In a truly excellent year for boxing, this weekend’s SUPERFLY card is in a class of its own. The world’s top five super flyweights will be in action, setting up future showdowns to establish the division’s true king. A sellout is expected at Carson’s StubHub Center, and the quality of the event’s top match-ups, coupled with memories of the first terrific battle between Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, has sent die-hard boxing fans to their knees to thank whatever god they happen to believe in. 2017 is proving to be all that boxing fans could have reasonably hoped for and yet, on paper at least, SUPERFLY may be the best card of the year.
First up, Estrada vs Cuadras, two proud Mexicans duking it out for the right to face the winner of the main event. Carlos Cuadras and Juan Francisco Estrada are as tough as they are skilled. Furthermore, they’re both former rivals of Roman Gonzalez, both gave “Chocolatito” tough, hard-fought duels, and both are aching for payback. Cuadras faced the Nicaraguan last year in one of 2016’s best fights and lost a narrow decision. Estrada also tested Gonzalez over 12 rounds back in 2012 and it was also a Fight of the Year candidate.
Needless to say, there’s no doubt both Mexican warriors will leave everything in the ring Saturday night in order to try and get another shot at Gonzalez, who has become the biggest moneymaker in the sub-featherweight divisions. But depending on boxing politics and promotional machinations, the winner of Cuadras vs Estrada might need to get back in line behind the winner of the second fight of the evening. That will see Japanese phenom Naoya Inoue make his US debut, an event long awaited by hardcore fight fans. His rival, Antonio Nieves, also hailing from Mexico, is at this point more of a prospect than a proper challenger, but is expected to put up a proper fight.
That being said, don’t be shocked if “Monster” Inoue–who will be attempting the seventh defense of his WBO super flyweight title–steals the spotlight from the main event with the kind of devastating performance that has fueled his mythology among serious fight fans. Gonzalez vs Inoue has been a dream match for hardcore boxing nerds for at least a year now, and it’s no secret that HBO is looking to groom rivals for “Chocolatito” to face.
The Japanese title holder is a no-brainer in that regard: despite having only 13 pro fights to his name, he has scored 11 knockouts–ranging from the eyebrow-raising to the plain frightening–and captured titles in two divisions. His bodywork, power-punching and volume pose a threat to anyone who dares get in the ring with him. With size and youth advantages over Gonzalez, Inoue is certainly the number one candidate to dethrone the Nicaraguan as the boss at 115 pounds and its environs.
At this point you might be tempted to bring up the fact that “Chocolatito” Gonzalez was already dethroned last March, when his rival this Saturday, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, outpointed him over 12 of the most gruelling rounds seen in recent times. While the judges saw the largely unknown Thai emerge the winner that night in New York City, the fact remains a large majority of observers thought “Chocolatito” was robbed of a hard-fought–but entirely earned–victory. The truth is, had Gonzalez been awarded the win so many believe he deserved, there would’ve been zero demand for a rematch. Thus, Gonzalez vs Sor Rungvisai II gives Roman the chance to avenge a bad decision, but could also provide another memorable battle between two incredibly tough fighters who have already given us the lead contender for 2017’s Fight of the Year.
It’s worth addressing the double injustice that “Chocolatito” suffered at Madison Square Garden last March. Not only was he stripped of his title–and his undefeated record–via bogus decision, but he was also universally disavowed as the pound-for-pound king by the boxing media. If this proved anything, it’s that such lists are perhaps the most pointless of ratings in all of boxing, subject as they are to the whims of a public as enthralled as ever by pristine records. Many of those who demoted Gonzalez did so while at the same time declaring his defeat a robbery, seemingly unaware of the contradiction.
This says nothing of all the other criteria that supposedly go into the ranking of boxers in a pound-for-pound list: not only skills and talent, but also body of work and level of activity. At the moment, the boxer atop many of the lists is Andre Ward who, yes, twice defeated Sergey Kovalev. But lost in the shuffle is the fact that Ward’s first victory over Kovalev was, by most accounts, as undeserved as Gonzalez’ loss to Rungvisai. Meanwhile, Ward’s rematch win over Kovalev was as controversial as the first bout, with punches below the belt appearing to influence the outcome as much as anything else.
Even if one were willing to grant Ward full credit for twice defeating Kovalev, Andre’s level of activity simply doesn’t stand up to that of “Chocolatito.” The American has had exactly two matches at the elite level in the last five years, and six fights in total. Meanwhile, after this Saturday night, “Chocolatito” will have fought nine championship bouts and 14 in total since 2012.
This same argument should deny someone like Vasyl Lomachenko–a formidable fighter in his own right–a spot above Gonzalez in such lists. Lomachenko’s activity and record simply do not stand up to those of the Nicaraguan, at least not yet. Same goes for Gennady Golovkin, a human wrecking ball who, for whatever reasons, hasn’t faced anywhere near the level of competition Gonzalez has overcome since he became a title-holder in September of 2008.
Looking back, it’s difficult to find a name on Roman’s ledger that could be labelled a tune-up or stay busy fight. Most of his opponents have been either ranked challengers or the best competition available in a given division. If many of those fights ended up as showcases for Roman, that speaks just more to “Chocolatito’s” prowess and his standing as a future Hall of Famer and one of the true greats of this era.
All that said, the greatness of Roman Gonzalez is just one reason to tune in for SUPERFLY. The main reason is that this is the “triple crown” of fight cards with three excellent matches, all legit main events, featuring some of the best boxers on the planet. On paper, two of these matches–Cuadras vs Estrada and Gonzalez vs Sor Rungvisai II–are Fight of the Year contenders, while Naoya Inoue seems to produce a Knockout of the Year candidate almost every time he steps into the ring. Imagine what he might do with all the motivation he carries into his first performance for a North American audience.
That the winners of these bouts will possibly face each other in the near future only adds more intrigue to the card. Will Inoue become the blockbuster sensation in North America that he is in Japan? Will fierce competitors Cuadras and Estrada get another shot at “Chocolatito” Gonzalez? Will the Nicaraguan pound-for-pound king avenge his dubious loss against Sor Rungvisai and re-establish his dominance? If the boxing gods continue to be as generous as they have been so far this year, Saturday night we will get all the answers and more. –Rafael Garcia