Biologists have a name for it: Thanatosis. In the animal realm, certain species will exhibit, as a means of self-protection or sexual predation, an adaptive behavior also described as tonic immobility, aka playing dead. A few predators have evolved to incorporate this assumed posture in order to lure their prey into a state of vulnerability. Nimbochromis livingstonii — Livingstone’s Cichlid, aka the Sleeper Fish — will drop to the bottom of a lake bed and feign death long enough for a smaller fish to wander within striking range. Claviger testaceus — a species of beetle — will go belly up to convince, say, a yellow ant to drag it back to its home, where the zombie bug suddenly springs to life and throws down on an easy meal of ant eggs.
To that creepy list we can now add the name of Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada (40-3, 27 KO), who on Saturday made his return on his home turf of Hermosillo, Sonora, amid the adoration of 10,000-plus at Centro de Usos Multiples, to defend his super flyweight title and lineal championship against unsuspecting prey Dewayne Beamon (16-2-1, 11 KO) on DAZN.
Estrada, if you’ll remember, was last seen in the ring in April stealing the lunch money of pound-for-pound darling Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, conqueror of the previously unconquerable Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. Without parsing the semi-relevant particulars regarding age and washedness, it’s still a pretty impressive beat-the-man-who-beat-the-man kinda deal that, by all rights, casts Estrada as a dominant figure in the sport. And importantly, Estrada authored that tight (but legit) unanimous decision over Sor Rungvisai — which avenged last year’s majority decision defeat — by his usual means: steady and strategic punch combinations and aggressive countermeasures in a bunch of middle-of-the-ring, toe-to-toe standoffs. You know, serious Clint Eastwood shit.
So why, you might ask, was Estrada — at 29, still seemingly operating within his prime years — compelled to hold his hands back, malinger along the ropes and all but curl into the fetal position for the first half of a fight with an opponent who took up the sport only a few years ago? Beamon, 34, a former college football and basketball player, has been a professional fighter for only four years. He was far from helpless, of course. Against Estrada, Beamon proved to be strong as a 115-pound ox, walking through some of the champion’s heaviest punches and at times bouncing El Gallo around the ring with a casual shoulder shrug or forearm shiver. He was quick on his feet, skittering in and out of the pocket on occasionally successful firebombing missions. But what he lacked was anything resembling world-class skill. Beamon routinely lunge-punched, careening off balance. He showcased the footwork of a newborn foal nursed on Tito’s vodka. He dropped a welcome mat at El Gallo’s feet that read PLEASE WIPE YOUR FEET AND COUNTERPUNCH ME. Dude brought a knife to a gunfight, and Estrada — in front of a record-breaking hometown Hermosillo crowd — chose to holster his fucking weapon.
But patience can be mistaken for pacifism. After a 1st round in which Estrada threw next to nothing, he scored two knockdowns on Beamon in round 2 that are best described as incidental. When Beamon landed a looping left hand to the head, shoved Estrada to the ropes and charged in for a follow-up, El Gallo snapped off a reflexive left hook that caught Beamon leaning, sending him slipping to the floor. Moments later, an Estrada body shot landed while Beamon was pitching forward, and when the challenger swiped his glove across the canvas while trying to regain his footing, El Gallo had bagged himself a 10-7 round by essentially defending himself. Blind old men in kung fu movies never made it look so easy.
Estrada demonstrated bona fide aggression in the third, popping Beamon with multiple combinations to the head to open the round. But just as quickly as it had come, the moment was gone. The challenger seemed ready to go with about a minute left when Estrada — either leery that Beamon might still be dangerous or simply winded after an extended assault — downshifted. Rather than going looking for a fight, Estrada went into screen saver mode. Beamon would launch forward, and in return, Estrada would offer a lazy shoulder roll, poise a glove to absorb just enough of the blow or retreat to the ropes. The challenger was working hard, if not smart — moving heaven and earth to land an occasional jab or hook to the body here, a rare power shot there, and his confidence gradually swelled. Beamon’s technique was a train wreck, but his power was a threat and his conditioning top-notch. Meanwhile, Estrada poked intermittently at Beamon’s left eye, inviting his opponent to sustain the attack by lounging against the ropes tauntingly, forcing Beamon to chase, hustle, huff and puff for minimal payoff. In the middle rounds, Estrada fought like the soggiest of wet blankets — but did so entirely on his terms. The trap was set.
Estrada steamed forward in the seventh with a clean body-body-headshot combination, catching the crowd’s attention and instantly dictating a new script: full speed ahead. Later, a hard right hand from Estrada opened Beamon up, inviting a vicious uppercut follow-up. Beamon, though wobbly, weathered the storm and even caught Estrada late — but only to leave himself exposed again, the champion hammering a flush right hand up top to send Beamon out over his skis just before the bell.
Estrada was stalking Beamon now, unloading a body shot, left hook and uppercut, and landing right hands at will to bloody the challenger’s left eye. “You gotta box, dog, you gotta box,” Beamon’s trainer told him after the 8th. But it was a tad late for lessons, and besides: Beamon was gassed and living on borrowed time with that cut opening up. From the start of the ninth, “Mr. Stop Running” was on the back foot, barely responsive and guarding his left eye come hell or high water. Estrada, throwing laser-guided straight rights at the cut, forced Beamon against the ropes, where El Gallo uncorked a solid body shot, then back to the head with a left hook, right hand and another hook before referee Abdiel Barragan side-stepped between the fighters to end Beamon’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night.
Whether Estrada’s possum-playing was a premeditated tactic or an organic development stemming from the flow of the fight, it validated El Gallo’s judgment, timing, and pliability as impeccable. Fighters at the highest levels typically impose their personal style on a fight, leaning into their strengths and demanding that opponents adapt or die. Estrada’s performance — a self-determined, real-time adaptation — turned that notion on its head. Nature isn’t always an adrenaline-fueled chase, two fangs to the base of the skull and a violently arranged denouement. Sometimes it’s a veil of quiet harmlessness suddenly lifted, a pang of dread and a quick end.
(Photo by Ed Mulholland for Matchroom Boxing USA)