Friday night at TV Azteca’s studios in Mexico City, super flyweight badasses Juan Francisco “Gallito” Estrada and “Chocolatito” Roman Gonzalez sprung back into action in separate bouts, the goal to stoke the fires for a long-overdue rematch. However, this was more than a mere prelude, as their competition–as has consistently been the case throughout their Hall of Fame worthy careers–was stiff enough to warrant concern in their followers and maybe throw into disarray those carefully laid plans for Gonzalez vs Estrada II.
Estrada was to face Carlos “Principe” Cuadras in a rematch of their tough 2017 outing, which saw “Gallo” emerge victorious by a razor thin margin. And to put in perspective the daunting task Estrada faced, note that Cuadras has complemented “Gallito,” Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in an elite superfly quartet that has delivered action-packed fights at a high technical level not seen since a certain Filipino and three Mexicans terrorized the featherweight and super featherweight ranks. Sweetening the pot further, Cuadras had every incentive to dig deep and play spoiler, as a redeeming victory over Estrada would put him in line for a big payday against “Chocolatito,” earning him a second shot at Roman after having dropped a decision to him in 2016.
“Chocolatito” would be facing, on paper at least, an easier challenge in Israel Gonzalez. Although the Nicaraguan was considered a clear favorite over Israel going into the bout, the Mexican, at 23 years of age, carried advantages in speed, reach and youth into the ring. At the very least, Israel would give Roman some work at a point at which every outing for the 33-year-old “Chocolatito” represents risk.
If you don’t think so, just consider that Roman’s record, packed as it is with grueling, action-packed battles, has seen the Nicaraguan take on one tough assignment after another in weight classes that demand action and volume, and which often see prizefighters exit the game much earlier than heavier divisions. That Roman has managed to get himself back into contention at the very top of a talent-laden division after the crushing KO loss to Sor Rungvisai three years ago is an unmissable mark of his greatness.
In front of an audience of empty chairs, as has been the case throughout the current pandemic, “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Israel Gonzalez climbed into the ring first, with the Nicaraguan remaining passive for the first couple of rounds, studying his opponent and finding his rhythm. Israel had good moments here, relying on his hand speed to score with jabs and quick combinations. But as the fight moved to the middle rounds, Roman gave glimpses of the “Chocolatito” of old, as he loaded up on body punches and continuously scored with the kind of blistering combinations that have earned him his spot among the greats. As the bout progressed, “Chocolatito” asserted his style over Israel, who remained game, but was clearly outworked, unable to keep up with the Nicaraguan’s infamous pressure.
At his absolute best, Roman has combined offense and defense seamlessly to outscore and break down opponents, much in the same way that fellow pressure fighters Alexis Arguello and Roberto Duran did. And while Roman did more than enough last night to earn a wide decision, it is also true that in the process the Nicaraguan got hit more than he used to during his prime. It can’t be denied that Father Time has had an effect on some of Roman’s attributes. Notably, his head and waist movement, and his general mobility, are not as on point as they used to be, and even his ability or willingness to pull the trigger at every chance might be damped. Nevertheless, his considerable experience, his still reliable chin, and his otherworldly stamina more than made up for all that last night, proving that Roman is still clearly one of the best super flyweights in the world.
Next it was Estrada’s and Cuadras’ turn to step into the ring. And if Roman had delivered a nostalgia-tinted performance that reminded us of why we think so highly of him, “Gallo” and “Principe” were about to provide the kind of high that only intense and furious fisticuffs can deliver. The recipe is simple enough: take two top level Mexican boxers, put them in a ring, and watch them blow the roof off the building. From round one Estrada and Cuadras threw themselves at each other with abandon, scoring with punishing combos in pursuit of victory. Cuadras came out of the gate faster, as is his custom, and outworked Estrada in the early going. In the third round, an authoritative right uppercut-left hook combination sent Estrada to the canvas.
But “Gallo’s” composure under fire is a sight unto itself. Always poised and looking for opportunities to counter, Estrada kept up with Cuadras’ output, producing a string of action-packed rounds where momentum shifted as often as punches were thrown. By the mid-rounds, Estrada vs Cuadras II had already become a Fight of the Year contender, with both guys throwing eye-catching combinations, scoring with impressive accuracy to the head and body, and showcasing their tremendous chins and conditioning.
However, slowly but surely Estrada began to take over after the middle rounds. As the fight progressed, the intensity of the exchanges ramped up, and entering the final stretch, it was Cuadras who was breathing through an open mouth, while Estrada continued to assert himself. In the tenth, Cuadras managed to cut Estrada’s left eye with a pinpoint right hand, but in the eleventh Estrada brought his superior conditioning and punching prowess to bear, when he sent “Principe” to the canvas with a crushing left-right combination. Just moments later Estrada scored another knockdown, with the referee ruling Cuadras out of a contest for the first time in his career. Bringing to mind fellow Mexican great Juan Manuel Marquez, Estrada’s poise, combinations, and ring IQ delivered him yet another thrilling victory in a career filled with them.
The Take Away
For years fight fans have known that the lower weight classes deserve much more attention than they normally get. Last night proved exactly that, just as it proved that matching good fighters produces good fights. If the sport’s power brokers could just find a way to put on this kind of show on a regular basis, there is no reason boxing couldn’t regain at least some of the attention that it has lost in recent decades.
That being said, all credit goes to the four warriors who stepped into the ring last night, including Israel Gonzalez who put up a valiant effort and went the distance with a modern great. As for Estrada and Cuadras, their efforts have earned them pole position in the Fight of the Year race as far as this writer is concerned. While Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk participated in a thrilling eight-knockdown shootout a few weeks ago, what Estrada and Cuadras produced last night was a furiously contested firefight fought at the highest technical level, with a shot at super flyweight supremacy on the line. Given the skill, talent, and sheer cojones on display, it will be hard to find a better fight than Estrada vs Cuadras II in 2020.
And the best might be yet come in 2021. Immediately after the fight, both “Gallo” and “Chocolatito” voiced their desire to lock up again. The only remaining concern is the usual one: money. While we all know the Mexican and the Nicaraguan will produce an excellent fight if and when they meet again, money has been the one thing in the way of their rematch. The fact that they will be negotiating for it in the middle of a world-wide pandemic and economic crisis is less than ideal, but with their efforts last night, momentum is definitely on their side. There isn’t a single real fight fan out there rooting against Estrada vs Gonzalez 2 becoming a reality; let’s just hope the promoters find a way to make that unmissable contest happen.