He sparred against unbeaten lightweight Devin “The Dream” Haney, who is 19-0 with 13 knockouts, and he also went in the ring to spar against featherweight Brandon “The Heartbreaker” Figueroa, unblemished as well at 15-0 with 10 knockouts.
He practiced against “Sugar” Ray Beltran, the World Boxing Organization World Lightweight champion, and one of Ireland’s top lightweight boxers, Stephen McKenna.
This is all in two week’s work in Los Angeles recently for junior welterweight Chris Gonzalez, who goes by “Guero” but is labeled as “The Terminator” by his trainer Brad Carlton of Neutral Corner Gym. Carlton actually described Gonzalez as the tougher-to-beat “liquid” Terminator now instead of the easier-target robotic one he started training almost four years ago.
“It’s just only my opinion, but when Guero would show up to my gym and spar about four years ago, he would be easy for my boxers to hit,” Carlton said. “The problem they had, he was like the Terminator. You could blow his head off and you could still see the metal skull coming at you. So when (Gonzalez and his uncle and manager Robert Mercado) came to ask me to help, I wanted to help.
“Guero’s willing to put that work in, pay his dues, get in the ring and land some of his own. He is not flashy, but he’s just there, there, there (voice raising with each ‘there’ for emphasis). He’s still like the Terminator but like the liquid one. You can’t put a hole in him.”
Gonzalez, 21, sparred against some of the best young fighters in the world while training for two weeks in Los Angeles at renowned gyms, including The Wild Card Boxing Gym owned by legendary trainer Freddie Roach. Carlton took him there to prepare for his third professional fight Saturday night in the “Guerra de Gallos” boxing event at Casino del Sol.
Limited amount of tickets, starting at $25, are available online at Casino del Sol’s Web site, by phone at (520) 333-5150 or at the Casino Del Sol Gift Shop. The card, which features mostly boxers from Southern Arizona, begins at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Gonzalez, a native Tucsonan who attended Cholla High School, is 2-0 after winning his first pro fight last November at Casino del Sol with a unanimous decision over Sierra Vista’s Jesus Arevalo and then in April at Phoenix in another unanimous decision over Brandon Trujillo.
Gonzalez will fight Saturday night against Phoenix boxer Sergio Lopez, who will make his pro debut.
“These guys that I was up there (in Los Angeles) with are really top prospects in boxing,” Gonzalez said before a training session this week with Carlton at Neutral Corner Gym. “This guy I am fighting on Saturday, he is not going to be at my level or at their level.
“I think he’s going to come in and try to surprise me. I think he will come in confident, but they all come in nervous or scared on their first fight. I know I will have to set the example early and show him that he picked the wrong guy to go in there with his first fight, not only because I just have two more fights than him but because this is my life, this is what I want to do and I’m working hard to become the next top prospect in boxing.”
Spoken like a true confident young fighter who to this point in his brief pro career is backing up the talk by walking the walk, or better yet, running the run.
Gonzalez and fellow Neutral Corner boxer Mike Martinez, who is also in Saturday’s card, went to Mount Lemmon on Sunday to run a six-mile course uphill as they occasionally do.
“They ran an incredible pace,” Carlton said. “I ran myself because I still box competitively. I was running down. I turned around and they were gone. The amount of work both of them have put into this (Saturday’s fights) is tremendous.”
Gonzalez, who started fighting as an amateur when he was 13, said the boxers he models himself after psychologically and physically with his work ethic are Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez.
He shows some of their moxie. Sparring against boxers the likes of Haney, Figueroa, McKenna and Beltran last week could have made the youngster starstruck, but Gonzalez said he took the experience in stride.
“They came at me hard, so I didn’t hold back at all,” Gonzalez said. “I learned from them just by watching them fight and by the way the worked so hard. When I got there, it was straight about business. I had to do it my way and show what I am about and show them how hard I work.”
Mercado said he has noticed Gonzalez returning to Tucson more confident about himself after the experience. He went so far as to suggest that Gonzalez may relocate to Las Vegas or Los Angeles to further develop his boxing career, building on the foundation Carlton has laid.
“Boxing is 80 percent mental, 20 percent physical. It is about that mental psyche, especially now as he gets a little bit older,” Mercado said. “Taking him over there, he is realizing he can compete with the bigger names. He can compete with these bigger guys. He can look at this guy being 13-0 and that guy being 16-0, and he’s seeing that he can compete with them.
“And he’s also learning. He’s learning something from all the coaches as well. Freddie Roach might tell him, ‘Hey you’re doing this a little too much, trying doing this.’ When we talked to the coaches, they gave us bits of information, just to help us out.”
Mercado, who helped raise Gonzalez, has noticed that since his nephew started as an amateur eight years ago, he was a “natural” in the ring and he has an “it factor.”
“You can’t really pinpoint it, but he is faster, a little bit stronger. He’s picked up everything naturally,” Mercado said.
In 2013, he took silver at the U.S. Junior Olympic World Team Trials. Last year, he emerged the titlist at 141 pounds in the Elite Division of the Police Athletic League National Championships at Oxnard, Calif. He is also a four-time state and four-time regional champion.
Mercado sees a promising future for his nephew in boxing, but he stresses to Gonzalez to not forgot about his education, especially being the father of a young daughter. He compares the career of a boxer to that of a shooting star — it can be gone in an instant. Mercado’s wife, Gonzalez’s aunt, is a lifelong educator.
“We tell him, ‘A smart fighter is a dangerous fighter. Not only should you focus on boxing but you need to focus on your studies because that will make you even more dangerous,'” Mercado said.
Carlton, as Gonzalez’s teacher of the game, understandably views his pupil graduating in a different way, likening his nearly four years at Neutral Corner Gym with him as a “college education.”
“We’ll see if he passes and graduates at the casino (against Lopez),” Carlton said. “If he doesn’t graduate, then we’ll have to go back to Square One and figure it out because he will never give up. I don’t give up either. Anybody who has to face us has to face people who are very determined. If he can’t figure it out, hopefully I can for him.
“If passes the test this weekend, I expect an even bigger test for him in the future, and when he takes that test we’re going to be ready.”
Being that he is off to a strong start in his pro career, and he has much to gain from coming in contact with some of boxing’s best in recent weeks, Gonzalez is obviously concentrating mostly on what’s ahead in the ring Saturday against Lopez and beyond.
“The Terminator” as Carlton called him — “He’s solid, he’s so solid,” Carlton said — is not about to go down, he says.
“I see a lot of fights and a lot of success in my future, with very hard work,” Gonzalez said. “I have confidence in what I can do because of the work I’ve put in. I will always train hard. All I know is that guy (Lopez) is going to try to give me my first loss in my professional career.
“It ain’t gonna happen.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.