Bad news, featherweights: Irvin Gonzalez Jr. is back and finally healthy as he enters his prime.
The Worcester, MA, native returns to the ring for the first time in 13 months on Saturday, January 21 as CES Boxing opens its 2023 season with Winter Brawl at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The 26-year-old Gonzalez (15-3, 11 KOs), a decorated amateur who competed in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, made one of the most difficult, yet beneficial, decisions of his career in 2022 when he sat out the entire year to fully recover from two major surgeries.
In January of 2022, doctors repaired an elbow injury that had been bothering him for years. In April, he had surgery on his hand, another setback that all but derailed his chances of fighting again before the end of the year.
The surgery on his elbow was his third; the difference this time was he didn’t halt the recovery process to rush back into the ring.
The end result is a healthier, happier, and well-rested Gonzalez who is mentally and physically ready to make his move in the 126-pound division.
“This is the first time I’ve been injury-free in a long time,” Gonzalez said. “In the past when I had injuries, there was always a worry in the back of my mind that something would go wrong. Now I don’t have to worry.
“I took the time to heal completely and mentally I’m in such a better placed now. I’m going into my prime years fully healed.”
A fully-healed Gonzalez in his mid-20s could be a game-changer in the featherweight division. At his peak, Gonzalez breezed through his weight class, turning pro at the age of 20 and winning his first 12 fights.
After signing with CES in 2019, Gonzalez began his resurgence with back-to-back knockout wins, including a thrilling victory over Yeuri Andujar to capture the WBC Youth title in February of 2020.
Then the pandemic hit, which kept Gonzalez inactive for nine months until he starred on the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones extravaganza, narrowly losing to Edward Vazquez in what may have been the fight of the night.
Gonzalez was supposed to return the following summer at CES’ groundbreaking outdoor show in Rhode Island, but the elbow injury flared up, forcing him to withdraw from his scheduled WBC USNBC title bout.
Against Adan Ochoa. Gonzalez remained on the shelf until December of 2021 when he beat the dangerous Yeison Vargas in Orlando, another 13-month layoff between bouts.
The obvious goal in 2023 is to be more prolific and remain as active as ever, perhaps enough to line up a major opportunity before the end of the year. Gonzalez fought four times in 2019, but has also stepped in the ring three times in the last three years.
“I want to come out this year on a major note. I want fight after fight after fight,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully, I get the fights I need to get back to where I’m supposed to be and by the end the year hopefully be in the conversation for something big.”
The injuries were as big a setback mentality as they were physically; a skilled athlete his entire life, Gonzalez played football, baseball, and soccer and ran cross country in high school, but never suffered physical ailments until he dove deeper into boxing – the sport he chose to pursue over the others. Having boxed since the age of 8, the sudden inability to perform at his best was a bitter pill to swallow for Gonzalez.
“It definitely got frustrating, especially after the first surgery,” he said. “When I had to go back a second time knowing it wasn’t fixed, that was tough from a mental standpoint. You try to tell yourself you’re not injured, but I knew I had to get right physically.”
With the surgeries behind him, Gonzalez could be one of boxing’s breakthrough stars in 2023. The journey begins January 21 in what might be the biggest fight of Gonzalez’s career – a new lease on life in the squared circle with the much-needed peace of mind to succeed.
Winter Brawl is headlined by heavyweight “The Sicilian Nightmare” Juiseppe Cusumano (21-4, 19 KOs) facing “The Hungarian Hammer” Istvan Bernath (10-1, 8 KOs) in the 10-round main event and the long-awaited return of Stamford, CT, light middleweight Chordale Booker (17-1, 7 KOs) in an eight-round showcase against 37-fight veteran Angel Hernandez (17-17-3, 11 KOs).
The event also features super featherweight Alejandro Paulino (11-0, 9 KOs) putting his undefeated record on the line in a six-round bout against Ryizeemmion Ford (8-3, 6 KOs) and undefeated welterweight Josniel Castro (9-0, 7 KOs), a Boca Raton, FL, native who’s fought his entire pro career in New England from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, facing one of his toughest tests to date in a six-round showdown against Quebec native and Boston resident Mitch Louis Charles (6-3-2, 3 KOs).