By Derek Bonnett: The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest nation in Central America. Yet, it is the least densely populated with demographic comparable to that of Honduras and Costa Rica. It derives its name from the famed Chief Nicarao who once ruled over this land and the Spanish word “agua” (water). The capital city of Managua is the largest in Nicaragua and the third largest in Central America altogether. Nicaragua possesses a multi-cultural population of roughly six million people which include indigenous, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, has a GDP that was estimated at just above 17 Billion in the last ten years.
In boxing terms, one might have once referred to this Central American nation as Arguello-Land. Although boxing is considered the second most popular sport in Nicaragua, its history didn’t possess much depth and no one came close to the greatness of three-division world champion Alexis Arguello (126, 130, 135). However, since my first volume of Each Nation’s Best spotlighting Nicaragua there has been a significant change. Then rated number three back in June of 2008, Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez has become a four-division world champion, something Arguello never did, and rates almost universally as the Pound for Pound best fighter today.
Other than the late Arguello, Nicaragua had spawned only seven other world champions as of my 2008 writing; however, since then two more Nicaraguan boxers have become champions, raising the total to ten. There is some indication that Nicaragua will be increasing its world championship output in the near future, but nothing drastic. Of the four men to be featured here, two have already held world championship and the others have given strong efforts in two world title attempts each. In today’s game, these are Nicaragua’s best:
4.) Felix Alvarado, 25-2-0 (21), fought back to back world title bouts at light flyweight and flyweight against Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco in 2013 and 2014 respectively. He did quite well in each in spite of some harsh scorecards, but took a wealth of experience away from the ring. Alvarado, 27, is riding a seven bout win-streak with just one of those going the distance. Just a couple of weeks ago, Alvarado, a Managua native, had his way with twenty-year old prospect Roberto Rodriguez of Mexico. Alvarado jumped on his opponent at the bell and pinned him to the ropes with uppercuts to the body and head until he dropped his man for a stoppage in round one. Alvarado has three wins over Yader Cordoza as well as other journeymen Miguel Tellez, Herald Molina, Carlos Melo, and Nerys Espinoza. Alvarado still lacks a defining win, but rates favorably in the top ten of most ABC organization at light flyweight. While nothing looks set in stone for Alvarado, I would favor him to beat two of the reigning titlists at 108 and 2017 just might be his year.
3.) Carlos "Chocorroncito" Buitrago, 30-2-1 (17), has already been served up two unfair decisions back to back in 2013 and 2014. The first was ruled a draw in his world title bout against Merlito Sabillo in a bout which should have seen Buitrago crowned champion. The second was a narrow unanimous decision loss to Knockout CP Freshmart (115-113 X3), which appeared to rob Buitrago of an interim belt. Buitrago, 25, has beaten numerous run of the mill journeymen on his way to contention, but he also owns victories over Julian Yedras, an eventual world title challenger, and Mario Rodriguez, who briefly held a world title. Buitrago again met Freshmart for his interim minimumweight belt in 2016, but this time the Thai-boxer put in a more commanding performance and befuddled the Managua native. Buitrago looks to be settling in at a new weight class and has scored two victories since the second Freshmart loss. Buitrago really impressed with a mean-spirited first round KO over Roger Collado, a respectable domestic talent. Buitrago wore a scowl from the opening bell and threw with the bad intentions of a young Roman Gonzalez. Buitrago is currently unranked by SecondsOut and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board since it appears he has moved up in weight, but once he settles in at 108 or 112 that should change. As of now, Buitrago has not scheduled to fight in 2017.
2.) Byron Rojas, 18-3-3 (8), had a brief reign as a minimumweight titlist in 2016 after scoring a notable upset over Hekkie Budler in March. Rojas’ earlier career was spent facing domestic talents such as Alcides Martinez and Roger Collado, whom Rojas fought a combined five time going 1-1-2-1 NC. However, Rojas demonstrated excellent hand skills and movement of foot, which caught my eye prior to ranking him tenth at a time when attrition was the most salient factor. Nevertheless, I picked him over Budler and Rojas did not disappoint outboxing the champion with smart movement over twelve rounds. However, Knockout CP Freshmart won a legitimate decision over him in a closely contested bout three months later. Rojas is one bout back and very much still in contention at 105. Rojas still rates third at SecondsOut and holds a number four ranking by TBRB.
1.) Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, 46-0-0 (38), is today’s Pound for Pound king in boxing. Gonzalez is the only fighter to appear on 2008’s volume one and a lot has happened for the ten 18-0-0 prospect. Most notably, Gonzalez has won four world titles in four weight classes, gone 15-0-0 (9) in world title bouts, and is 9-0-0 (6) against current or former world champions. With these achievements, Gonzalez has sparked the question: Will he be greater than Arguello? Purists say no way, mostly due to nostalgia, but I say, let’s wait and see. It is not out of the question. From 105 to 115, Gonzalez has bested some of the top boxers in Yutaka Niida, Katsunari Takayama, Juan Francisco Estrada, Akira Yaegashi, Brian Viloria, and Carlos Cuadras among others. Since losing to Gonzalez, four boxers have gone on to become world champions and two still reign while a third vacated his titles. Gonzalez has found himself fighting in some of the USA’s best venues such as Forum and Madison Square Garden on some pretty important cards.
Gonzalez battered Viloria underneath Gennady Golovkin in 2015 and then outboxed Cuadras as a headlining in a grueling fight which contended for 2016 Fight of the Year. Gonzalez, who punches with as complex a radar system as any fighter in history, can find angles, cut off the ring, and land with precision power. He wastes no punches and has kept active as he climbs the weight classes. Gonzalez will again play opening act for Golovkin on March 18 at Madison Square Garden as he takes on another former world champion in Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, one of the hardest punchers in the division.
Things are relatively thin after the top four, but there are some fighters who will likely be seen in world title fights before long. Keyvin Lara is a domestic talent who has already failed in a world title bid against Kazuto Ioka. Cristofer Rosales is a contender who has already lost to Khalid Yafai and Lara, but rates favorably in the alphabet ratings after dominating other domestic talents. Alexander Espinoza is a developing prospect, but is still largely untested. Rene Alvarado is a rugged veteran, who has pulled a surprise or two over the years, owns wins over Robinson Castellanos and Jayson Velez and will meet Yuriorkis Gamboa in a lightweight bout in March.