Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Boxing Glove Big Fight Review: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Defeats Roman Gonzalez: A Bitter-Sweet Night At The Stub Hub

Photo: Yahoo Sports
By Peter Silkov

Sometimes boxing promises big things, but fails to deliver. Last night’s 115 pound triple header at the Stub Hub Centre, California, promised much with its three main contests featuring five of the best 115-pounders in the world getting it on. In the end, it did not disappoint. Fighting in front of a raucous and excited crowd, the bill was a testament to how boxing's lighter warriors often provide the sports heaviest action. Yet it was a bitter sweet affair, as the shocking defeat of former pound-for-pound number one, Roman Gonzalez, indicated that the man who has done so much to generate interest in the sport's lightest divisions over the past 10 years, may not be able to reap the benefits of the public's new found awareness.

Last night was supposed to be the scene of Roman’s revenge over Rungvisai, after a bloody and controversial defeat six months ago, which had cost him his WBC world super-flyweight title. It had also shorn Roman of his unbeaten record, which included 80 amateur fights unbeaten, and his status as the pound-for-pound number one in the world. In an era where world titles are seemingly won at a drop of a hat, and weight divisions jumped after a few extra milkshakes, Roman Gonzalez was a throwback to the times when a champion stayed at his division and asserted his dominance before moving up. Don’t confuse Roman Gonzalez’s multiple world titles with Adrien Broner's tiny haul. There was nothing contrived about Gonzalez’s world title victories at four weights over the course of nine years. This was not a big man boiling down to a weight that he should never be fighting at either. Gonzalez has always been a genuine small fighter. This is not a featherweight posing as a flyweight.

First meeting with Rungvisai
Unfortunately, last night the indications were that ,Gonzalez’s pugilistic honesty had come face-to-face with the harsh reality of boxing, and left him flat on his back, a beaten man. As had been feared since he first moved up and out-pointed Carlos Cuadras last September, to capture the WBC world super-flyweight title, and become one of the few fighters to win world titles at 4 different weights, it was a weight too far for ‘Chocolatito.’ Despite the victory over Cuadras, ‘Chocolatito’ had been given one of the hardest fights of his career, and shipped an unusual amount of punishment, which left him battered and bloody at the end, while Cuadras was relatively unmarked. The clues then were that giving away such a significant amount of natural weight, to the likes of Caudras, was going to be a major difficulty for Gonzalez.

Any thoughts that Gonzalez (46-2, 38koes) would find things easier as he settled into the higher weight were dispelled six months ago when he was dethroned by Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40koes). Although the decision itself seemed to be unjust, and the new champion had been guilty of some flagrant use of the head, the fact remained that once again ‘Chocolatito’ did not look himself. He once more lacked his usual speed and sharpness, and took far more punishment than was usually the case for him.

Last night was supposed to be the night that ‘Chocolatito’ returned to his best, and prove that he was still boxing’s pound-for-pound, number one.

Alas boxing is indeed a cruel endeavour, and perversely it often seems to be its cruellest to those who have graced it the best. The rematch between Gonzalez and Rungvisai was not so much a rematch, as it was a demolition. ‘Chocolatito’ never seemed to be himself, from the pre-fight screening of his being gloved up in his dressing room, to the fight itself, this fighter, who usually entered the ring with the relaxed air that only the greats can carry, seemed tense and troubled.

As he was (before their first fight six months ago), Gonzalez looked highly emotional during the ring introductions, and it was disturbing to see him in such a state just as he was about to go into action. It is well known that Gonzalez has been deeply affected by the sudden death of his trainer, Arnulfo Obando, last November. One can only wonder how much that loss has contributed to ‘Chocolatito’s’ sudden decline.

Photo: AP
When the action began, it was clear from the beginning that this was not the ‘Chocolatito’ whom we have come to admire so much for the best part of the last decade. He seemed hesitant, uncomfortable, and agonisingly slow of both hand and foot, while the defending champion quickly took the initiative, and with it, the first round. There was again a clash of heads between the two, as in the first fight, and although no damage was done, it only added to Gonzalez’s visible discomfort. Things were much the same in the second round, as Gonzalez barrelled forwards, and attempted to take the play away from Rungvisai, but it was the defending champion who was connecting with the more punches as Gonzalez looked to be having trouble getting his punches off, and when he did land his blows lacked their usual spark of power.

The third was a better round for Gonzalez as he showed some brief glimpses of his former form, turning up the pace, and going toe-to- toe with Rungvisai. Yet ‘Chocolatito’ seemed to be forcing himself into the fire, and while his punches seemed to just be bouncing off Rungvisai, and the champion's own blows looked much heavier. The punches seemed to be having a much more telling affect, as they visibly moved Gonzalez when they landed.

It was revealed in the 4th round how effective Rungvisai’s punches were, and it was revealed in the 4th round, when after the two continued as they had left off in the 3rd, a right hook to the chin dropped ‘Chocolatito’ heavily. Although he bravely beat the count, the writing was on the wall. Rungvisai showed no mercy as he landed another vicious hook, to drop ‘Chocolatito’ once more, this time flat on his back, where he made no attempt to beat the count.

The sudden destruction of Gonzalez was met with a shocked silence from the pro-Gonzalez crowd. It was painful to see Gonzalez beaten in such a manner. He went out on his shield, just as all great champions tend to do, yet, it is always disturbing to see a great fighter suddenly become mortal, seemingly overnight.

Photo: Orange County Register
While Rungvisai seems on the verge of some exciting and hopefully lucrative showdowns, the plain truth is that they will not carry the same attraction now that they would have had Gonzalez regained his throne. Gonzalez now needs to take a long look at where he goes from here, and whether or not he should carry on fighting. The indications are that the rise in weight, coupled by the loss of his trainer and mentor, plus the rigours of a decade at the top, have all taken a toll upon ‘Chocolatito.’ How much of this decline is reversible only time will tell. At the age of 30, Gonzalez may be able to recoup after a long rest and regain some of his old brilliance, and a move back down to his more natural weight of flyweight could help him achieve this.

However after he has done so much already during his career, does Gonzalez still have the fire and right mental attitude to retrace his steps at 112 pounds, and rebuild his career almost from scratch. More importantly, does his body still have the reserves to allow him to achieve such a return. If he never fights again, Gonzalez can be proud of his achievements inside of the ring. His mixture of technical brilliance and his all-action fighting style brought attention to weight divisions that are usually disregarded by the general boxing public. Perhaps, just as importantly as his achievements inside the ring, Gonzalez has always carried himself with grace and honour outside the ring. Much the same way as his mentor, and idol, Alexis Arguello did during his illustrious boxing career. ‘Chocolatito’ will not be defined by his two defeats to Rungvisai, but rather everything that went before, when he proved himself over the course of a decade to be one of boxing’s all time greats.

The undercard of Rungvisai vs Gonzalez 2, featured two outstanding performances by Juan Francisco Estrada and Naoya ‘The Monster’ Inoue, who both won their respective contests, and announced themselves to the wider boxing public at the same time.

Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25koes) has been one of boxing's best kept secrets since 2012, when he went the distance with a then peak, Roman Gonzalez, for Gonzalez’s World light-flyweight title, losing a close decision after giving ‘Chocolatito’ the toughest fight of his career up to that point. Estrada then moved up to flyweight, and reigned impressively as WBA and WBO world flyweight champion, for over two years almost unnoticed. Now however, after this triple 115-pounder bill, Estrada’s time might be coming, and at the age of 27, he looks to be at his peak and ready to take full advantage of this new exposure.

Estrada out-pointed another ex-foe of Gonzalez, Carlos Caudras (36-2-1, 27koes) in what was undoubtedly the fight of the night. Both men were so well matched that the action ebbed and flowed throughout the 12 rounds. Yet, the ultimate difference was that Estrada was the more accurate and solid puncher, even if at times he seemed to be outworked by the faster hands of the shifty Cuadras.

Photo: Mickey Bonilla
If there was any doubt about the winner, Estrada underlined his general edge over Cuadras with a knockdown in the 10th round. It was to prove the decisive moment of the contest, as Estrada emerged the points winner by scores of 113-114, three times. Estrada was only awarded the fight after Cuadras was originally announced as the winner, amid some rather chaotic, and surreal scenes. Cuadras, to his credit, took the loss of what at first seemed to be a victory with good grace and this match was close enough to merit a rematch between the two in the future. Cuadras showed that he still has much to offer the 115 division himself.

Estrada is now the mandatory challenger for Rungvisai, and would enter that contest with a clear edge. Although he has moved up in weight himself, Estrada has the frame to carry the extra weight and unlike Gonzalez, he seems to have taken his punch up with him. His mixture of power and technical boxing ability should prove to be too much for the powerful, but less skilled, Rungvisai, when they meet, but it should be another exciting, all action contest and Rungvisai is unlikely to give up his title easily.

While Estrada was cementing a shot at the WBC title Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12koes) impressed with his first appearance in America, as he gave a ‘Monstrous’ display in retaining his WBO world super-flyweight title, with a 6th round stoppage of Antonio Nieves (17-2-2, 9koes).

At only 24 years of age, and despite having just 14 professional contests, Inoue has already nine world title fights to his credit, and is a two weight world champion. Against Nieves, Inoue lived up to his nickname of ‘Monster’ as he dominated the brave yet outgunned challenger, with an impressive display of both power and technique. Inoue is very heavy handed, and strong at the weight, but he is also very technically adept as well. Nieves tried to fight back in the early rounds, but by the 4th he was just trying to survive. When his corner pulled him out after the 6th round it was a wise decision.

Inoue is already a big star in Japan, and the signs are that he could become much bigger yet worldwide. With future showdowns with Rungvisai, Estrada or perhaps Cuadras, a possibility for the future, the profile of one of boxing’s lightest divisions could yet continue to rise in popularity.

All in all, it was a great night for the boxing connoisseur, despite the sadness of Gonzalez’s defeat, and showed that for all its flaws, the sport still has some rich veins of gold to mine, if one knows where to look.

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