The first time little Humberto (Chiquita) Gonzalez got so lucky, Michael Carbajal hit him in the mouth with a right hand that knocked him senseless. That was last March, in a fight to unify the light flyweight championship. During the first six rounds of that brawl, Gonzalez twice decked Carbajal and was leading by four points on all three judges' cards.
Then, boom! Carbajal unloaded. Goodbye Gonzalez's IBF share of the title. Hello a payday that tiny fighters only dream about. "If Chiquita had won the first fight, he'd have been lucky to make $100,000 for his first defense," Rafael Mendoza, Gonzalez's adviser, said last Friday, the day before the two men were to face off again, at the Forum in Los Angeles for the IBF-WBC crown.
The first fight was a war—two jockey-sized men hammering each other nonstop until Gonzalez toppled with one second remaining in the seventh round. The boxing writers called it the fight of the year. For that one, Gonzalez, the pride of Ciudad Neza, Mexico, made $400,000. Carbajal, a 1988 Olympic silver medalist from Phoenix, earned some $350,000 more.
For Saturday night's pay-per-view rematch, Carbajal was guaranteed $1 million. Gonzalez was guaranteed $400,000. When it was over, and Gonzalez had taken the title by a split decision, Mendoza chuckled over his fighter's good fortune. "Chiquita gets lucky again," he said, "and for his next fight he makes a million."
Gonzalez's luck turned in the fourth round, and once again it was courtesy of a Carbajal right hand, which ripped a deep, one-inch vertical cut in Gonzalez's left eyebrow. Got him, thought Carbajal.
Not so fast. Until that point, Gonzalez had been fighting foolishly. He is 5'1", and given his modest reach, he must stay in his opponent's face in order to win. That is where he found success in the first fight against the 5'5½" Carbajal. But this time Gonzalez's strategists advised him to stay outside and box, and for three-plus rounds Carbajal built a commanding lead by stalking the circling challenger.
The cut changed all that. At the end of Round 4 Gonzalez returned to his corner, his face and chest covered with blood. "We'll handle the cut," his cornermen said. "You just go out and do your job."
With his blood flowing freely, Gonzalez pressed forward, and the momentum shifted. He pulled even in the scoring, then surged ahead. Before the final round two judges had Gonzalez ahead, but one of them, Ray Solis, a Mexican, had him leading by only one point. Mike Munoz of Phoenix had Carbajal ahead by two. Only Hank Elespuru of Sacramento—the "neutral" judge—had the fight all but over; he had Gonzalez ahead by four.
The last round could have gone either way. Munoz called it even; Solis and Elespuru gave it to Gonzalez. The decision went to Gonzalez, the 4-to-1 underdog.
Carbajal took his first defeat in 31 pro fights well. "I gave him a rematch." he said. "Now I hope he gives me one."
Gonzalez, now 38-2, nodded at Carbajal. He knows that against anyone else he is back in the $100,000 ballpark.
Said promoter Bob Arum, "I don't know how long they need, and there is the cut, but how about May 27 in Las Vegas?"
"How about in Phoenix?" said Danny Carbajal, Michael's brother and trainer.
"How about $2 million?" Mendoza said, happily. "For that we'll fight him anywhere, including Phoenix."
If Gonzalez's luck holds, it'll happen.
Badly cut by the champ, Gonzalez altered his strategy and bore in to win a split decision.