People hate gifts. Not receiving them, people love that, but watching others receive them without merit is anathema to us unless we wish to see others suffer. For that reason, there is always a dichotomous selection of outrage and schadenfreude when someone collectively considered great is a victim of gifted cards. The “greats” are supposed to exist in a space above their competition in many eyes, and it’s little to observers that limits exist on us all.
On March 18, Nicaraguan superdupertinyweight stalwart Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez was considered by many to have been the victim of selective giving when hard nosed Thai opponent Srisaket Sor Rungvisai received a majority decision by counts of 113-113, and 114-112 twice in their super flyweight bout.
Lost amongst the recriminations and celebrations of the scorecards was that we had just witnessed one of the most energetically brutal, and consummately skillful fights in recent memory. Gonzalez put on an offensive clinic, throwing everything he had and landing punches that should’ve ended things a dozen times. For every one of those moments, there is another of Sor Rungvisai crowding, pushing, and hurting Gonzalez. You spend the entirety of the bout wondering how each man has not wilted from the pressure and punishment of the other.
There was an immediate feeling that Gonzalez deserved the decision, but Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KO) had won the actual fight. He’d been outlanded, outpunched, and in many ways outfought, but Sor Rungvisai looked like the winner.
Much of that was because of two savage cuts Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KO) sustained from head butts. Sor Rungvisai was penalized a point in the 6th round for that very infraction. Apart from the blood though, there was the impression that Sor Rungvisai was extracting a greater toll from Gonzalez. There were moments when he smirked and appeared happy, while Chocolatito appeared nothing but miserable. Gonzalez had had close fights as he moved up in weight, but none where the other guy appeared to be enjoying himself at times.
None of that excuses what probably should’ve been a win on the cards for Gonzalez. The decision was incorrect in my eyes, and those of many astute observers. What Sor Rungvisai did next wipes his slate clean.
Presented with the opportunity to prove that he was indeed the better man in a rematch, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai left no doubt. In four increasingly brutally one sided rounds at StubHub Center on Sept. 9, Sor Rungvisai beat Gonzalez to the punch repeatedly. Gonzalez staged a beautiful comeback in the 3rd round, but it wasn’t enough. Sor Rungvisai landed harder, he landed more often, and in the 4th round dropped Gonzalez with a frightening right hook. Gonzalez made it to his feet, but it was only moments before Sor Rungvisai put him out for good with an even more barbaric right hook.
There were other contenders for the award this year. Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko cemented their place above anyone at their weight. Mikey Garcia came back from sabbatical and reminded us how special he actually is. Anthony Joshua roared back from potential calamity against Wladimir Klitschko to show that even if he isn’t special yet, he’s the best at his weight.
TQBR’s Fighter of the Year for 2017 is Srisaket Sor Rungvisai because he proved he was elite by engaging Chocolatito in a fight of the year candidate, and then by taking him out in the rematch.
(CARSON, CA—Srisaket Sor Rungvisai of Thailand celebrates as Roman Gonzalez of Nicaragua is counted out at StubHub Center on September 9; Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)