- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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On Sept. 1, junior middleweight prospect Johnathan Gonzalez got a huge opportunity to step up in competition and face former titleholder Sergiy Dzinziruk on HBO.
Instead of taking advantage, Gonzalez blew it big time and left his career in tatters. Not only did he show up way out of shape (he was 169 pounds a few days before the fight and ultimately weighed in at 163 pounds for a 154-pound fight), he fought terribly. In a tremendously uninspired performance, Gonzalez (15-0-1, 13 KOs) was lucky to get a 12-round split draw in a horrible fight.
The stench of his September performance and his blowing weight by such an absurd amount won’t be forgotten, but the 23-year-old former amateur standout from Puerto Rico is getting another chance to show that he should still be considered a prospect.
He’ll face Derek “Pooh” Ennis (23-3-1, 13 KOs) on Jan. 4 at the Magic City Casino in Miami, Fla., in the co-featured bout of the season-opening card of “Friday Night Fights” (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 10 p.m. ET). In the main event, junior lightweight Rances Barthelemy (17-0, 11 KOs) will meet Arash Usmanee (20-0, 10 KOs).
Gabby Penagaricano, Gonzalez’s adviser, was as disappointed in his performance in September as anyone, but said he believes Gonzalez has learned from the situation and taken this training camp seriously.
“Jonathan has been in camp in Florida for close to two full months without any interruptions,” Penagaricano said. “These have been the best preparations of his career. He'll be 100 percent on fight night, on weight and ready to go.
"He's absolutely maturing as a result of the September fight and everything that happened. I think that camp, he needed to be in Puerto Rico for personal reasons and he wasn't able to be with his trainer, and there were interruptions and distractions. Even apart from the weight, he was not 100 percent like he will be this time. This time has been fantastic. He definitely made the right decisions for this one.”
Gonzalez is training in Miami under the supervision of trainers John David Jackson and Chico Ramos.
“He has taken this camp very seriously,” Penagaricano said. “We're all seeing him maturing as a fighter and as a person. I think he realized the need to leave Puerto Rico for camp every fight, like other important fighters [from this country] have done. He notices the difference in his level of conditioning.”
Penagaricano was talking about one of his clients, Puerto Rican star Miguel Cotto, who also trains in Florida.
"I'm very happy with the preparation. I'm in the best shape of my career, and at the end of the fight, the result will be a knockout,” Gonzalez said.
Penagaricano said he's also pleased that Gonzalez is facing a solid opponent in Ennis instead of having him return against a no-hoper.
“It would have been very easy to find some opponent for him to beat in one or two rounds, but in his career, he's never been like that,” Penagaricano said. “He's a prospect that has faced quality opposition since the beginning. His record has a lot of opponents with winning records, which is not typical anymore.
“The majority of opponents have been decent opposition and he has been able to knock all but (three) out. And now, even though we could have picked someone very easy for him, this opponent came across who is very decent and capable fighter and he said right away that's the fight he wants. That's just how he is. He will always choose the harder opponent. With his ability and this new mentality, I have no doubt he will become one of the great Puerto Rican fighters.”