Sunday, March 19, 2017

Big Fight Report: Roman Gonzalez Dethroned In The Big Apple by Hard-Headed Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

By Peter Silkov

It's been a traumatic last few months for little warrior, Roman Gonzalez (46-1, 38koes.) After winning his 4th world title last September, Gonzalez was deeply shaken by the death of his trainer, Arnulfo Obando, last November. Obando had been Gonzalez’s main trainer and mentor since 2010, and had guided him to 3 of his 4 world titles. His loss to Gonzalez was only too evident last night as ‘Chocolatito’s first defence of his WBC world super-flyweight title descended into a bloody nightmare for the pound-for-pound, number one, boxer in the world.

When Gonzalez won this title from Carlos Cuadras six months ago, there were indications that this might be a weight jump too far for Gonzalez. Unlike many modern fighters, Gonzalez does not lose a significant amount of weight for his fights, and in this, his 4th weight division, he is facing opponents who are naturally bigger than him on fight night. Although he prevailed against Cuadras in September, after a fight of the year epic battle, there remained doubts about whether he was destined to be as strong a force at super-flyweight, as he was in his previous divisions.

The man chosen to provide the answer last night, at a packed Madison Square Garden, was Thai tough man, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, (42-4-1, 38koes.) Rungvisai, a former holder of Gonzalez’s title, came with the reputation as a hard-punching tough nut, and he was to live up to this reputation in more ways than one.

The portents of what was to come were not good, as Gonzalez looked perturbed and tense, and close to tears in the moments before the contest started, constantly looking up towards the heavens, as he seemed to thinking about his late trainer, Arnulfo Obando. It was something that he was to do throughout this fight, leading one to wonder whether he was really in the right state of mind to defend his title at all.

The match started at a quick pace with both men exchanging shots and the challenger showed from the start that he was looking to stand his ground and not allow Gonzalez to push him back. In the last minute of the round the fight produced its first shock, as a body punch dumped ’Chocolatito’ onto the canvas by the ropes. The champion seemed to be more surprised than hurt, but already Rungvisai had lived up to his heavy punching reputation.

In the second round the action speeded up, as a stung Gonzalez went to work, barrelling forwards, and throwing punching with both hands. Rungvisai stayed with the champion though and would not allow himself to be put onto the back foot. Already the fight was developing into a grueling toe-to-toe battle, with neither man willing to give away an inch. Gonzalez had the faster hands, but Rungvisai the heavier punch.

The third round saw a development that was to have a significant impact upon the rest of the fight, as a clash of heads left Gonzalez with a severe cut by the side of his right eye. The cut would became worse during the course of the fight, leaving ’Chocolatito’ battling with a mask of blood covering his face. Although it was ruled by the referee, Steve Willis, that the cut was caused by an accidental butt, developments over the rest of the fight would lead an observer to conclude that it was no accident at all.

Fueled by the cut, Gonzalez intensified his attacks in the 4th round, unleashing fierce two-fisted barrages, which started to drive the challenger back for the first time. However, just when he seemed to be on the verge of taking control of the fight, Gonzalez building rhythm was disrupted by another head butt. As would be the case in future rounds, the head butts always seemed to occur when Gonzalez was in the ascendancy.

In the 6th round, Gonzalez seemed to be taking control of the fight through sheer will power, as he forced himself forwards and out-punched his challenger, despite a now permanent flow of blood splashing down the right side of his face. Once again his attacks were disrupted by butts. This time there were two and after the second one, not far from the end of the round, Rungvisai was finally deprived of a point by referee, Willis, yet the damage has already been done. By now, not only had the cut by Gonzalez’s eye been worsened, but he also now had a cut in his hairline.

The butts in the 6th round certainly seemed to take some of the steam from Gonzalez’s attacks. Though he still came forwards for the remainder of the fight, Rungvisai was never in the same kind of trouble that he had seemed to be in parts of the 4th and 6th rounds. The size disparity was also clear as Gonzalez’s shots, so potent in the lower divisions during his career, simply bounced off Rungvisai. Yet, Gonzalez was winning rounds with the intensity of his work-rate, which was, at times, breathtaking. He also showed far better accuracy than his challenger, while also at the same time, slipping, and blocking many of the punches which were coming his way.

Despite the challenger's round tactics, and the sheer viciousness of their combat at times, this fight was fought with an admirable amount of respect on both sides, with both men touching gloves after each round. This is the way of real warriors.

Rungvisai cleaned up his act noticeably after the point deduction in the 6th round, but in the 12th and final round, he pulled out all his tricks as a seemingly fresher Gonzalez sought to close the show with a good finish. The challenger held, wrestled, and ran away from Gonzalez, and at several points tried blatantly to butt Gonzalez again, then even attempted to lift the champion off the floor at one point. While Gonzalez won the round, Rungvisai was lucky not to lose another point for his last round antics.

The judge's verdict, when it came, was not well received by the audience. The scores were 114-112 twice and 113-113.

This was a hard fought thriller, which should be an instant candidate for fight of the year. Fights like this are always subject to perception, and certainly there were rounds that could have gone either way. Despite everything that went against him in this match, Gonzalez still seemed to have done enough to retain his title. The Boxing Glove made Gonzalez the winner by a score of 114-112.

While he had to whether a significant amount of punishment himself, Gonzalez often outworked his rugged challenger, and more importantly blocked and slipped many of the challenger's own punches. It is possible that the judges were influenced by Gonzalez’s bloodied features into thinking that Rungvisai was doing more damage than he was in reality. The fact remains that the only wounds inflicted on Gonzalez by Rungvisai were caused by butts.

It is hard not to feel respect for Rungvisai, who showed commendable heart and will to win in this contest, but it has to be said that his tactics at times crossed the line from the rough to the dirty. His frequent head butts undoubtedly made Gonzalez’s task all the more difficult, and the single-point deduction, which he drew from them was simply not enough of a penalty. Referee Steve Willis deserves criticism for letting Rungvisai get away with far too much in what was otherwise a thrilling fight, that was aside from the fouls, fought in a great sporting spirit.

Despite the controversial nature the verdict, this defeat for Gonzalez will have been costly. He has not only lost his world title, but also his unbeaten record and status as pound-for-pound number one in the world. After his struggle against Carlos Cuadras in his previous fight at this weight, the indications are that Gonzalez is not the dominant figure at super-bantamweight that he was in the previous three divisions that he occupied. Should he decide to stay at this weight and seek a rematch against Rungvisai, or Cuadras, or perhaps former foe Juan Francisco Estrada, then he looks to have further grueling fights in his future. Even if Gonzalez had received the verdict last night, and retained his championship (as we at The Boxing Glove believe he deserved), the indications are still clear that Gonzalez is not the same fighter at super-flyweight that he was in the lower divisions. There remains the chance that he could move back down to flyweight, but at 29 and over a decade of fighting at the elite level, it is questionable whether he can still comfortably make 112 pounds.

The sad fact is that at 29, and after 8 years at the top, it looks as if Gonzalez’s time is on the wane. Gonzalez is still a wonderful fighter, who is likely to provide us with several more thrilling contests before his day is done. Yet, as with all great champions, he has reached the point of his career where the sheen of his peak has faded, seemingly overnight, and with it his aura of invincibility. The former number one fighter in the world is suddenly a mere mortal.

Full Fight:


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