Bloodsport: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada square off in ‘SuperFly 2’
If a Thai and Mexican sat in a room alone, there really wouldn’t be much to talk about. Not minding the wild difference in language, they wouldn’t think they had much in common until they stumbled across boxing and cockfighting. They’re essentially the same thing and, tomorrow night, at the Forum in Inglewood, California, it’ll virtually take place when Srisaket Sor Rungvisai puts his WBC super flyweight title on the line against Juan Francisco Estrada.
The fight is the main event of “SuperFly 2,” the premiere card of 360 Promotions, and will be televised live at the top of an “HBO Boxing After Dark” tripleheader (9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT).
Three days before the fight, at a media workout at Wild Card West, in Santa Monica, California, the headliners spoke with a handful of print media in the upstairs office, where you got the sense of what it’s like to be alone in a room with both.
“El Gallo” Estrada is as small in stature as any other super flyweight out there but there is glare of intensity within his character that lets it be known that he’s someone not to mess with. Fighting out of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, he has the strut of a proud rooster and, coming off an impressive debut at super flyweight last September, Estrada is confident heading into his first title fight at 115 pounds.
“That’s what everyone says, that he hits hard, but until you get in the ring, you will know how hard he really hits,” Estrada said about Srisaket (translation by Ricardo Jimenez). “But if he doesn’t hit as hard as everyone says he does, I’m gonna go after him.”
Estrada, 36-2 (25), edged Carlos Cuadras on the cards, in his most recent fight, to earn the No. 1 ranking and mandatory position for the WBC super flyweight title. It took him a few rounds to feel out Cuadras’ power and start timing his counters but, once he went after the fleet-footed boxer, a knockdown scored in round 10 and a commanding end to the fight highlighted an indubitable win to an otherwise closely scored fight (114-113, across the board). Even though his moment was initially marred when ring announcer Michael Buffer first said Cuadras had won the decision, Estrada headed into the locker room knowing he had done his part and thinking that a revenge fight he’d been seeking was about to be confirmed in just a few hours in the main event of “SuperFly I.”
“I thought Gonzalez won the first fight, so I was very surprised when he got knocked out in the second fight,” Estrada said about Srisaket’s fourth round knockout of Roman Gonzalez, which spoiled his hope to avenge a 2012 defeat to “Chocolatito” on the cards. “I think he just got a little too reckless in there. He tried to do something that he really wasn’t capable of doing.”
Venturing into the super flyweight class was ultimately the start of Gonzalez’s demise and Estrada goes in with the same motive as his Nicaraguan rival: looking for a challenge.
“I was a world champion but there just wasn’t any opportunities,” Estrada said about his time at flyweight. “There was really no one to fight at 112. So I took 115 because I figured there would be more opportunities. There’d be other chances – better fights – that’s the only reason I went to 115. I mean, I could make 112 now with no problem, so 115 is even easier to make.
“As an amateur, I was a flyweight. 112 was where I fought all of my amateur career – I was a four-time national champion. When I debuted as a professional, I actually debuted at 118 but I knew I would be better if I went down. I went down to 112 and that’s where I became a world champion. As you get older, you move up. Your body is telling you what to do.”
Estrada turns 28 in April and, if you ask him his about his proudest moment so far, he’ll tell you it was what started an accomplished career immediately after the Gonzalez fight. “I won two titles and went all the way to China to do it,” Estrada recalled about his split decision win that unified the WBA and WBO flyweight titles against Brian Viloria (who also fights on the undercard of SuperFly 2). Estrada hasn’t lost since and, after vacating the belts in late 2016, in order to move up in weight, he hasn’t partaken in a world title bout, since his last defense in September of 2015.
“At 112, I really felt strong,” said Estrada. “I felt I was faster than at 115. I think 112 was my natural weight, was my best weight, but I feel good here at 115 too…This is a great opportunity. Fighting in the United States and on HBO for the second time. It opens up a whole other market for me and the world championship is at stake. This is great. I love being a part of this.”
He’s even happy to grace the same venue where legendary 108-pounder Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez built a Hall of Fame career, saying, “I’m grateful and I want to give the fans a great fight so that they remember me for a long time too.” In the press conference announcing SuperFly 2, Estrada proclaimed this as the start to becoming the next Mexican idol in boxing (article link: http://ucnlive.com/tom-loeffler-think-superfly-2-will-tremendous-success/).
“I think a lot of people do believe I am the best fighter in Mexico,” Estrada said, once the biggest Mexican star, currently, Canelo Alvarez, was mentioned. “If we’re talking about business, we know he’s a lot better in the business than I am but that’s what we’re striving for: To be known like him, to be wealthy like him. Probably won’t be as popular as Canelo but I’ll be right behind him. I’ll be right there.”
For now, the only thing standing in his way is the guy who foiled his original plan for revenge. Estrada is still open to the idea of fighting Chocolatito again but said that would depend on how the Nicaraguan looks going forward.
“I’ve fought six or seven lefties before and I know that’s part of fighting a lefty: You’re gonna get hit in the head,” Estrada said about fighting Srisaket, whose butting head has ravaged the faces of past opponents. “Sometimes there is no cuts but you’re gonna be banging heads in there because of the way we fight. I expect the same thing on Saturday night. Hopefully no cuts but I’m sure we’re gonna be banging heads in there.”
The last time Estrada has been cut was in his last world title bout against Hernan “Tyson” Marquez, who is a southpaw. That’s part of the game, however, and Estrada heads into February 24 with confidence that his skills can circumvent the danger and a heavy heart for the date itself. At Thursday’s final press conference, his manager explained that, when Estrada was seven years old, his mother passed away from leukemia on February 24. After his father passed away in a scuba diving incident, when Estrada was still a child, his Aunt Lupita took him in. Two months before his big fight with Gonzalez, tragedy struck again when Aunt Lupita was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Estrada kept that to himself then but seeing as how the date landed on the start of what he hopes to be bigger and better things, he dedicated this fight against Srisaket to their memory.
A devout Catholic, Estrada surely believes that this is all part of his Maker’s plan but if there was any indication on how he really feels about it, it would be his decision to let his manager tell the story. Maybe that’s just how Estrada operates, not letting anyone see his emotion. Certainly not the case of strutting rooster but perhaps the courtship of a real fighter.
“Garuda” is a legendary bird-like creature found in Hindu and Buddhist mythology and the half-man/half-bird is so revered in Thailand, it graces the official crest of the reigning King of Thailand Maha Vajiralongkorn. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai walked into Wednesday’s sit-down in the bright yellow and red that seemingly all Thai fighters wear. Located over his heart was a special ruby and gold pin of Garuda, which was given to him at the day before, at the Thai consulate in Los Angeles. It’s one of many awards the 31-year-old has received over the past year, highlighted by his country’s “Sportsman of the Year” honors in 2017, which comes with a special trophy bestowed upon him from the king. (On a side note, to put into context how significant something like that is in Thailand, it is forbidden by law to even talk negatively about the king.)
Wisaksil Wangek is his birth name but if you’re ever wondering what to call him, if you happen to run into him on the street, Srisaket will do. Upon introduction, he’ll do a customary bow for each person he meets and cradle your extended handshake with both of his hands as if he were cradling a baby bird. For as brutal as Srisaket is in the ring, he’s quite tranquil outside the ropes and doesn’t seem like someone who’d be bothered by complete silence in a room.
“I’m very happy and very proud of what I achieved and what I did,” Srisaket said about the year he had, through Thai translator Thainchail “Bank” Pisitwuttihan.
Srisaket is a man of few words but quickly jumped into a story about his origins. Like most, if not all, Thai boxers, Srisaket had experience in the country’s No. 1 combat sport Muay Thai and, once moving back to Bangkok around the start of 2009 to be a security guard, there was a small gym owner who asked him if he wanted to go to Japan to fight in professional boxing. Without much proper training or experience, Srisaket proceeded to make his professional debut in Japan, losing all three fights there, two of them by knockout. While BoxRec.com (http://boxrec.com/en/boxer/528191) isn’t in line with the timing of his story, Srisaket wasn’t sure if he’d continue to box again.
“I was thinking to myself, why should I fight if I could not win a fight?,” he recalled. Srisaket left it up to one more fight that would decide whether or not he’d continue and, in his first fight in Thailand, that fight ended up being a draw. Afterward, Srisaket said he sat down with his fiancee, then-girlfriend, about a future that couldn’t even get an answer when left to fate. “I had two paths. Full-time boxer or go back and work as a trash collector or security.guard,” he said. “I decided to continue fighting. I wasn’t even dreaming of becoming a world champion. I was thinking I’d get to fight on TV in Thailand once in a while or get a regional belt. I’d be happy.”
With his mind set on boxing, Sriskaet, 44-4-1 (40), proceeded to go on a rampage of knockouts against whatever Thai opponent was put in front of him. Soon enough, he was fighting for Asian WBC titles and eventually earned a super flyweight title shot against Yota Sato in 2013. Beating a fighter from Japan to win a world title was ironic and, maybe, all that much sweeter for Srisaket. He had already gone much further than he expected but, after only one defense, lost to Carlos Cuadras in his first fight in North America. Cuadras, who’s vying for a shot at reclaiming the WBC title on the HBO undercard, won on a technical decision, in 2014, after Srisaket’s beak forced a cut bad enough to stop the fight in the eighth round. Srisaket hasn’t lost since and, with great patience and activity in Thailand, found himself in Madison Square Garden fighting the one of the best fighters on the planet.
“I had two months to prepare. I wasn’t 100 % confident that I would win the fight,” Srisaket admitted in the days leading up to his first fight with Gonzalez. “Since I got the opportunity already, I wanted to come here and make sure that I fought my best and make sure it was a really good fight for the fans. I wanted to impress the fans.”
All he did was take part in one of the best fight’s 2017 had to offer and whatever controversy that engrossed within the decision, in his favor, Srisaket left no questions in the immediate rematch.
“I think that will be the advantage. I think that I will be the bigger guy in this fight,” Srisaket said about his match-up with Cuadras. “I think I have harder punching power than Estrada. For this fight, I’m also faster than before. I feel it in the gym.”
Srisaket isn’t all that complex in the ring either. In his most recent fight, if you go back and take a shot for every jab landed against Chocolatito, you’d be completely sober by its finish. Really, the only variation in Srisaket’s life seems to be, when in the ring, where he turns into an immovable object that unfurls power shots without much cause for concern. When asked if he’s always this calm, Srisaket said, “I’m like this most of the time. Before I go to bed, I meditate. It helps a lot in life and in boxing.”
The cockpit in which these two super flyweights will meet has some history, between Thailand and Mexico. In 1995, Gonzalez was knocked out by Saman Sorjaturong at the Forum. “I’ll do everything I can to win the fight and make more history for Thailand at this stadium,” said Srisaket. It was the Mexican legend’s last fight and it spawned a near-five-year title reign that didn’t leave the Asian Pacific. Srisaket could’ve very well done the same thing and held the title hostage over there but sometimes fighters dare to be great. Or in Srisaket’s case, try and become Garuda incarnate.