This Friday, fourteen months after their first fight, Thailand’s prodigal son, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and Mexico’s own Juan Francisco “Gallito” Estrada, will meet again to settle some unfinished business. The rematch of their 2018 Fight of the Year candidate will take place at the Forum, in Inglewood, California, and promises to be a palate cleanser for fight fans, who in the early months of 2019 have had to shove down three pathetic pay-per-views that offered nothing in terms of competitiveness or drama. Pac vs Broner was one-sided and monotonous. Garcia vs Spence was an otherwise pointless exercise in correcting a fighter’s bloated ego as a deluded Garcia lost almost every round. And Crawford vs Khan was, to put it bluntly, a mismatch between a top talent who is in his prime and a doomed ex-champ who quit at the first opportunity.
And while Sor Rungvisai is the favorite going into the rematch, Friday’s encounter is arguably the finest match-up of 2019 thus far with Sor Rungvisai vs Estrada II as close to a pick’em main event as we’ve had this year. It also pits the two best pugilists in a deep 115 pound division, not to mention the fact Sor Rungvisai and Estrada are balls-to-the-wall warriors that have no qualms about putting it all on the line in pursuit of victory. A decisive win for either will cement their standing atop the super flyweight ranks, and bring the victor closer to the riches and fame his talents and courage deserve and have, for too long, been denied.
More importantly for those, like me, looking to finally see some serious action and carnage, the Thai and the Mexican proved in their first go-around that their styles complement each other in a most violent way. Sor Rungvisai controlled the action in the early rounds, relying on the punishing right hook he throws from his left stance to keep Estrada at bay and hesitant. But in the middle rounds “Gallito” began taking more risks, initiating contact and luring Sor Rungvisai into exchanges in which the Mexican could retaliate with fierce counter-punching.
Their first encounter came to a climax in a superb twelfth round that came this close to earning Round of the Year honours here at The Fight City. With Estrada behind on the scorecards, the Mexican launched an onslaught that tested Sor Rungvisai’s mettle, with the Asian passing the test with flying colours by responding to Estrada’s accurate shots with punishing blows of his own. Furious exchange followed furious exchange until the final bell, after which the judges awarded Sor Rungvisai a deserved decision victory.
The unfinished business between these two warriors stems from the fact that the decision in the Thai’s favor was razor close. That first encounter presented a multitude of even rounds, and at night’s end one could make a case for either warrior having earned the victory. Alas, the lack of clarity as to who really is the better man is the cost that needs to be paid for a scintillating showdown. Going by the anticipation which the rematch has generated, it’s a cost fight fans have no problem paying.
Fortunately, there’s little reason to believe the second fight won’t yield another barn burner. Both Estrada and Sor Rungvisai stayed active in 2018, fighting three times each, bucking the trend of inactivity that plagues most of their fellow pound-for-pounders. In the wake of their first fight, the Thai and the Mexican posted two strong performances apiece, emerging with nothing but victories. This sends the signal that little has changed since their first bout, and certifies their status as the top men in the super flyweight division.
However, if there’s a factor that could make a big difference in the rematch, it has something to do with Estrada’s health. As reported by ESPN, the Mexican claims that a knee injury hindered his preparation for the first fight with Sor Rungvisai, and that it also slowed him down during the bout. Estrada, who is motivated by the goal of becoming a two-division world champion, also claims that said injury is now fully healed, and that a more active, stronger version of himself will be too much for Rungvisai to handle.
It’s true that Estrada seemed unusually cautious during the first half of the bout, and got progressively more active as the bout went on. Fans’ assessment was that Estrada was being kept honest by Sor Rungvisai’s strong punching, and shifted gears when he realized he had to make something happen to catch up on the cards. But Estrada himself asserts that the reason he started slowly last year is because he wanted to see how his knee would hold up before letting it all hang out.
If that is indeed the case, it only adds intrigue to Sor Rungvisai vs Estrada II. The mind reels at the possibility of Estrada fighting from the start the way he did in the last stanza of the first fight. But the reality is that Sor Rungvisai has proved he’s one of the top talents in boxing, perfectly complementing his natural strength with the lessons he has assimilated since stepping up against “Chocolatito” Gonzalez in early 2017. Ever since, he has showed adaptability and subtlety beyond those of a mere raw talent, which is what many observers inexplicably still consider him to be. A decisive victory over Estrada–not to mention a knockout, which he claims he will pursue on Friday–would boost the Thai’s standing in the pound-for-pound rankings.
But perhaps the best outcome for fight fans would be another close bout with a debatable ending. After all, whether we like it or not, inconclusiveness drives rivalries as much as anything else. A second closely contested, violent encounter that sets up chapter three between these two warriors is what I’m rooting for. In a boxing year that is so far most memorable for the pathetic performances of Garcia and Khan, Sor Rungvisai vs Estrada II stands apart as a genuine best vs best matchup, featuring two pound-for-pound talents who still fight as if they had everything to win and nothing to lose. Bottom line: boxing in 2019 hasn’t been anything write home about, but buckle up: this weekend could mark a very welcome turning point and if so, two of boxing’s finest, Estrada and Sor Rungvisai, will be leading the charge. –Robert Portis