Saturday night in Dallas, Texas, some five thousand fight freaks defied a global pandemic to witness a super flyweight rematch between two of the most enthralling fighters of our generation. Hailing from Sonora, Mexico, with a 41-3 record, Juan Francisco “Gallo” Estrada met again the former pound-for-pound number one and Nicaragua’s prodigal son, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (50-2), to vie for supremacy at 115 pounds. It was a match-up that barely registered for mainstream sports fans, but for serious fight fanatics, Estrada vs Gonzalez II was a can’t-miss proposition.
This was because, despite being more than eight years after their first, excellent twelve round thriller, Estrada and Gonzalez were largely expected to deliver another scintillating encounter. This despite the relatively advanced age of the 33-year old Gonzalez, and the fact both prizefighters had been in numerous ring wars through the years since. Observers pointed to their recent outings and predicted that their faculties, stamina and–perhaps more importantly–their thirst for victory remained untouched, and would combine this weekend to produce an early frontrunner for Fight of the Year.
Moreover, the victor would have a stronger claim than anyone else as the best super flyweight in the world, if only temporarily. The reason being that super flyweight is an absolutely stacked division at the moment, populated as it is by names such as Kazuto Ioka, Jerwin Ancajas, Carlos Cuadras and, last but not least, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai–with whom both Estrada and Gonzalez have heated rivalries.
At the opening bell, “Gallo” and “Chocolatito” met in ring center and contested a studious first round, trying to assess whether their rival had added wrinkles to his game. But soon enough leather started flying in earnest, with Chocolatito pressing the action, trying to back Estrada while throwing his vaunted combinations to head and body. To his credit, Juan Francisco remained poised and matched the Nicaraguan’s output, counterpunching with finesse and accuracy, making it difficult to score rounds for either fighter with much confidence.
The stage was set for the battle to reach new heights during the middle rounds. Stanzas six and seven were particularly fierce, with Estrada mounting an offensive rally which at times was punishing enough to force Roman to take a step back. But momentum continued alternating, much as it had during their first encounter, and just when it seemed as if one fighter was ready to take command, his adversary would stand up to the challenge and surge back.
The action only intensified as the rounds sped by, with Roman feeling more comfortable closing the distance on the taller Estrada, taxing the Mexican’s midsection with eye-catching body shots and then finishing the combination upstairs. Estrada proved his durability and chin by absorbing Gonzalez’ best and responding in kind.
Nearing the championship rounds it was evident the outcome remained uncertain, and the winner would have to dig deep and reach a higher plateau. To the surprise of everyone, it was “Chocolatito” who seemed stronger at the start of round eleven. Despite all the questions regarding his age and durability at this late stage, the Nicaraguan put on a fantastic performance, showcasing every facet of his vaunted skills. The indomitable pressure, the willingness to trade, the fierce body punching, the thrilling multi-punch combinations, all of it kept him in the fight, but it was his ability to switch to a higher gear as the battle reached the home stretch that struck awe on the faces of those watching.
Meanwhile, Estrada tried to match the Nicaraguan’s output, and landed plenty of combinations himself, but advice from his corner during the late rounds suggested they knew they were playing catch-up. No one doubts Estrada was always going to leave everything in the ring in pursuit of victory, but “Chocolatito” was simply on a different plane, not only boxing at a level rarely seen in a ring in this day and age, but outworking the Mexican during rounds eleven and twelve.
Towards the end of the final stanza, with Estrada feeling the fight slipping away, the Mexican stood ring center and traded shot-for-shot in a rousing final minute that saw the two warriors battling with a ferociousness that is present only on boxing’s finest nights. But despite the Mexican’s late heroics, it was Chocolatito who seemed to get the better of that insane exchange, even hurting Estrada visibly at one point and earning the final, possibly decisive round in the eyes of many.
The Take Away
Estrada vs Gonzalez II was more than worth the wait; it was an instant classic. After the final bell rang, while the two embraced each other, it seemed almost trivial to have to wait for a verdict from the judges to declare a winner, and ridiculous to have to label one of these proud warriors a loser. On a night like this the whole sport wins, or at least that would seem to be the only fair outcome.
Regardless, the judges’ cards were finally read, granting Estrada a surprising split decision. But what was truly shocking was that one of the officials had Estrada outpointing Gonzalez by a preposterous six rounds, staining the outcome of what could very well end up being the best fight of 2021. Unless you are new to the world of fisticuffs, you very well know that boxing can never help but shoot itself in the foot every chance it gets, so this must be taken in its proper context.
In other words: who cares what judge Carlos Sucre thought of the fight? What matters is that Gonzalez and Estrada, having already delivered a career’s worth of thrills and chills against the best opposition available, did it again. Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez have proved beyond any doubt that their names belong in the annals of boxing. It is up to fight fans to cherish and celebrate their talent and accomplishments. And whatever their next steps end up being, that is precisely what we will be doing. It is the only way we can give back to these two champions, if only a pittance compared to everything that they have given to us. — Rafael Garcia