It was just 18 months ago that Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez was the toast of boxing. He was an undefeated four-division world champion and widely viewed as the No. 1 fighter in the world, pound-for-pound.
But how times change, and often quickly, in boxing.
First, Gonzalez lost his junior bantamweight world title to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai by highly controversial majority decision in a bloody battle that was a strong contender for 2017 fight of the year. Then last September, Gonzalez got brutally knocked out in the fourth round of their rematch in what was the 2017 ESPN.com knockout of the year.
Now Gonzalez, the Nicaraguan national hero, is back, looking to regain his form and show the world that even at age 31 -- ancient for a fighter in one of boxing's smallest weight divisions -- he isn't finished just yet.
Gonzalez will make his return from a 53-week ring absence when he takes on former strawweight world titlist Moises Fuentes in a 10-round junior bantamweight fight that will open the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez II pay-per-view telecast on Saturday (HBO PPV, 8 p.m. ET) at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Gonzalez was initially supposed to return on May 5 on the rematch undercard before it was canceled because of Alvarez's two failed drug tests. But even after it was canceled, he was going to fight on the undercard of Golovkin's replacement fight against Vanes Martirosyan, but political unrest in Nicaragua prevented Gonzalez from securing a visa in time for the fight, so his return was further delayed.
"So many people are looking forward to seeing 'Chocolatito' back in the ring. It's been a year now, and the fans can't wait to see him, one of the most exciting, one of the most respected fighters in the sport, back in the ring," said Tom Loeffler, Gonzalez's co-promoter.
During his layoff, however, Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KOs), a surefire International Boxing Hall of Famer, admitted that he considered retirement.
"Very close," Gonzalez said through an interpreter. "I really wanted to retire because I wanted to spend time with my children, which I had not been able to due to so much determination within my career and the training and whatnot. But at the same time, I spoke to my family, and my family encouraged me to be able to fight in the ring, and I feel it wasn't my time [to retire]. It wasn't my time, and now I'm ready to fight once again."
Gonzalez said his decision to keep going was not because he didn't want the last image of his career to be him essentially out cold on the ring mat.
"No, that has nothing to do with it. I wanted to fight," Gonzalez said. "I believe I've received a lot of blessings for world titles, being ranked for a time as the No. 1 pound-for-pound, and I believe that is enough, but I was just happy to have the opportunity again.
"It was definitely a very difficult year from the loss that I suffered to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. I believe [I have] the wisdom to be able to overcome this situation. I believe that I'm back in the ring, and I'm coming in great condition, and I definitely want to win the fight, like every other boxer, and I believe that I am starting to set up my comeback."
Gonzalez said one of his motivations to continue boxing is to get a shot to win a world title in a fifth weight class. He has won belts at strawweight, junior flyweight, flyweight and junior bantamweight while facing top-level opponents. He'd like to go for a world title at bantamweight before he hangs up his gloves.
"I think this is the best stage possible for Roman for his comeback, and we are very happy and thankful to God that we are given this opportunity, and we know that Roman has been training and will not give anything less than the best," said Carlos Blandon, Gonzalez's manager.
Mexico's Fuentes (25-5-1, 14 KOs), who turns 31 next week, is very experienced, but he has lost three of his past four fights, including his most recent one on Feb. 4, when he traveled to Japan and was knocked out in the first round by Daigo Higa in a flyweight world title fight.
"I have the opportunity of a lifetime to fight against the great Roman Gonzales," Fuentes said through an interpreter. "I'm very well prepared for this fight. I'm ready. We feel strong, and if God's willing, we're going to be victors that day.
"Nothing is written in boxing. I feel that I can beat Roman. It will definitely be something out of a dream, but I'm ready to fight, and I hope I can beat him."
Gonzalez, however, is a big favorite as he looks to rebound from the lowest point of an otherwise brilliant 13-year career.
"I'm very happy, and I feel this is a great opportunity," he said. "And I'm ready to be able to overcome this tough year and be able to fight again."