Yafai doesn’t feel he has got the recognition he deserves as super-flyweight world champion, but this fight is a chance to remedy that
Super flyweight Kal Yafai has fallen off the radar since becoming a world champion four years ago.
The undefeated 30-year old, a former Olympian with 26 professional fights to his name, is also Birmingham’s first world champion and Britain’s first super-flyweight world champion. In Texas, on Saturday, Yafai faces Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, a four-weight world champion who was considered by some as the world’s No 1 pound-for-pound boxer three years ago.
Yafai is looking for a statement victory under Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom USA banner. “I’ve watched Chocolatito for a long time, since I first started coming through,” explained Yafai.
“I watched him fight live at The Forum in LA in 2015, I paid $30 and sat right in the goods. He was fast, destructive. He was very impressive. A two-round destruction of Edgar Sosa. But idols become rivals. There’s no awe now. I’m looking to take him out.”
Yafai, an Olympian in 2008 and whose brothers Galal and Gamal have both boxed for GB as amateurs, explained: “Victory will give me the recognition I deserve, recognition I don’t believe I have had since becoming a world champion. This is my moment for me to make a statement, as Birmingham’s first world champion, as Britain’s first world super-flyweight champion.”
Boxing’s big bucks and the limelight so often centres firmly on the heavyweights – witness Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua – and not so much the ultra-quick technicians and scrappers at 115 pounds. Yet Yafai’s fight with Gonzalez, an extraordinary fighter on a 46-fight win streak before being beaten twice by a tough Thai named Brisket Rungvisai, merits deserved attention.
“I can announce myself on a new stage, a new audience, with this,” explained Gafai, from Mosley, who like ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed before him, is a British boxer of the highest level from Yemeni extraction.
“Being in America is nothing new to me, I like it over here,” he explained. “I was happy when this fight was announced. I’ve been the world champion since 2016, and have worked away at it.”
Indeed, there have been five defences of the title, two of those in the USA. “What better fight to get next? What better fight than Chocolatito?
“I’ve got the bit between my teeth. This is the biggest fight of my life. I’m normally nervous, but for this one I’m just excited. I’m training hard, training, smart, it’s really hard to explain. I’m just excited.”
The fight is intriguing. Yafai is an astute technician with great fitness, excellent ring IQ balanced behind the jab, and combination attacks. His last six fights at this level have gone the full 12 rounds – nothing unusual at the this level, at the weight – but suggests a lesser punch power than the Nicaraguan, who can strike and finish like a viper.
But Yafai could outwork Gonzalez over the championship distance. Yafai’s rise to prominence came in a brilliant performance against the ageing yet highly talented Luis Concepcion, whom the Briton outclassed over twelve rounds late in 2016, as chief support to Anthony Joshua’s defence of the IBF heavyweight crown against Eric Molina.
But this is the real test. Yafai will need to be on his mettle throughout, and must outwork the central American fighter, whose confidence is a major factor in his performances. “I’m fighting a guy who is a four-weight world champion and a former pound-for-pound king. He’s still got it, and I’ve taken it very seriously,” explained Yafai. “It’s a fight I have to win.”
On the other side of the ring, 32-year-old Gonzalez. “I’m in the best condition for this fight. I will take advantage of this opportunity,” said Gonzalez this week. “I hope the fight is a great spectacle.”
While the big noise from the Texas card is the battle between Mikey Garcia and Jessie Vargas, ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez against Yafai could prove the crossroads fight the Briton has desired for some time.