They have had some good times together, but now they have no choice: They must tap gloves and say goodbye. Their rivalry, once as thrilling as a first kiss, has grown stale. The magic is gone. The romance has disappeared.
They first met a year and a half ago under the bright lights of Las Vegas. Barely more than 100 pounds apiece, they slugged it out for seven spectacular rounds before Michael Carbajal, the WBC light flyweight and IBF junior flyweight champion from Phoenix, knocked out the challenger, Humberto (Chiquita) Gonzalez of Ciudad Neza, Mexico. The two men followed that up last February with a split decision that gave the titles to Gonzalez and set the stage for a must-see rubber match.
The inimitable Don King staged it in the Plaza de Toros in Mexico City and called it the Real Thing in the Bull Ring: no cellulite, no senior citizens, just two supremely conditioned athletes in their prime. Imagine that. It was an exciting concept—until the bell rang. When the contestants renewed their acquaintance in the ring, it was almost as if they knew each other too well. Each was incapable of surprising the other. Fat guys at least knock each other down now and then.
Carbajal and Gonzalez stayed on their feet for 12 rounds last Saturday night, and the result was a workmanlike majority decision for the 28-year-old Gonzalez, who lost some respect while keeping his 108-pound belts.
"I did not like the fight," said Rafael Mendoza, Gonzalez's longtime adviser and spokesman. "He won, but he was too defensive. You've got to convince people who bought tickets that you gave them their money's worth. You've got to have the fire, and Chiquita did not have it tonight."
After the bout Gonzalez (40-2) announced that he might retire, but not even the locals seemed to care. He and Carbajal (32-2) had had something special, but through 12 rounds they neither brawled nor displayed the ring artistry expected of the fighters in the lower weight divisions. You can pay them a million dollars apiece, as King did this time around as part of a multifight deal. You can put them at the top of a pay-per-view card and at the bottom of an arena filled with 15,000 manic fight fans. You can even throw in a raging international controversy. In the end, you're still left with two little guys who will never light up the pay-per-view numbers the way the heavyweights can.
"It fizzled out because Chiquita wouldn't fight," said King. "He won by being a chess player, not a warrior. But you can't knock a man when he's the winner. He did what he had to do to win the fight."
Gonzalez is 5'1", with a lumpy face like Tattoo on Fantasy Island and a little man's mean streak. Carbajal, 27, is much taller, almost lanky at 5'5�". Neither man typically has much trouble making weight, although Carbajal was declared one gram over the 108-pound limit when he stepped on the scale at last Friday's weigh-in. He made a quick trip to his room, where, presumably, he clipped his nails and cleaned his ears, and returned 20 minutes later and checked in right at the limit.
When the fight began, Carbajal went on the attack and kept Gonzalez moving in reverse for the first half-dozen rounds. Carbajal seemed to lose his edge early in the seventh, when he knocked heads with Gonzalez, and a deep gash opened up on the outer corner of his left eyelid. The blood that poured in a straight line down the side of his face was smeared a minute later when the two fighters met in a brief clinch.
By Round 8 Gonzalez was the aggressor, going right at Carbajal and knocking him back on his heels. Carbajal's corner worked on the cut between rounds, but the blood kept flowing. By the time Carbajal let go with a burst of energy in the 12th, it was too late. Gonzalez was not going to go down. At the final bell both fighters raised their arms in victory, but the circumstances just weren't right for Carbajal to walk away with a decision.