true (and ‘Ring’ magazine-less), linear World Light Heavyweight Championship; now held by Zsolt Erdei.

As touted (for beating Virgil Hill for the WBA and IBF titles in June of 1997; while having held the WBO title for almost three years, at the time) and, at the same time, criticized (for not coming to the United States to face ‘The Ring’ World Champion/WBC/IBF/WBA/IBO/WBF/IBA/NBA/FBI/CIA/CBS/CVS/BFE/
TNT/WWE/HMO-Just add some initials. Go ahead; it’s fun!-light heavyweight beltholder Roy Jones Jr.) as Michalczewski was in his prime, Gonzalez was on top of the world after handing the Pole his very first defeat.

Gonzalez’ very next fight was a defense against Erdei, then-18-0 (13). That didn’t go so well. Gonzalez would go home beltless yet fight nine more times in the next four-and-a-half years, gaining six wins along the way; but losing his last two outings (UD loss to Clinton Woods, SD loss to Reggie Johnson).

Still, not one to lay down and give up, Gonzalez knew when an opportunity was worth the trip back and took it in an IBF eliminator against the young, undefeated Tavoris Cloud, 18-0 (17), a Tallahassee, Florida transplant who sees Chicago as a second home; thanks to local promotion 8 Count Productions. When discussing the fight (tonight live from Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W Lawrence Ave., and broadcast on ESPN2’s ‘Friday Night Fights’, 9PM ET/6PM PT/8PM Central) with Doghouse Boxing yesterday, Gonzalez remained ever the diplomatic veteran when the subject of Chicago being Cloud’s home away from home came up.

“I’m aware that this is his second home” said Gonzalez. “He’s probably got a fan base here in Chicago, you know? But I also fought here once. The fans accepted me and treated me good and I hope that this time, there’ll be no exceptions. The fans in Chicago are really good and they’ve welcomed me, so far, and I’m looking forward to this.”

Once being a young, undefeated light heavyweight isn’t so alien to Gonzalez; who was only in his fourth year as a pro when he faced Roy Jones Jr. (and lost via unanimous decision ) for, seemingly, every belt in the book. Interestingly enough, Cloud is only into his fourth year as well. In this day and age, however, a little hype can go a long way; as seen with many buzzword-style up-and-comers who fell down when they stepped up. Gonzalez ignores this formula and sees Cloud as a serious challenge and recognizes him for his gifts.

Says Gonzalez: “He’s got tremendous power in his hands. He’s been knocking everybody out. I’ve gotta respect that and use my boxing abilities in the ring. It’s not like I haven’t faced his type before. I fought Julian Letterlough in 2001 and I won the fight. I hope tomorrow night won’t be an exception.”

However, there isn’t just pressure from having to fight the young, self-described boxer/puncher in his surrogate home but in having to also perform in front of a huge television audience tuning into ‘Friday Night Fights’ tonight. But Julio sees tonight as the only game in town and a huge picture of grand importance; coming back to mentioning Cloud excitedly when asked about possibly facing Erdei in the future. His tone was very ‘Whoop-dee-do’ when talking about the WBO titlist, but when his next 24 hours of business slipped back into view, a youthful-yet-subtle zeal leaked from Gonzalez’ voice.

”I’m willing to face anybody but right now, I’m not focused on anything else but tomorrow night. I don’t care what happens in the future. The future is tomorrow. I’ve just gotta win this fight, no matter what. It’s gonna be a tough fight, man. It’s a big opportunity that I can’t let go to waste. I’ve just gotta beat this guy and hopefully with my ring experience, I can do it.”

Of course, the winner gets a shot at either incumbent titlist Antonio Tarver or former WBC titleholder Chad Dawson; depending on who leaves Las Vegas’ Palms Casino in October after their title scrap. Just knowing this makes Gonzalez’ voice lift with hope for a division that hasn’t been the most prominent; save for a handful of fighters (all being World Champions at one time or another) over the past five years. Incidentally, those fighters, Jones Jr., Tarver and Glen Johnson all faced each other over a mere span of less than two years. That’s how few good fights in the division there were. Gonzalez remains optimistic in its potential.

“Well, it’s very good. It’s very active. Tarver and Dawson are fighting, I think, in October for the IBF title, and Tavoris and myself are fighting for the number one spot so it’s a very active division. It’s gonna be a good division to fight in for awhile.”

Of course, there’s always the possibility of high risk-low reward in facing and possibly beating Cloud. It’s certainly not uncommon for a fighter with a legitimate top spot in any alphabet ratings listing to be glossed over for what seems like forever or made to face a decidedly less-deserving schmoe, while risking a number one rating in the process. A contingency plan didn’t so much come up as did an almost-groan when the thought of a rematch, as a substitute, with Erdei was presented.

“If I got the opportunity to fight Zsolt Erdei, I’d have to go back over there and those are fighters that don’t come out of their homes and I don’t have no problem going over there. But right now, nothing’s looking or facing that way. Right now, it’s facing toward Cloud and that’s it.”

With all this focus from Gonzalez beating down on him, should Tavoris Cloud be worried? It’s possible. On one hand, he’s fighting in an environment where battle is merely habit and familiar; having fought nine times in Chicago and four of those times were spent in the Aragon Ballroom; site of tonight’s ‘FNF’ telecast. One would think Cloud would enjoy a sizable psychological advantage. What’s worrisome about this notion, regarding Cloud, is that ‘8 Count’ shows have always had a rabid Latino following. With Julio Gonzalez returning to Chicago to face the city’s beloved, powerhitting youngster, those fans who know (or even the ones who just really dig Latino fighters in general) what Gonzalez is made of and love to cheer for their countrymen might just show up by the Metra train-load.

But don’t think that Gonzalez hasn’t thought over what a loss at this stage of his career could do to his future.

“I consider this a do-or-die fight. I don’t know how many more chances I’m gonna get!” continued Gonzalez. “It could be my last chance so I’ve gotta take full advantage of it and go all out!”

And a better time couldn’t have presented itself. The high temperature in Chi-Town should be right around 78 °; mostly sunny/partly cloudy during the day with a low of 61°. The rain’ will wait ‘til Saturday and the winds will blow about five to ten miles per hour throughout today. Just enough gust to get you a whiff of a Chicago Style Dog (No ketchup, dammit!) from Byron's Hot Dog Haus. It’s OK. Both Gonzalez and Cloud came in under a pound at 174 each yesterday.

But only one leaves unfulfilled and hurried. In talking to Julio Gonzalez, one gets the feeling that, post-fight, he won’t be too quick to leave Chicago or Our Sport.

Questions or comments,
e-mail Coyote at: artofthepaw@yahoo.com
Visit Coyote at: myspace.com/coyote_duran

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