Last March the boxing world was in collective shock when the mighty Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, boxing’s consensus #1 pound-for-pound fighter, was left bloodied and narrowly defeated at the hands of the obscure Sriskrat Sor Rungsivai. While many believe the four-time champion in fact did enough to have earned the judges’ decision, the truth remains he was dropped for the first time in his legendary career and taken to his physical limit. Tomorrow night Gonzalez gets a second chance against the Thai brawler, but the underlying narrative is that “Chocolatito” is running out of time. And that may be. Or, maybe his crowning moment of greatness lies ahead.
Though Gonzalez is only 30-years-old, the lower weight divisions are not a place where careers last very long and falls from grace are often steep and sudden. The skilled Nicaraguan has won titles in four weight classes, a feat he accomplished by narrowly outpointing Carlos Cuadras last December, but the boxer who competed in his prime at 105 pounds is fighting off of pure skill at this point and is out-gunned at 115. Cuadras was more troubled by Gonzalez’s speed and game plan than his power, whereas the markedly bigger and stronger Sor Rungsivai just plodded forward and absorbed punch after punch from “Chocolatito” with seemingly no difficulty whatsoever.
It’s not a surprise that Gonzalez’s recent struggles have come at this point in his career and in a heavier weight class. Further, the brutal, back-to-back wars with Cuadras and Sor Rungvisai are among the toughest he has ever endured, so it makes sense to wonder: is Roman demanding too much of his diminutive, 30-year-old body? Regardless, the underlying idea of HBO’s “SUPERFLY” show — arguably, fight for fight, the best card of 2017 — is to assume that Gonzalez beats Sor Rungvisai to then face the winner of one of the show’s co-main events and also a sure-fire great fight, Cuadras vs Juan Francisco Estrada.
It will be remembered that Estrada and Gonzalez put on a great battle in 2012 and that the Mexican has since won nine straight while demanding at every turn a rematch with “Chocolatito.” The winner of a return between Gonzalez and either Cuadras or Estrada would presumably then go on to face WBO super flyweight champion Naoya Inoue, who is making his American debut on “SUPERFLY” against Antonio Nieves. Needless to say, things may not go according to plan, especially as we saw how difficult the unheralded Sor Rungvisai ended up being for Gonzalez, regardless of one’s opinion of the decision.
Sor Rungvisai knows he can hurt Gonzalez, which is no doubt a supreme boost of confidence for the Thai upset artist. In their first fight, Gonzalez threw everything he had at him but his punches rarely forced Sor Rungvisai to even pause his attack. Though the bout spoke to Gonzalez’s impeccable conditioning, his adversary’s relentlessness also spoke to how undersized he is. That said, if the bout is a carbon copy of the first match, Gonzalez should get the decision this time. But even so, the road ahead is still a hazardous one.
Cuadras and Estrada both have their arguments that the scorecards should have read differently in their encounters with Gonzalez, but both found resistance in trying to secure rematches. In Cuadras’ case, a return was initially discussed immediately after their December 2016 clash, though Gonzalez doused that talk with a demand of one million dollars for a second battle. HBO originally had designs for that match to be the co-feature for Gennady Golovkin vs Daniel Jacobs, but Sor Rungvisai came cheap and they put him in the ring instead.
Estrada has had a far more frustrating road since he dropped a decision to Gonzalez five pounds and five years ago. Like the Cuadras fight, Gonzalez vs Estrada was a brutal war and afterwards Roman’s price for a rematch shot way up while he was planning his move to 115 pounds. Estrada is better now than he was in 2012 and he has not lost sight of his ultimate objective, but standing in his way will be a very game Cuadras.
Then there is the underlying reason this whole card was put together, and that was to bring in the fighter who may be the most formidable of all of them, namely Naoya “Monster” Inoue. The Japanese KO artist’s US debut is attracting significant attention and assuming he dispatches Antonio Nieves, 2018 should be the year Inoue will get the last man standing from all of these showdowns. Clearly, HBO is hoping that man will be Gonzalez, as a “Monster” vs “Chocolatito” showdown would be a major event.
But as talented as Gonzalez is, there are few experts who believe he has what it takes to beat Inoue. And with good reason. The Japanese phenom is freakishly powerful and extremely well disciplined, having already won titles in two weight classes and ending all but two of his fights by knockout. In fact, Inoue would have to be favoured to defeat everybody at super flyweight, and probably bantamweight too. Then again, Gonzalez is looking at a chance to become a legitimate all-time, pound-for-pound great if he gets through this next stretch and then caps off an amazing career with a victory over “Monster.”
But first he must get past the only man to have defeated him. Whether or not you think the decision was legitimate, the bottom line is it was a bruising and damaging war the first time around and it will likely take everything Gonzalez has to reverse the outcome. Make no mistake: Sor Rungsivai is no pushover and “Chocolatito” has his work cut out for him. Even so, it’s impossible for boxing fans not to look ahead and dream of what we might see in the near future. Woe to Gonzalez if he does the same. — Danny Howard