The eyes of the boxing world were upon the Super Flyweight division Saturday night, courtesy of “HBO’s Boxing After Dark”, and the very best at 115 pounds didn’t disappoint. This tripleheader produced a full course pugilistic meal of competitive, momentum shifting bouts, one-sided showcases, controversial decisions and brutal knockouts, all served on the same platter. Sadly, we may have also witnessed the end of the road for an undeniable fistic great.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez
The overwhelming pre-fight theme was “Chocolatito” being robbed March of this year, when he lost his WBC Super Flyweight title to Rungvisai, via close, disputed decision. But a smaller percentage of fans felt Rungvisai was a bad matchup stylistically, with his southpaw stance, two-fisted power, high work rate, aggressive approach, size/strength advantage and clever usage of his head, in close quarters.
From the very 1st round, Rungvisai beat Gonzalez to the punch and every shot seemed to bother him. “Chocolatito’s” slow, deliberate footwork was in stark contrast to the mobile, athletic movements of his Thai opponent. Gonzalez, a proud Nicaraguan, engaged in center ring exchanges, but got the worst of them, particularly to the body. In the 4th, Rungvisai landed a flush southpaw hook on the button, at the end of a flurry, which dropped “Chocolatito” hard, on his side. Bravely, Gonzalez beat the count, but seconds later another right hook headshot rendered him motionless, flat on his back. The referee didn’t even bother to count.
Though he managed to win a world title at 115 (his fourth in as many weight classes, no less), it’s obvious Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KO’s) isn’t a true Super Flyweight. His face has never looked puffier, his body has never looked softer and his punches have never been as ineffective as is the case at the higher weight. Hard to tell where this first ballot Hall of Famer goes from here, but his only option appears to be retirement or a move down in weight. For Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KO’s), he’s firmly established himself as the man to beat in one of the sport’s most compelling divisions.
Naoya Inoue vs. Antonio Nieves
To put it mildly, Inoue, beat the brakes off Nieves. Nicknamed “Monster”, Inoue made a very favorable first impression, in his American debut, leaving fans anxious for more. From Japan, Inoue arguably has the best jab in boxing and works exceedingly well off that weapon. He has a good 1-2, a powerful left hook off the jab, to the head or body, a left uppercut off the jab, a head/body double left hook combo, you name it. To say Inoue has an “educated” left hand would be quite an understatement.
Nieves came into the fight self-assured and determined, but by round 3, all of that was beaten out of him, pretty much. In the 5th, Inoue looked to end matters, stalking and dropping Nieves with a left hook to the breadbasket. Nieves beat the count and the “Monster” went left hand crazy to the body, exclusively. Somehow, Nieves survived the round, but the result was academic and his corner mercifully stopped the proceedings at the end of the 6th. This was the perfect coming out party for Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12 KO’s), a dynamic, reflexive, aggressive fighter with swag. Only 24, he seems to have a bit of a mean streak, enjoyed physically discouraging Nieves (17-2, 9 KO’s) and even showboated moments before the stoppage. Inoue isn’t nice in the ring, which is always a plus, and there’s little doubt HBO will aim to broadcast his bouts, moving forward.
Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Carlos Cuadras
If the main event and co-main provided the shock and awe of the card, “El Gallo” Estrada and “Principe” Cuadras contributed the mystery, suspense and drama, in the opener of the televised broadcast. During the first 4-5 stanza’s, Cuadras’ superior athleticism kept him a step ahead of Estrada. Cuadras’ hand speed started and finished most exchanges, he was switching from southpaw to orthodox effectively, circling Estrada and clearly controlling the fight. But he was also expending much more energy and somewhere between round 5 or 6, Cuadras was visibly fatigued. In just his third bout in two years, Estrada needed a few rounds to rev his engine up, but by the end of the 6th, he was comfortable, picked up on Cuadras’ deteriorating cardio and seized control.
The tough Mexicans took turns firing off at one another, but Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KO’s) was landing mostly pitty-pat, to keep Estrada (36-2, 25 KO’s) at bay, while Estrada connected with harder, more hurtful blows. In the 10th, a grazing left hook followed by a straight right deposited Cuadras on the canvas. From there it was a race to the finish with Cuadras shoe shining and Estrada stalking, unleashing the heavier artillery.
The contest could’ve been scored either way, but Estrada clearly finished stronger. Famed ring announcer, Michael Buffer, announced scores of 114-113, by all three judges for the winner, “Carlos ‘El Pincipe’ Estrada”, clearly a mistake. Before long, “El Gallo” was announced as the true victor.
Avenues are aplenty for both combatants, in the aftermath. Officially, this was a WBC eliminator and Estrada is the mandatory challenger to face Rungvisai. Those two featured, with Inoue vs. Cuadras on the undercard, would be a scintillating double bill. Or an immediate rematch, as Rungvisai and Inoue unify. Regardless, the fun has just begun for the “Superflys”.