If you’re an astute boxing aficionado, you don’t discriminate based on weight class; a good fight is a good fight, a good fighter is a good fighter. Period. While the pugilistic limbo pole doesn’t get much lower than Lightweight (135 pounds) or Featherweight (126 pounds) for some, those so-called fans just don’t realize what they’re missing out on.
Junior Featherweight thru Strawweight Minimumweight (122-105 pounds) is replete with little guys bringing perpetual activity, absurd amounts of punches thrown and a skillset generally above and beyond reproach. Every now and then, big things will even come in small packages, and a lower weight combatant adds fight ending power to the repertoire. Historically, fighters born in the United States haven’t frequented these divisions, and as a result, consistent American network television coverage has been slim to none.
Which makes Saturday night, September 9th, a very special, must-see occasion.
“HBO’s Boxing After Dark” will present the greatest assemblage of lower weight talent ever presented to U.S. audiences at one time, on a card aptly billed “Superflys”. The moniker is a reference to the Super Flyweight division (115 pounds) and an action-packed night will commence. In the main event, certified pioneer, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KO’s) will attempt to avenge his only loss and regain his WBC Super Flyweight title from Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39 KO’s). In the co-feature, phenom Naoya “Monster” Inoue (13-0, 11KO’s) defends his WBO 115-pound strap against Antonio Nieves (17-1, 9KO’s). The opener of the television broadcast just might steal the show, as former world champions Carlos “Principe” Cuadras (36-1-1, 27 KO’s) and Juan Francisco “El Gallo” Estrada (35-2, 25 KO’s) duke it out for the chance at another title shot. The festivities will be held at the StubHub Center in Carson, California and no, those impressive records are not misprints.
If you wish to heap praise, credit and/or single out the biggest reason for the recent dalliance in lower weight classes, look no further than Roman Gonzalez. He garnered mainstream interest by leaving a trail of hapless, battered bodies in his wake, stringing together a ridiculous record of 45-0, 37 KO’s, and world championships at 105, 108 and 112 pounds. Before long, Gonzalez, from Managua, Nicaragua, matched national hero, Alexis Arguello, as the only pugilists from that country to win titles in three different weight classes. Ironically, it was Arguello who nicknamed Gonzalez “Chocolatito”, an homage to Gonzalez’s father, who also boxed and was called “Chocolate” by his people.
HBO got wind of Gonzalez’s greatness and started featuring him on the undercards of one of their most beloved fighters, Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin. To rave reviews, no less. “Chocolatito’s manner of performing was exceptionally fan friendly, and he had a knack for throwing and landing more punches than any of his contemporaries, while absorbing surprisingly minimal damage, considering. He even surpassed Arguello’s feat of three world titles, winning the WBC Super Flyweight belt, his fourth, in as many divisions. The top of most pound for pound lists was the natural next step, but then came an anonymous challenger from Sisaket Province, Thailand, who threw much more than salt into the game.
Born Wisaksil Wangek, Srisket Sor Rungvisai held to the well-established tradition of Muay Thai players and boxers from Thailand, changing their names to fight professionally. Rungvisai brought 47 bouts worth of experience, a size/strength advantage, southpaw stance and an assortment of “accidental” headbutts to his uphill battle with the heavily favored Roman Gonzalez. Rungvisai started fast, dropped Gonzalez for the first time in his career, via a balance shot to the torso, and withstood a furious late rounds rally to give Gonzalez his first loss ever, pro or amateur. “Chocolatito’s” power seemed to have dipped a tad in his 115-pound title winning match, and that opinion was only bolstered by the ring time he shared with Rungvisai.
Gonzalez’s legacy is already secure, but if he’s able to avenge his only loss, he could once again reach the mountaintop, aka., the driver’s seat of pound for pound lists.
Naoya Inoue, from Kanagawa, Japan, is on an abbreviated course to greatness; winning the WBC Light Flyweight title in just his sixth professional fight. After one whole defense, Inoue surprised many by moving up two divisions, capturing the WBO Super Flyweight title, which the 24-year-old has defended five times. “Monster” Inoue is on the brink of boxing’s elite regardless of weight class, making his American debut and looking forward to making a big splash on this side of the pond, at the expense of Cleveland’s Antonio Nieves. When all is said and done, Inoue just might be the best fighter on a card full of exceptional ones.
The Carlos Cuadras vs. Juan Francisco Estrada affair has the ingredients of becoming an epic, fan friendly series of fights between proud, Mexican contemporaries. There’s work yet to be done, but we could be looking back on this pairing fondly, as we do Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales or Rafael Marquez vs. Israel Vazquez.
“Principe” Cuadras, from Guamuchil, Sinaloa, Mexico won a gold medal at the 2007 Pan American Games and held the WBC Super Flyweight title until a decision loss to “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. “El Gallo” Estrada, of Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico won a boxing reality show called “Campeon Azteca: Round 3”. He was also a WBA “Super Champion” at Flyweight and held the WBO’s Flyweight title, simultaneously. Guess who one of the two men to beat Estrada was? “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
These men bring lofty boxing pedigrees, Mexican pride, a desire to insert their names among their homeland’s greats and the promise of a WBC Super Flyweight title shot to the mix. They won’t disappoint. On that note, it’s doubtful any of the bouts or combatants cease to entertain; there’s few lulls with little dudes and that’s just how they get down. Only now, they’re getting the type of audience they’ve long deserved.
Viva “HBO’s Boxing After Dark” for bringing this to fruition.