Michael Carabajal and Chiquita Gonzalez Steal The Spotlight
Certain fights define a year or an era. Then some fights forever flip and reshape how you view the sport. Such was the case on the night of March 13, 1993, when IBF champion Michael “Manitas De Piedra” Carbajal faced WBC champ Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez in a junior flyweight unification showdown.
THE STORY BEHIND THE RIVALRY
Carbajal (record coming in: 27-1, 15 KOs) grew up in the barrio of Phoenix, Arizona. He honed his skills as a youth in a homemade gym built by his older brother and trainer, Danny. After a stellar amateur career that included a light flyweight Silver Medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the young lad turned pro.
Top Rank promotions wisely featured Carabajal on cable and network television. Their mission was to make Carbajal a mainstream attraction. In July 1990, in his hometown of Phoenix, on ABC, Carbajal stopped Maungchai Kittikasem in seven rounds to win the IBF title. He went on to defend the title six times as he continued to build a following and raise his cache.
Gonzalez (record coming in : 35-1, 25 KOs) didn’t have that hype when he turned pro in September 1984. But he gained a reputation in his native Mexico as an explosive fighter with abnormal power for someone his size. By 1988, he was world-ranked at 108. In July 1989, he defeated Yul Woo Lee by a unanimous decision to win the WBC title.
After five successful title defenses by Gonzalez, some observers labeled him an unstoppable force at 108. But in December 1990, he suffered a shocking tenth-round stoppage defeat to unheralded Filipino Rolando Pasqua. At the time of that loss, there was rumbling of a bout between Chiquita and Carbajal. That had to be put on the shelf.
Gonzalez rebounded and recaptured the WBC title with a unanimous decision win over Melchor Cob Castro in June 1991. After he defended the title four times in his second reign as champ, momentum began to rebuild for a Carbajal-Gonzalez showdown. After intense negotiations took place during the Summer and Fall of 1992, the fight was made.
FIGHT OF THE AGES
Up to this point, the switch-hitting Gonzalez fought one way – come forward with the intent of knocking your head off. After initially boxing at distance, Carbajal was dropped on the seat of his pants from a straight left hand at the end of round two.
From that point, the taller IBF champ elected to stand and fight. He landed plenty of hard punches. But Chiquita’s handspeed and greater work-rate were the difference in the first four rounds.
In the early seconds of round five, a titanic right hook put Carbajal down for the second time in the fight. Carbajal got up on wobbly legs and looked like he was on the verge of getting stopped. Manitas De Piedra gathered himself and carried on. But by the end of the sixth, he seemed to have no answers for the power-punching buzz saw from Mexico.
Then, midway through the seventh, a Carbajal left hook sent the WBC champ reeling. With a minute to go in the round, another left hook stunned Chiquita. Finally, with fifteen seconds to go in the round, Carabajal employed a final left hook to put Gonzalez down and out! It was a stunning turnaround as Carbajal became the unified junior flyweight champ.
GIVE THEM THEIR FLOWERS
They fought two more times, with Gonzalez winning both fights by decision in March and December of 1994. But, their epic first battle stands out and is still talked about with reverence. The bout was 1993’s Fight of the Year, with many publications naming Carbajal their Fighter of the Year. He ultimately achieved Top Rank’s dream of becoming a mainstream attraction.
In the years following this fight, media moguls like HBO and Showtime made a concerted effort to feature fighters south of 130. Unified featherweight Naseem Hamed became a multi-millionaire and an international superstar. Currently, three-division champion Naoya Inoue’s fights are shown throughout the ESPN networks and recognized by hardcore and casual fans. Matchroom Boxing has put a big marketing push for ex-WBC 115 pound champ Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez.
They all owe a debt of gratitude to Carbajal – Gonzalez I. It’s the fight that paved the way for their success and brought newfound respect and spotlight to the lower-weight divisions.
By: Michael Wilson Jr.