Situated near Los Angeles, the legendary Forum has hosted numerous memorable battles featuring Mexican boxers over the past few decades. Across 1970 and 1971, the venerable venue was home to the epic trilogy between “Puas” Olivares and Chucho Castillo. In 1984, Julio Cesar Chavez lifted his first title belt there when he defeated Mario “Azabache” Martinez. And it was in The Forum that Marco Antonio Barrera and Kennedy McKinney inaugurated HBO’s Boxing After Dark series with a furious grudge match in 1996.
This is but a mere drop in the bucket that is the list of boxing wars that The Forum has hosted, and to that impressive list we can now add the super flyweight rivalry between Juan Francisco Estrada and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who met last night in a rematch of their highly violent encounter from last year. The Thai arrived with a 20-fight winning streak that includes impressive victories over both former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (twice) and Estrada himself. Meanwhile, “Gallito” was eager to avenge his loss to Sor Rungvisai, as he claimed a knee injury had kept him from performing at his best in that contest.
Anticipation was high among fight fans who hungered for some genuine competition after the major flops that were Garcia vs Spence and Crawford vs Khan and over five thousand fans congregated in Inglewood to witness a contest at the pinnacle of the super flyweight division, with many more tuning in on DAZN. With the WBC and Ring titles on the line, as well as bragging rights as to who is the most fearsome prizefighter in a weight class loaded with talent, the proud, courageous warriors did not disappoint.
The action offered a surprise at the opening bell, as Sor Rungvisai, the defending champion, adopted the orthodox stance instead of his usual southpaw one. “Gallito” Estrada took this in stride and commenced testing the Thai with jabs and right hands, getting the lay of the land as to what this new tactic represented. Having liked what he saw, the Mexican promptly began raining combinations on Sor Rungvisai while darting in and out frequently and efficiently, scoring repeatedly with both hands and making the Asian seem slow and somewhat befuddled.
Despite the evident deficiencies of his tactic, Sor Rungvisai remained committed to it, sticking to the orthodox stance throughout the early and middle rounds. Meanwhile, Estrada found it increasingly easy to impose his will, landing punishing combos on Rungvisai and earning a significant lead in the scorecards.
As the Thai became visibly frustrated after failing to land anything of substance, the Mexican even allowed himself the luxury of showboating on a couple of occasions, an unusual gesture for someone of Estrada’s respect and professionalism. But it was a result of the enormous confidence “Gallito” carried into the ring, as well as corroboration of the success he was enjoying to that point. And thus, what was expected to be another closely contested battle had turned into a coming out party for Estrada. The Mexican’s long-awaited signature win was finally within reach and with the largely Mexican crowd chanting “Ga-lli-to! Ga-lli-to!” from the Forum’s stands, Estrada was painting his masterpiece.
But in round ten Sor Rungvisai finally realized the error of his ways and switched to his usual southpaw stance. As if by magic, the Thai began throwing and landing strong blows, mostly hard left hands. While he didn’t visibly hurt Estrada or slow him down significantly, all of a sudden we had an actual contest with an uncertain outcome. To the Mexican’s credit, he took on Sor Rungvisai head on and kept coming back with his own fiery combinations, despite the fact he could’ve chosen to protect his lead by engaging sporadically and from a distance.
But to the delight of everyone watching, Sor Rungvisai and Estrada went to war throughout the late rounds, trading hard shots and testing each other’s mettle, just as they had in their first fight. On that occasion, it was Estrada who had mounted a late rally in a desperate attempt to topple the Thai, but last night the tables were reversed. The Thai gave everything he had in the championship rounds, but Estrada stood his ground. Minutes later he had earned a deserved decision from the judges, becoming a two-division champion and the man to beat at 115-pounds.
The Take Away
Estrada and Sor Rungvisai posted another excellent contest in their dramatic rematch; nevertheless, there’s little doubt the Mexican was the better fighter last night. But as scintillating as Estrada’s performance was, the question remains as to why Sor Rungvisai stuck to the orthodox stance, and why he refused to discard it until it was too late. Observers speculated that perhaps an injury prevented him from fighting comfortably in his usual stance, while others suggested weight issues might have had something to do with his lethargic performance in the early and middle rounds.
In his post-fight interview Estrada mentioned he would be willing to grant Sor Rungvisai another bout, just as the Thai granted him the rematch, but he also expressed interest in a title unification bout to cement his standing in the division. As far as fight fans are concerned, whichever route Estrada takes will be welcome, as his performance last night certified once again his considerable talents and his blood-and-guts credentials, which make him a must-watch attraction. As for Rungvisai, it will be interesting to see if a move up the scales is in order. Beyond that, whether any specific issues affected his performance last night, or whether it was just a bad night at the office, the brave Thai certainly deserves a shot at redemption, if and when he wants it. — Rafael Garcia