Monday, September 4, 2017

The Boxing Glove Big Fight Preview: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai Vs. Roman Gonzalez

By Peter Silkov

If you have been casting a jaded eye over the general media and social networking world over the past week, you may well have been left wondering whether Conor McGregor has indeed lived up to his pre-Mayweather fight threat, to ‘take over boxing’ even after his one-sided defeat at the aged hands of the ‘Money Man.’

Indeed it seems that some writers and fans just cant get enough of Mayweather vs McGregor, even after the dust has settled from their lukewarm encounter.

In the wake of this near hysteria over what in reality resembled a polite spar, if not something altogether more cynical, the biggest losers have been those boxers who are truly stepping up to the plate with real competitive fights, the kind of that the sports real fans have supposedly been demanding for so long.

A couple of weeks ago, Terence Crawford destroyed Julius Indongo to become boxing’s first undisputed world champion in over a decade, almost unnoticed.

In two weeks time, Gennady Golovkin will finally meet Canelo Alvarez in the middle of a ring, in a fight, which has been three years in the making. Yet in the wake of Mayweather vs Mcgregor, the attention given to Golovkin vs Alvarez has been polite at best. Here is a fight to decide the best 160-pounder in the world, in what promises to be the most exciting middleweight clash since Hagler vs Hearns, yet, many fans and media still seem more concerned by the next move of Conor McGregor.

If Golovkin vs Canelo has been ill treated by the boxing world at large, there is another boxing event coming up next week, which has been almost totally ignored in the recent pantomime.

In six days, on September 9, at the Stub Hub Center, Carson, California, Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (46-1, 38koes) will seek to regain the WBC world super-flyweight championship, which was so controversially ripped from his head six months ago by Srisaket Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39koes.) It was a defeat that not only cost ‘Chocolatito’ his world title, but also his proud unbeaten record, and in many people's eyes, his status as the world's number one fighter pound-for-pound.

After all, many fans will say, how can you be the best if you have just been beaten?

Gonzalez was very unlucky not to come out of his first meeting with Rungvisai (who is also confusingly known as Wisaksil Wangek) the victor. While the fight itself was a terrific action-packed clash, with the added drama of Gonzalez bleeding from two severe cuts, most observers felt that Gonzalez scored with the better punches, and kept up a higher workrate for most of the fight. Rungvisai himself lived up to his name as a' little iron man', and put up an impressive performance of heart, and resilience.

Yet, Rungvisai also showed himself to be a rough, if not altogether dirty fighter, with both of Gonzalez’s cuts being caused by headbutts, several of which seemed to be delivered blatantly.

The fact that Rungvisai’s infringements seemed largely to escape the referee’s notice, and were never punished by any point deductions, has been one of the main topics of controversy surrounding the fight.

Had Rungvisai’s seemingly blatant butt in the 6th round, at a point when he seemed to be in severe trouble at the fists of Gonzalez, been penalised by a point, which it surely should have been, then Gonzalez would have ended the night still world champion, despite the wayward score cards.

It is also undeniable that Gonzalez never looked to be totally relaxed against Rungvisai. He entered the ring without his usual relaxed demeanour, and this may well have been due to the recent loss of his trainer, Arnulfo Obando, who died last November after suffering a stroke. The loss of Obando undoubtedly hit Roman hard, as he had been with Arnulfo since 2010, and the trainer had been credited for helping Gonzalez develop into a brilliant fighting machine, and arguably one of the few complete boxers in the world today.

Against Rungvisai, while Gonzalez produced his usual tremendous work-rate, much of his work seemed to be forced, compared with his former performances. The expected ‘Chocolatito’ smoothness was missing almost from the start, and as the rounds went by, ‘Chocolatito’ barrelled forwards constantly, but shipped much more punishment than usual, as he seemed to forsake the usual technical nuances for that he has become well known. One of Gonzalez’s main assets, in addition to his potent punching and his formidable pace, has been his ability to box, as well as slug, and his skill at being able to slip punches while going toe to toe with an opponent.

Gonzalez has also let it be known recently that he has been increasingly frustrated by the size of his purses, in comparison to those of his heavier peers. This dissatisfaction has grown since Gonzalez has been given more exposure by HBO on the undercards of Gennady Golovkin fights, yet, that exposure has not increased his purses, compared to his heavier counterpart.

In many ways, Gonzalez is the complete antithesis of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Outside of the ring he is quiet and humble, with the kind of demeanour akin to that of his mentor Arguello, who was known as one of the gentlemen of the sport during his heyday.

Unfortunately for Gonzalez, it seems that he is operating in an era where what you do inside the ring is increasingly less relevant, to the noise that you make outside of it.

Chocolatito’s frustration is understandable after a career, which saw him win his first world title in 2008, and then go on to become Nicaragua’s first 4-weight world champion. A feat, which saw him fulfil the dream of his idol and former mentor, Alexis Arguello, whose own quest for a world title at a fourth weight came up short at the fists of Aaron Pryor.

It is possible though that Gonzalez’s achievement in winning his 4th world title, when he captured the WBC world super-flyweight title from Carlos Cuadras a year ago this month, may proved to be a double-edged sword for ‘Chocolatito.’

Although he won, Gonzalez’s match with Cuadras turned out to be one of the toughest fights of his career, and there were even some who disagreed with the points verdict in Gonzalez’s favour. Add this to his performance against Rungvisai and the implications are clear. Gonzalez seems to no longer have that dominating edge that he enjoyed at his former weights. Part of this can be attributed to the level of his opposition, both Rungvisai and Cuadras are battle-hardened world class fighters. Cuadras especially is a huge talent, with great speed and skill, who was unbeaten in an 8 year, and 36-fight career when he met Gonzalez last September.

Add to this the fact that Gonzalez is not a ‘big’ man who is really moving up to his ‘natural’ fighting weight, like so many of today's fighters, then it is easy to see why he is finding things more difficult at the higher weight.

There is also the possibility that at the age of 30, after 9 years of world championship fighting, and 16 world championship fights, that Gonzalez is passing his peak.

With these questions hanging over him, the rematch against Rungvisai stands as the most important fight of Gonzalez’s career so far. Much has been made recently over unbeaten records and the now ludicrously mythical 50-0 mark. Yet, it should not be forgotten that many of the rings greatest-ever exponents reached their heights by overcoming defeats along the way. It could even be argued that the true measure of a fighter has not been seen until he has had to deal with the setback of defeat.

All time greats such as Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran and Joe Louis, to name just a few, enjoyed some of their greatest, and most career defining moments, when coming back from defeats.

After all, it is easy to look good when you are winning, but altogether different when you have lost. Once you have lost the true mettle of a man's spirit is exposed. The great fighters have always rebounded from defeat to win again.

Perhaps this is why there are so few truly great fighters around today, in an era where that unbeaten 0 is so important.

Hence why victory is so important for ‘Chocolatito’ this Saturday. Two defeats in a row would be a huge set back for Gonzalez at this point in his career. An impressive victory should see Gonzalez restored to his rightful position as the best boxer pound- for-pound in the world. Defeat however, would see him fall down a notch, and lose out on the possible big fights that seem to be brewing at super-flyweight.

Gonzalez should be able to win this time against Rungvisai. He is undoubtedly the superior boxer technically, but he needs to rediscover some of the finer points of his boxing skills that he seemed to neglect in their first clash. Of course Gonzalez’s discomfiture was not helped by the severe cuts that he had to cope with due to Rungvisai’s headbutts. Especially the badly cut right eye, which bled heavily from the 3rd round on.
Saturday's rematch seems destined to be another terrific barn-burner. Rungvisai is as tough as they come, but a stoppage victory for Gonzalez is not impossible, as he had Rungvisai in trouble several times in their first fight, most notably in the middle rounds and in the final stanza.

If Gonzalez can rediscover his best form, then he should secure a hard fought victory on Saturday, and revenge for his only career defeat, either by a clear point's decision or else a late stoppage. There remains though the subject of Rungvisai head, and his over zealous use of it in the heat of battle, and it is to be hoped that this time around, the referee officiating the contest is a lot sharper in punishing any dirty tactics, and that Gonzalez does not have to deal with the kind of blatant fouls that left him covered in blood in their first encounter.

Victory for Gonzalez will place his career back on track, and give him revenge for the first defeat of his boxing career, following 46 professional wins and an unbeaten amateur career of 88 contests.

If the prospect of Gonzalez vs Rungvisai isn’t enough to wet your appetite, then Saturday's undercard also contains two more exceptional matches in the super-flyweight class.

In what is his first appearance in America, Naoya Inoue (13-0, 11koes) defends his WBO world super-flyweight championship against the talented Antonio Nieves (17-1-2, 9koes.) Inoue is already a superstar in Asia, and may be on the road to becoming one of the greatest fighters to come out of Japan. He has won world titles at two weights, and competed in 8 world title fights, despite his mere 13 professional contests.

Nicknamed ‘Monster’ due to his prodigious punching power, Inoue is also a highly proficient technical boxer. It is perhaps not surprising that there has been talk of an Gonzalez vs Inoue ‘superfight’ and this would certainly be a very exciting and fascinating clash that would go a long way to bringing much more attention to boxing's lighter weights.

Yet, Inoue is still unknown to most boxing fans. You won’t find his name in many fans pound-for-pound top tens, even though his resume and skills should guarantee him a place. However, that may now be about to change now that he is arriving in America. Such recognition is important for a match with Gonzalez to be viable.

The fact that Inoue is making his American debut on this card offers a clue that such a clash with ‘Chocolatito’ may be close, should Gonzalez regain his world title.

First though, Inoue has to retain his own world title against Nieves, in what promises top be a fascinating contest. Nieves is fast, clever, and should bring the best out of the Japanese champion. Inoue will be looking to defend his title in style, and underline his claim to being the premier boxer at 115 pounds, as well as stoking up interest in a match with Roman Gonzalez.

I feel that Inoue will announce himself on American soil with an impressive, and decisive victory over Nieves, either on points or via a late stoppage.

The second important 115-pound match on the Gonzalez vs Rungvisai rematch undercard, is a possible fight of the night clash between Juan Francisco Estrada and Carlos Cuadras. Estrada is the former WBA and WBO world flyweight champion, who is now making an impact on the super-flyweight division after vacating his flyweight title and moving up. Cuadras is the former holder of the WBC world super-flyweight title, which he lost to Roman Gonzalez in September of last year, after a hotly contested encounter.

Estrada himself is also a former Roman Gonzalez opponent, having been beaten on points by Gonzalez in 2012, when he challenged Gonzalez for the WBA world light-flyweight championship, while still only 22 years old. It was a clash ,which until recently, had been remembered as one of Gonzalez’s hardest fights.

Both Estrada and Cuadras have a rematch with Gonzalez as a prime target, and the winner of their match, which is being billed as a world title eliminator by the WBC, should be in line to face the winner of Gonzalez vs Rungvisai.

This match itself is very much a ‘pick em’ encounter. Both as fast and clever box-fighters. Cuadras is more of a mover, with excellent footwork and very fast hands, which gave Gonzalez some severe trouble in their fight in 2016. Estrada is more of a puncher, although Cuadras own power is not to be discounted. Estrada can also box and has excellent technique.

Cudras has been the more active boxer recently as Estrada had a over a year out from 2015 to 2016 due to a hand injury. Yet, this could also work in Estrada’s favour as he may just be that little bit fresher.

Here is a fight that is genuinely hard to find a winner. It looks like being a very close and competitive encounter, and the winner of will be in a prime position for a shot at the WBC world super-flyweight title.

My feeling is that Estrada has a slight edge overall, with perhaps his extra strength, and single punch power proving decisive in the end. These are two very talented fighters, but Estrada has been boxing's best kept secret since his 2012 encounter with Roman Gonzalez. Saturday may well be the way when he finally comes to the notice of boxing fans outside of his native Mexico.

I’m going for an Estrada win on points after another memorable contest.

This whole bill is a very promising endeavour, showcasing as it does some of boxing’s lightest champions. It is to be hoped that these fights will grab the attention of the average boxing fan, and show them just what they have been missing. Those in the know have understood for years that the lighter weights in boxing often provide the heaviest action. It is about time that champions like Roman Gonzalez and Naoya Inoue stopped being the poor relations to their bigger and heavier counterparts, just because of their size. 

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