Britain’s longest-reigning world champion, Kal Yafai, and unbeaten Welshman Jay Harris both rolled the dice on their professional careers this weekend.
In contrasting defeats to “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Julio Cesar Martinez, Yafai and Harris could leave The Star in Frisco with their heads held high. Despite falling short, their bleary-eyed countrymen and women across the pond were once again reminded of the often frequented tale of the plucky, British underdog.
Yafai’s bravery came when he signed to fight the former four-weight world champion and Nicaraguan legend, Roman Gonzalez. The Birmingham fighter tagged this event as when “idols become rivals,” not shying away to the pedestal that he placed Gonzalez on when “Chocolatito” was atop many pound-for-pound lists.
Despite this unwavering respect for the 32-year-old, Yafai flew to Texas hoping that the 48-2 fighter was washed from a punishing KO loss to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2017 and that the legend had fallen to a myth in the years that proceeded.
Yafai rolled the dice on taking a risk that many champions would avoid; it just so happens that Gonzalez still held all the aces, and Yafai’s number was up. Yafai wasn’t the natural underdog in the pre-fight odds, but as soon as the first punches began to land, the gulf in class was evident.
The Briton lost every round of his sixth title defence, eventually being stopped by an eye-catching right hand from the masterful “Chocolatito.” Gonzalez worked each angle of attack to perfection throughout the contest, unrelenting in his output as he swarmed Yafai with combinations on the front foot.
The defending champion tried to fight fire with fire, but Gonzalez rolled back the years to put on a meticulously punishing performance. While many were speculating this as one of Gonzalez’s last dances, the newly crowned WBA junior bantamweight champion catapulted himself back to the summit of the 115-pounders.
Yafai will come again, most likely at bantamweight, but in daring to be great, he walked headfirst into one of the greatest of the little men. No excuses, no regrets.
Swansea’s Jay Harris displayed the more typical plucky, gritty underdog performance further down the undercard as he attempted to survive the tornado of Julio Cesar Martinez.
The Mexican’s WBC flyweight title was up for grabs in Frisco, and in taking time out from his day job as an Amazon factory worker, Harris performed close to his maximum potential in running Gonzalez close on the scorecards.
Well, close on two of the judges’ scorecards. Surviving a knockdown in the 10th and losing the fight 118-109, 116-111 and 115-112 on the cards doesn’t appear on paper as a moral victory, but the heart Harris showed in the face of adversity against a robust and dangerous operator will hold him in good stead as he plots his next move.
Harris had zero quit in him, thousands of miles away from home against a solid champion. Many (myself included) predicted an early night for the Welshman with Martinez expected to walk through the European champion in the early stages.
Harris did himself proud, swimming, not drowning, in testing waters – the foundations have been built for the 29-year-old to come again at the highest level.
In a week where Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Billy Joe Saunders and Callum Smith’s names have all dominated the British boxing column inches, Yafai and Harris showed what it is to be a plucky Brit striving for greatness. No matter how big the task in hand.