Paul Wheeler wonders whether Juan Francisco Estrada can continue his trend of gaining revenge when he takes on old foe Gonzalez in a super-flyweight superfight
JUAN FRANCISCO ESTRADA only had to wait seven months to avenge his defeat to Juan Carlos Sanchez Jnr. It took him double that time before he was able to secure revenge against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. But this period pales in comparison to the near-eight-and-a-half years that he has had to wait for a rematch with Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
Back in November 2012, Estrada moved down in weight in order to participate in his first world title contest. Gonzalez, in contrast, was taking part in his ninth bout for world honours. At the time, the Nicaraguan was the defending WBA light-flyweight champion, having formerly reigned as the WBA strawweight king.
Despite fighting at a lighter weight than he was used to, and lacking the world-level experience of his then-unbeaten opponent, Estrada put in a commendable showing in what was an exciting and fiercely fought encounter. Nevertheless, this was not enough to unseat Gonzalez from his throne. With his solid, quicksilver shots, the dynamic Central American came away with a unanimous decision victory by marks of 118-110 and 116-112 twice, though the match was more competitive than these scores suggest.
In the eight-plus years that have passed since this fight, both men have been consistently operating at the elite end of the lower weight classes, meaning that a sequel has been long-awaited by fans. This Saturday (March 13), in front of a socially distanced crowd of around 5,000 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, Estrada and Gonzalez will finally lock horns once more. Personal pride will not be the only thing on the line, however, as two world super-flyweight titles will also be up for grabs – Estrada’s WBC belt and Gonzalez’s WBA strap.
With 30 world title bouts between them, Estrada, 41-3 (28), and Gonzalez, 50-2 (41), are the epitome of seasoned, top-class fighters. A professional for over 12-and-a-half years, Estrada won his first 18 contests before running into Sanchez in May 2011. Both boxers hit the deck during their flyweight eight-rounder, but it was Sanchez who was awarded a unanimous verdict. In their December 2011 return, each man suffered a knockdown again, yet on this occasion Estrada would not be denied, as he forced a stoppage in the 10th and final frame. (Sanchez, incidentally, would go on to claim the IBF super-flyweight crown less than two months later.)
Eleven months after this came Estrada’s loss to Gonzalez, but he rebounded in style by taking the WBA and WBO flyweight titles from the decorated Brian Viloria on a split decision in April 2013. The Mexican proceeded to make five successful defences of his unified championship over the next two-and-a-half years, with respected names like Milan Melindo, Giovani Segura and Hernan Marquez being scalped.
A move up to super-flyweight followed for Estrada, who got the better of ex-WBC titlist Carlos Cuadras on a razor-thin unanimous verdict in a captivating clash in September 2017. Five months later, Estrada challenged Srisaket for the WBC belt. The Thai was in his second stint as champion and was coming off two consecutive wins over Gonzalez (more on those later). Estrada pushed Srisaket hard in a hellacious duel, but found himself on the wrong end of a majority decision.
Estrada turned the tables on Srisaket in their April 2019 rematch by wresting the WBC title from his grasp on a unanimous vote to become a two-weight world champ. The Hermosillo resident has since retained his crown on two occasions, most recently in October when he collided with Cuadras for a second time in what was one of the best fights of 2020. After being floored in the third round, Estrada stormed back to stop his countryman in the 11th.
Gonzalez entered the pro ranks three years before Estrada. In fact, it was only two weeks after Estrada’s debut that Gonzalez picked up his first world championship. Up against Yutaka Niida in September 2008, who was making his eighth WBA strawweight title defence, Gonzalez prevailed via fourth-round stoppage. The Managua native then repelled the threat of three challengers to his belt, one of which was Katsunari Takayama, who later went on to establish himself as a serial world title winner at 105lbs.
A step up to light-flyweight resulted in more success for Gonzalez, as he KO’d previous victim Francisco Rosas in two rounds to acquire the vacant WBA Interim strap in October 2010, before being upgraded to full titlist in February 2011. Of the five triumphant defences that followed for Gonzalez, the most noteworthy were his victories over Estrada and former WBO ruler Ramon Garcia Hirales.
Flyweight was the next port of call for Gonzalez, who warmed up for a September 2014 crack at Akira Yaegashi’s WBC crown by halting Francisco Rodriguez Jnr in the seventh session 12 months beforehand. (Less than a year later, Rodriguez would earn unified world champion status at strawweight.) Yaegashi, who would go on to collect world titles in three divisions, was emphatically dispatched by Gonzalez in the ninth. In the space of just over a year-and-a-half, Gonzalez retained his WBC belt four times, with notable foes such as Viloria, Edgar Sosa and McWilliams Arroyo being vanquished.
By the time Gonzalez moved up to super-flyweight in September 2016 to challenge for Cuadras’ WBC title, he was already widely regarded as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. He cemented his standing as the premier boxer on the planet by unanimously outpointing the previously undefeated Cuadras. With this stirring win, Gonzalez went one better than his mentor and idol, Alexis Arguello, by becoming Nicaragua’s first-ever four-weight world champion.
If 2016 was the year in which Gonzalez really announced himself to the wider boxing public, then the following year was his annus horribilis. He has been beaten twice as a pro, and both of these losses came in 2017. Although Srisaket was an ex-WBC belt-holder, he was not given much of a chance by pundits going into his title tilt against Gonzalez in March of that year. Yet this failed to faze him, as he went toe-to-toe with his celebrated rival in what turned out to be the 2017 Fight of the Year and an instant classic. After 12 gruelling, all-action rounds, it appeared that Gonzalez had done enough to edge it on the scorecards, even taking into account that he was dropped in the opener. Nonetheless, the majority verdict went Srisaket’s way.
Six months later, Gonzalez attempted to regain his crown in a rematch. Whereas the ending in the initial bout was contentious, this time it was definitive. Twice Gonzalez was sent to the canvas in the fourth round, with the second knockdown conclusively and dramatically wiping him out.
Following his defeats to Srisaket, Gonzalez only fought once each in 2018 and 2019 – both stoppage victories, the first of which came against former WBO strawweight boss Moises Fuentes. This led Gonzalez into a WBA title shot against Kal Yafai in February last year, and an opportunity to become a two-time world super-flyweight titlist. With his brutal knockout reverse at the hands of Srisaket still in people’s minds, as well as his subsequent lack of sustained activity, Gonzalez had been written off by some prior to the Yafai fight. Boy did he prove the doubters wrong.
Yafai was an unbeaten, well-established world champion, but Gonzalez demonstrated that class is permanent as he produced a majestic performance, capped off by a sublime stoppage in the ninth round. Eight months after this, the new champ again looked in fine fettle as he kept hold of his belt with a unanimous points triumph over the capable Israel Gonzalez.
An expert at using angles to bypass his opponents’ defences, the quick-fisted Chocolatito unleashes classy combinations made up of eye-catching hooks and uppercuts both upstairs and down. A supreme volume-puncher who boasts a tireless work rate, the 33-year-old varies his attacks impressively and applies educated aggression.
Tough and tenacious like Gonzalez, Estrada, 30, is adept at pacing himself through frenetic 12-rounders. An intelligent and adaptable operator, his versatility allows him to either cleverly counter off the back foot or force the action by pressing forward. Punching in ferocious bursts, he targets the body with hurtful efficiency, especially when delivering lashing left hooks.
While it is difficult to predict who will come out on top in this battle of super-flyweight standouts, it seems pretty safe to say that the fight will not disappoint in terms of quality and excitement. In what looks set to be a close, compelling and hard-to-score bout, it would not be a surprise if the judges are unable to split the fighters at the finish. However, as the slightly younger and fresher man, and with a long-standing urge for revenge fuelling his motivation, the tentative pick is for Estrada to pip Gonzalez on points.
The chief support on this stacked Matchroom bill, broadcast live on DAZN, pits another pair of former foes against one another in a riveting rematch.
Seven months ago, Cecilia Braekhus, 36-1 (9), marched into her 27th world title fight in a row, having won all of her previous 26. In what was the 11th defence of her undisputed welterweight championship, the Colombia-born Norwegian came up against ex-unified WBC and WBA super-lightweight leader Jessica McCaskill, 9-2 (3), at a 145lb catchweight.
Despite being undefeated at the time and possessing far more experience than McCaskill, the well-travelled Braekhus was the victim of a major upset, as her rival from Chicago impressed the judges sufficiently to prevail via majority decision (97-93, 97-94, 95-95) in a tight, rough-and-ready contest. The accomplished Braekhus enjoyed success with her fast, accurate jab, but McCaskill’s relentless tenacity and incessant output proved to be the deciding factor that swung the verdict her way, even if the outcome divided opinion.
Bergen’s Braekhus turns 40 in September and has more miles on the clock than McCaskill, who will celebrate her 37th birthday during the same month. Just as in the main event, this is a tough-to-call sequel, but once again, rather than a repeat result, the prediction is for revenge to be served. It will be closely contested just like before, but on this occasion Braekhus can connect with enough scoring blows to win out over 10-twos, reuniting her with the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO belts.
The third world title bout on the card sees Japanese light-flyweight terror Hiroto Kyoguchi, 14-0 (9), defend his WBA strap against Mexico’s former WBO strawweight title challenger Axel Aragon Vega, 14-3-1 (8).
An ex-IBF strawweight chief, Tokyo’s 27-year-old Kyoguchi has made two defences of his light-fly crown so far, but has not competed since October 2019. Ensenada’s Vega, meanwhile, most recently saw action in August last year.
Less than 4ft 10ins in height, the diminutive 20-year-old Vega will have to contend with a significant size disadvantage against Kyoguchi. In his opening appearance outside of Asia and his first fight since signing a promotional deal with Matchroom, expect the champion to retain his belt inside the distance.
The Verdict The most enticing card of the year so far.