Thanks for the memories
It was a long and grueling affair on March 18 when Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai met for the first time at the Madison Square Garden in New York. The Thai challenger handed “Chocolatito” the first defeat of his professional career via disputed decision.
There was no such debate this past weekend as they engaged in their rematch at the StubHub Center, in Carson, California, as the headliner’s on the much ballyhooed “SuperFly” card on HBO.
This time around, the Thai ended things in swift fashion with a pair of right hooks from his southpaw stance that Gonzalez never saw coming. The first one put him down in the fourth round and after getting back on his feet and attempting to fight back gamely, while still clearly concussed, the second right hook put him out for good.
It was a stunning sight to see one of the best pure fighters of this past generation flat on his back, looking up at the lights of the StubHub Center, not quite knowing where he was, with referee Tom Taylor kneeling over him, waving off the proceedings.
For Gonzalez, this may not necessarily signal the end of his career – because you know how things go in this racket – but it does mark the end of Gonzalez as an elite prizefighter. What Sor Rungvisai had started back in March, he finished emphatically on this warm Southern California night in early September but, if you look back, the foreshadowing was evident. A year ago, as Gonzalez faced Carlos Cuadras for the WBC 115-pound title at the Forum, in Inglewood, it was clear that after dominating runs at mininumweight, junior flyweight and flyweight, 115-pounds would be his threshold, in terms of effectiveness.
While he won, it was a contest in which he was pushed to his physical limit and, now on the other side of 30, and, with nearly 50 fights on his ledger (which is quite a bit for a smaller weight fighter), from this point forward, things would only get more difficult.
Sor Rungvisai – your typically tough Thai fighter – pushed him to the limits in their first meeting, shoved him off the cliff this time around. While Gonzalez tried his best to battle him, it was evident that he was simply outgunned and it would be an uphill struggle throughout the duration of this bout. No matter what Gonzalez did or had left in the tank, Sor Rungvisai would have just a bit more.
Gonzalez was honest in his assessment of what took place, “We were trading punches and his were a little harder.”
It was a tad reminiscent of how Gonzalez’s mentor, the legendary Alexis Arguello, was simply hollowed after his first classic battle with Aaron Pryor and was really only the ghost of himself in the rematch, in which he capitulated in 10 rounds. It didn’t necessarily mark the end of Arguello’s career but his greatness.
There’s no telling if this will be Gonzalez’s last fight. There’s certainly a chance he attempts to move back down to flyweight or even have a few carefully chosen bouts in his native Nicaragua or Japan. Regardless of his decision, this big little man from Managua should be hailed for his contributions to the sport. (And to be clear, this column is not an obituary of his career but a tribute to it). No amount of hindsight criticism or agenda-driven comments from the usual suspects will take away his accomplishments.
Gonzalez will go down as one of the most dominant “small” boxers in the history of the sport, winning titles at 105, 108, 112 and 115 pounds, and he was considered the best fighter in at least two of those weight classes. But beyond the vast collection of belts he amassed, he has a long list of notable opponents (Juan Francisco Estrada, Brian Viloria, Akira Yaegashi and Carlos Cuadras comprise just a partial list of luminaries he has faced) and he was consistently in memorable bouts, even being involved in more than one “Fight of the Year” candidate.
Beyond that, his impact goes beyond just fighting. As a result of his transcendent skills, HBO finally made a real investment into weight classes below the bantamweight division and without his contributions, cards like the ones last Saturday don’t come to fruition.
In an era in which boxers act more like accountants (both in and out of the ring), Gonzalez never stopped taking challenges till the very end. There was an honor to how he conducted his career, one that will eventually see him inducted into the International Boxing Hall-of-Fame, in Canastota, New York, whenever he decides to call it a career.
From my vantage point on press row, I thought Cuadras built en early lead on Estrada as he out-hustled and out-worked his Mexican rival in the early stages. That said, while he threw more punches than Estrada, there was a slapping quality to many of them and Estrada – working at his steady professional pace – landed the more meaningful shots in the second half of the fight.
And Estrada was able to score a knockdown with a sharp right hand in the 10th. When it was all said and done, Estrada winning by unanimous scores of 114-113 (after Michael Buffer had his Steve Harvey moment).
Estrada said of the verdict, “I’m glad they got the scores correct and I didn’t get robbed.”
Not surprisingly his counterpart disagreed, “I won the fight. I landed the harder punches. No way he beat me. The knockdown was a slip. I was never hurt.”
Prior to the fight, the WBC mandated this bout as an eliminator to the winner of the evening’s main event. So Sor Rungvisai versus Estrada?
Yeah, sign me up for some of that.
– Antonio Nieves simply didn’t have anything to keep Naoya Inoue off him and, as a result, “The Monster” from Japan marched forward and walked through him. Inoue, the defending WBO titlist, has a strong, stout jab and attacks the body with a zealous left hook. He certainly passed the eye test on Saturday night. The hope is, if he should return to HBO anytime soon, he faces a more daunting challenge.
– Speaking of which, K2 Promotions Managing Director Tom Loeffler, who put this card together, said SuperFly would be the kind of show that could spawn off sequels, as you mix-and-match these guys and add others into the mix like WBA titlist Kahlid Yafai and IBF beltholder Jerwin Ancajas.
Hey, no objections here.
A sell-out crowd of 7,418 was announced for this card, which had a great mixture of fans supporting their fighters…My only critique of the StubHub Center is it needs more restrooms and concessions. Those lines are DMV-long in length and time…HBO and Main Events announced that the return of former IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev will come against Vyacheslav “Slava” Shabranskyy on November 25 at the Theater of Madison Square Garden in New York…Yes, Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin fight week is upon us. I’ll be out in Las Vegas for RingTV.com, providing coverage alongside Beto Duran and Doug Fischer…”The Next Round” with Gabriel Montoya and me are back today!…”Insecure” was simply incredible this season on HBO…So the Miami-FSU game has been moved to October 7 and the Georgia Tech game back up from October 12 to the 14th…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.