Kal Yafai deserves endless credit for risking it all in brave loss to the legendary Chocolatito

Steve Bunce
The Independent
Kal Yafai was dropped by Chocolatito in the eighth: Matchroom Boxing USA
Kal Yafai was dropped by Chocolatito in the eighth: Matchroom Boxing USA

Kal Yafai from Birmingham took his world title to Texas on Saturday night knowing that a win against the great Roman González could change his career forever and a loss could ruin it.

Yafai was making the sixth defence of his WBA super-flyweight title, he was British boxing’s longest reigning world champion and he was fighting his idol. He was also taking the kind of risk few fighters are prepared to take.

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Gonzalez started to win world titles in 2008, had won championships at four different weights and was between about 2014 and 2017 arguably the world’s finest boxer. In 2017 he lost twice, looked broken at the time and before entering the ring in Frisco had fought just twice in two years since the defeats. He was unbeaten in 46 before the first loss, close to perfect, untouchable at his art.

Yafai was unbeaten in 26 fights, González had just the two defeats in 50 fights. The fight would be simple: Yafai would be too fast and slick if Gonzalez was still carrying the scars from the defeats, but if the Nicaraguan had recovered in secret then Yafai would be in trouble. It was the type of fight that made hard men cross their fingers in hope as the pair walked to the ring.

It was not easy to watch. Yafai lost eight rounds, survived a knockdown at the bell to end the eighth and was then taken out clean by a right cross in round nine. It finished officially at 29 seconds of the ninth, the referee waving it off before the full and unnecessary count of ten, and Gonzalez was the first to reach Yafai to check he was not hurt, placing an arm of friendship over his shoulder.

He has done that 40 times before, played ring priest to a ruined opponent at the end of a fight.

Yafai never put a foot wrong, never wasted a punch or made any stupid mistakes. Yafai went to Texas knowing he needed a few unknown factors to fall his way and a bit of luck – he needed Gonzalez to have slipped, he needed Gonzalez to have lost his ferocious edge. Yafai had no luck in Texas and fighting a different way, perhaps trying to run and move, would not have changed the inevitable outcome.

But he got the wrong Gonzalez. That’s the fight, no need for an inquest.

In the last seconds of round eight Yafai folded, fell and came to rest on the canvas. He looked tired, his face swollen all over and as he stood the bell sounded. He had survived the round, but in his corner the sixty-second break offered no hope, no magic cure for the slow beating. In round nine Gonzalez was patient, finding his perfect range for a single right cross to drop Yafai heavily.

It was over, but Yafai had been brave enough to take the risk, travel the miles and lose his title knowing that there was absolutely nothing else he could have done. There will not be any excuses this week.

On the undercard there was also a fantastic performance from Swansea’s Jay Harris in his fight for the WBC flyweight title against the Mexican Julio Cesar Martinez. Harris lost on points in the end, was competitive in every round and wonderfully defied both form and bookies. His bold challenge was possibly the most overlooked world title fight involving a British boxer overseas that I can ever recall. Harris was fighting anonymously against a good champion, a long way from home, was given no chance and went the full twelve, losing by just a few rounds.

Yafai and Chocolatito embrace (Matchroom Boxing USA)
Yafai and Chocolatito embrace (Matchroom Boxing USA)

Both Yafai and Harris live on the same boxing planet as Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, but it is far too easy to ignore them. On Saturday in Texas, in two contrasting defeats, they deserved their mention and some respect.

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