By Alden Chodash, first uploaded on Boxing News 24.
From the legacy left by Jimmy Wilde, “Barbados” Joe Walcott, and George Dixon to the modern impact created by Ricardo Lopez, Michael Carbajal, and a young Manny Pacquiao, the little guys in boxing (105 to 118 lbs) have historically been boxing’s best kept secret.
It takes a true fan of the sport to keep up with the straw-weights, flyweights, and bantamweights of the world, and it’s certainly no thanks to the mainstream television networks that, until recently, hardly feature the best these divisions have to offer. “Superfly” was historic in that it exclusively featured the “little guys”, the divisions that often harbor the most talent but get the least attention. The best part about the lower weight divisions in boxing is that the best are so eager to face the best on a frequent basis. With the exception of Naoya Inoue vs. Antonio Nieves, which was more of a showcase fight for the budding Japanese superstar than anything else, “Superfly” was an example of just that as the best were fighting the best, establishing the faces of the super-flyweight division for years to come.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez 2
What happened: After most experts ringside thought Chocolatito did enough to win their first encounter, it seemed like an all too familiar tale that the Nicaraguan hero Gonzalez would regain his belt and solidify his pound-for-pound standing in this rematch. At least that’s how HBO commentators and many boxing experts painted it out to be. However, nobody gave Sor Rungvisai the script.
History has given us many examples of fighters who have risen to the occasion once they won a world title. When Jermain Taylor lifted the middleweight crown from Bernard Hopkins in 2005, many experts at ringside disputed the decision and didn’t give Taylor full recognition as middleweight champion until he decisively beat “The Executioner” (as Hopkins was then regarded) later that year. Although Taylor’s championship form didn’t last too long after the Hopkins rematch, we did see him close strong in the late rounds against Hopkins whereas he was fading badly down the stretch when Taylor won the belt. Similarly, we saw Tim Bradley rise in caliber after his dubious decision over Pacquiao in 2012 when he out-boxed ring legend Juan Manual Marquez the following year.
What we saw Sor Rungvisai do on Saturday wasn’t far different. As a champion with a stigma on his back, he came out like a man with something to prove, pounding Gonzalez in close with hard chopping punches to the head and body while constantly shifting. He was the ring general for the entire fight, and closed the show in a fearsome manner when he left the former pound for pounder unconscious with a hellacious right hook in the 4th round.
What it meant: Quite simply, this was one of the most shocking and impressive coming out parties for a fighter since Antonio Tarver’s one punch knockout over Roy Jones in 2004. For a great fighter and former pound for pound kingpin to be knocked out cold is very rare; for him to be completely whitewashed in the process is even more stunning. While the case can be made that Gonzalez was never at his best at 115 (see his struggle against Cuadras), the exclamation mark Sor Rungvisai put on his championship claim clearly designates him as the king of the division. “Superfly” featured some extraordinary talent at 115, and Sor Rungvisai certainly has his hand on the throttle in calling the shots over the likes of Inoue, Estrada, or even a rematch against Cuadras (as the fight was cut short due to an accidental clash of heads).
What happens next: It seems likely that Sor Rungvisai will take on Juan Francisco Estrada next, as Estrada’s victory over Cuadras placed him as the mandatory for Sor Rungvisai’s WBC belt. It’s another terrific fight, and it remains to be seen how well Estrada, who like Chocolatito also recently moved up from 112, can handle the size and the punching power of a 115 pound destroyer like Sor Rungvisai. Estrada does bring advantages against Sor Rungvisai that Gonzalez lacked; most notably, Estrada applies more distance and has shown more adaptability in recent fights than Gonzalez. By Estrada relying less on volume punching and pressure than Chocolatito does, his style might be better suited for the strength and punching power of Sor Rungvisai. One thing is sure though; we’d be looking at another war.
Naoya Inoue vs. Antonio Nieves
What happened: In Inoue’s first fight on American soil, the Japanese champion’s coming out party played out exactly as expected. Antonio Nieves, who has never been on the world stage before, looked respectable in the early rounds as he carried out his game-plan but quickly began to look like the sacrificial lamb he was contracted out to be. Inoue’s thudding power was audibly noticeable to those at ringside, and became visibly noticeable towards the end of the 2nd round as Nieves’s knees began to buckle. Inoue’s devastating body punching, which has won him several fights previously, registered a knockdown in the 5th as a vicious liver shot deposited Nieves on his knees. From this point on, it was simply target practice for Inoue as he teed off at will on a receding Nieves until Nieves’s corner finally showed mercy at the end of the 6th.
What it meant: On paper, the win didn’t do much to elevate Inoue’s status as a top 115 lb champion. However, it did showcase Inoue on HBO for the first time. More so, it showed him doing what he does best, scoring spectacular knockouts.
However, it is easy to get blind-sighted by the spectacle of Inoue’s ferocious power and lose sight of the technical flaws in his gameplan. Watching Inoue hunt down his prey in a seek and destroy type style is very reminiscent to watching a young, then unbeaten Nonito Donaire dominate the same divisions years back. Donaire’s biggest strength and biggest weakness was his spectacular knockout power, which he overly relied on in fights against Jeffrey Mathebula and Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. at the expense of carrying out a more complete, measured fightplan. Eventually when Donaire faced Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2013, his technical flaws ended up bedeviling him as Rigondeaux outboxed him for most of the fight and took his title via unanimous decision. Against fighters who may be able to take his best punches like Sor Rungvisai or fighters who might be crafty enough to neutralize his power like Estrada, Inoue needs to show more depth against better opposition as he awaits a shot at the division’s best.
What happens next: As Estrada’s victory over Cuadras propelled him into the mandatory challenger position for Sor Rungvisai’s belt, it is likely that Inoue won’t be unifying the 115 lb belts until next year. While he waits, there are a variety of other fights that can be made for Inoue, including a defense against Carlos Cuadras who was only one round away from being Sor Rungvisai’s mandatory challenger. A Cuadras fight may pose some risks to Inoue who has yet to face a fighter as slick and crafty, but it would give boxing fans and experts a better idea of what to expect from Inoue against top level opposition. Cuadras has been on the big stage many times and holds a victory over Sor Rungvisai, which now holds more weight than ever. What might be appealing for Inoue is that Cuadras hit the deck against Estrada in their battle, which might lead the Inoue camp to question Cuadras’s ability to take their punches considering that Estrada was moving up in weight.
Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Carlos Cuadras
What happened: In a fight that almost stole the show, former flyweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada came from behind to edge out former super-flyweight champion Carlos Cuadras by a one-point unanimous decision. Cuadras got off to a quick start, using his flashy style to carry a clear lead through the first half of the fight. However, Estrada showed extraordinary patience and resolve as he began to pick off Cuadras from range, and it soon became clear that he was beginning to land the more authoritative punches in the center of the ring. Eventually, Estrada’s clean punches began to break down Cuadras who was put on the seat of his pants with a jolting right hand in the 10th. Remarkably, Cuadras got up and battled back to hold his own in the last 2 rounds, although it wasn’t enough to get the nod on points.
What it meant: Estrada showed why he is regarded as one of the best in the world with his terrific performance against former world champion Carlos Cuadras. Although the fight was very close, the manner in which Estrada won makes him a big draw at 115, and at the very least he’ll get a title shot against Sor Rungvisai as the Thai champion’s mandatory challenger. Estrada proved himself to be the best fighter without a belt at 115, and his resourcefulness and adaptability is enough to give anyone problems. His cerebral style coupled with his punch selection and patience is almost reminiscent of a young Julio Cesar Chavez, and Estrada may have yet to reach his prime. Expect big things from this promising young Mexican.
What happens next: When it happens, Estrada vs. Sor Rungvisai should be a terrific fight, and another coming out moment for one of these two warriors. It’s very difficult to pick a winner right now; Estrada certainly has the technical advantage in there, but Sor Rungvisai may carry the day with his swarming activity, strength and punching power. However, picking a winner is not of immediate priority. What is important is that these two get in the ring together as soon as possible.