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Chocolatito’s Revival

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Los Angeles, February 29th, 2020- Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez 49-2 41KOs raised his hand after a classic comeback knockout victory over favored WBA Superfly-weight Champion Khalid Yafai 26-1 15KOs. In a fashion that only a fighter like Chocolatito can pull off, he praised God for the victory and thanked his opponent for the opportunity.

Not long ago, the often-naive world of boxing had all but given up on a return to glory for the great one from Nicaragua. It’s been over two years since he was knocked cold by Srisaket Sor-Runvisai, and there was a year-long break from a torn meniscus that sidelined him after dominating Moises Fuentes on the undercard of Canelo vs GGG2. Three months ago, in December Chocolatito outclassed Diomel Diocos in a scheduled eight-rounder in Japan that few people even knew took place in the U.S.

In late January I received a message from Hector De La Cruz (the guy who designs your favorite fight posters) who works with team Chocolatito and was asked if I’d be interested in filming an episode of Under the Hand Wraps on him. I’ve been filming Gonzalez and covering him in the gym since he started coming to the Lee Espinoza Boxing Club in Coachella, CA in 2015, back when I worked for InstantBoxing.

Of course I wanted to film him.

Two years prior I had started a project on Chocolatito that was commissioned by Tom Loeffler and 360 Promotions. The day I showed up to film, Gonzalez looked like he was in pain and that happened to be the day he injured his knee. Thus, cancelling the project.

My first impressions when arriving to the camp-house at five in the morning to film him running was that he already looked fit. Running, he looked fast and durable, but that doesn’t tell you much. Other than he can run, and he’s not competing in a race.

Filming Team Chocolatito running in Palm Springs

In the gym Gonzalez trained like a maniac, round after round, different workouts, for hours. Then sparring.

“Yeah, people need to see this” I told Gonzalez’s manager Carlos Blandón.

It ran through my mind, “why aren’t more people trying to come see Chocolatito?”. He was at one time not long ago the number one pound for pound champion of the world.

I’ve been filming fighters for almost a decade; I’ve seen them rise.

And I’ve seen them fall.

I’ve been invited to film fighters and tell their story, only to be completely ignored once they shocked the world and became the biggest name in the sport.

Its never personal, just part of the game. I film network quality content without the distribution or viewership of the networks. I don’t compete with the YouTube reporters because what I do takes time.

I don’t make money on the projects I create; I lose money. I don’t only film boxing and hiring me outside of boxing is expensive.

But you get what you pay for.

While setting up my lighting to interview Gonzalez my mind flew back to the half dozen other times I’d interviewed him. He wasn’t a particularly exciting interview, never said anything sensational, and generally gave short professional answers.

Interview setup with Chocolatito and strength and conditioning coach Rafael Rojas.

Exactly what wouldn’t work for a compelling piece.

Chocolatito had other plans for our sit-down.

He opened up and laid it all out there, bared his soul right in front of me.

I’ve been to war in Iraq, and I’ve dealt with PTSD and have sought treatment for years. It wasn’t until years later I was able to really bare my soul and talk about the horrors of war and combat. Bottling up everything inside destroys a person and holds them back from achieving a return to becoming a better version of the person they were before combat or whatever significant event hurt them.

Gonzalez was hurt emotionally, he was hurt physically, and he suffered for it.

As I heard this titanic tiny man tell me about the pain of losing his trainer and mentor Arnulfo Obando, and how sad he was when he was knocked out. I realized, he told me this because his heart had healed.

Talking about it was a last action that needed to be completed before moving forward to the next chapter in his life.

What I expected to be a twenty-minute interview turned into a ninety-minute therapy session.

For both of our benefit.

Sure, I was going to edit the interview and produce Chocolatito’s story, but this small man who fights people at 115 pounds just taught me more about myself than any therapist ever could.

Chocolatito’s release of his pain was a reflection of my own personal and spiritual growth. In essence, we are all Chocolatito.

It wasn’t how Gonzalez boxed that made his win over Yafai special.

It was how he got back up from the type of defeat and depression that destroys most people.

Chocolatito will be a first ballot hall of famer when he retires, the boxing community will remember him for the accomplishments and accolades he achieved inside the ring.

I’ll always remember him for giving me the one thing no other fighter could.

He gave me hope.

About Albert Baker

Creator/Producer/Director of Under the Hand Wraps and owner of underthehandwraps.com. Albert Baker is still the Senior US Writer at InstantBoxing.com and is based in Los Angeles.

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