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BOXING / TIM KAWAKAMI : Humberto Gonzalez Is Ready to Fill Some Much Bigger Shoes

August 27, 1994|TIM KAWAKAMI

He's 5 feet 1, maybe, on tip-toe, and his huge torso, long arms and short legs make him look like Terminator's mop-topped little brother.

Literally, figuratively or financially, Humberto (Chiquita) Gonzalez probably never will be as big as Julio Cesar Chavez, who once was Mexico's most towering personality, in sports or otherwise.

A few years ago, if Chavez's name was on a fight card, thousands of Mexican fight fans were sure to follow, cash in hand.

But as Chavez struggles to erase the bad memories of three high-profile failures and the nagging idea that he never will be the fighter he once was, Gonzalez, the light-flyweight champion, is finding new clout as a rightful heir to the Mexican fight fans' loyalty. Which translates into major earning power.

Earlier this month, when he came out for the coin toss at midfield before the Dallas Cowboy-Houston Oiler exhibition in Mexico City, Chavez was given a clear indication of how far he has fallen, at least in the eyes of the crowd of 100,000-plus.

He was booed.

Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. But after the clownish majority-draw decision that saved him from Pernell Whitaker, the loss to Frankie Randall, and then the freakish head-butt-shortened technical decision victory that gave him back the World Boxing Council junior-welterweight belt in the Randall rematch last May, Chavez is clearly losing his popularity.

According to those familiar with the Mexican scene, fans there consider his rematch against Meldrick Taylor on Sept. 17 a bad joke and will not embrace him again him until he properly defeats Randall or Whitaker.

So, even as a 108-pounder, Gonzalez, who is promoted by and fights most of his bouts at the Forum, is gaining momentum. And he could get a lot bigger in a hurry: A high-profile third fight with Michael Carbajal, whom Gonzalez beat last February for the WBC and International Boxing Federation belts, is being planned for either late this year or, more likely, early 1995.

"He's still No. 2 (behind Chavez), but it's getting close," said Gonzalez's adviser, Rafael Mendoza. "That fight with Meldrick Taylor isn't going to do anything to benefit Chavez's popularity. Chavez is now in what you call in baseball a slump. One hundred and twenty thousand people booed him.

"Mexicans are special--too much pride. They are the first ones to discover that their own people aren't doing well."

Gonzalez recognizes that very few fighters in the lighter divisions are able to stir major fan interest. But, as he has built his career--the first, stirring knockout loss to Carbajal, the victory in the rematch despite a huge cut--his status as a box-office attraction is solid.

Gonzalez was known as strictly a bomber in his early days but, after getting knocked out by Carbajal in 1993, came back with an intricate, in-and-out style that confused Carbajal.

"In Mexico, Chavez is No. 1 and I am No. 2," Gonzalez said through an interpreter recently. "And that's not only in Mexico, but in the Latin American countries and in the United States too.

"And that's enough for me now.

"I'm already going to the point where I'm making good money for my weight. And I know that they will pay me more because people will follow me like they did with Chavez before. And that makes the difference--if people will follow you.

"But I will never reach the status of Chavez, money-wise, because I don't have that weight. I am a little guy. I would love to be a heavyweight."

Gonzalez defends his title Sept. 10 at Caesars Lake Tahoe against Juan Domingo Cordoba. But for Gonzalez, the next big fight, obviously, is the second rematch with Carbajal.

Part of Carbajal's reasoning for leaving Bob Arum's Top Rank, Inc., and joining Don King was to maneuver himself into better bargaining position against Gonzalez. Also, King guaranteed him a $1-million purse for a third Gonzalez bout.

That may complicate matters for Gonzalez-Carbajal III. If Carbajal gets $1 million, Gonzalez will demand significantly more, and nobody is sure if two 108-pounders can stir enough interest to offset a $2-million combined purse.

"I can keep my career going without Carbajal," Gonzalez said. "If he doesn't want it that way, I'll fight somebody else."

Said Mendoza: "Chiquita is quiet, he is happy with his title, he is happy with the money he is earning and he knows he needs Carbajal for the big payday.

"But if Carbajal does not happen, he can always defend his title and go for the flyweight tile with the Russian (WBC champion Yuri Arbachakov), which is a very, very attractive fight anyplace.

"(Gonzalez) has the market in Mexico that Carbajal doesn't have."

Carbajal recently announced that he was going to give up the minor World Boxing Organization light-flyweight belt in order to hold his position as Gonzalez's No. 1 challenger in the IBF and WBC.

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