“When we are no longer able to change our situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
You could waste a thousand lifetimes trying to describe life more succinctly than that. Ultimately, we submit, are destroyed, or we adapt. It happens a thousand times a day, and we either don’t realize it or try to forget, but it’s there. It happens. No one watches ourselves crash into our situations because it’s not really very interesting. The wars we see within our heads mostly exist only in that space, have most often been won long ago and we largely keep them going because we have no idea what else to do. We’re as crippled by a lack of bravery and imagination as we are circumstance, and the vast majority will do everything they can to avoid having to answer those uncomfortable questions that are asked when we have to change something.
Saturday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Tex., lineal super flyweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada will meet all-time great Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez on DAZN. The questions they ask of each other will be much more corporeal and much more uncomfortable than the ones we are asked. And if history is any indication, they will ask thousands.
Their first bout, contested at junior flyweight on the undercard of Tyson Marquez vs Brian Viloria in 2012, is everything you need to know about the fighters. Gonzalez, 25 at the time, was rampaging through his second division collecting scalps and was beginning to be spoken about in hushed tones. Estrada, then only 22, was largely unknown but considered a good prospect. Before that fight, neither man knew how good they truly were, and neither did we. What we got was greatness being revealed a layer at a time. When Gonzalez found more pace and variety in his attack, Estrada countered with increased accuracy and ferocity. Neither man could break the other and they flatly refused to wilt.
It seems absurd to expect the same from them eight years and seven pounds later, but we do. And we have good reason to. Estrada (41-3, 28 KO) is 30 years old, lineal champion, and one of the most technically gifted fighters on the planet. He counterpunches in combination with fluidity and precision seldom seem more than a few times in a generation. He has excellent balance, good power, frightening accuracy and innate irascibility that often leads to him fighting recklessly against opponents just for the fun of it. Estrada isn’t the kind of fighter who just beats you. He wants you to *know* you were beaten. Since losing to Gonzalez, Estrada won belts at 108 and 112 pounds before moving up to junior bantamweight, along the way collecting wins against Brian Viloria, Giovanni Segura, Hernan Marquez, and Carlos Cuadras (twice). The lone blemish was a tight majority decision loss to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2018 that was avenged by a similarly tight unanimous decision victory in 2019. With that fight, Estrada became lineal super flyweight champion and settled one of his two remaining accounts.
Chocolatito Gonzalez (50-2, 41 KO) is 33 years old, and already on his second life. The hushed tones around his name in 2012 grew into a full roar, and Gonzalez became a star, full stop, not just a darling of hardcore fans and insomniac YouTube enthusiasts. Flyweights, no matter how super, seldom fight as the chief supporting bout on HBO at Madison Square Garden. Gonzalez did and consistently justified his placement. If you’re new to the sport, you may be forgiven for not knowing that the finest technicians can also be relentless knockout machines that systematically outbox opponents as they destroy their will to continue and brutally take their consciousness. They don’t come along often, but when they do, you have to get as much of them as you can, and we did. In 2016, after clearing out flyweight completely — junior flyweight and strawweight before it — Gonzalez moved up to 115 pounds and won a clear unanimous decision against Carlos Cuadras. People wondered if Chocolatito’s inability to put Cuadras away was a sign of slippage or if he’d simply outgrown his punching power (Cuadras has four losses: A competitive decision to Gonzalez, a razor-thin majority decision loss to McWilliams Arroyo, a competitive decision to Estrada and a knockout at the end of a competitive fight with Estrada).
Gonzalez’s next opponent was the aforementioned Sor Rungvisai, a brick-fisted Thai who’d gone 1-3-1 in his first five professional bouts, won 26 straight, then dropped a technical decision to Cuadras before winning another 15 straight. The Rat King, so named for his favorite meal of roast bandicoot rat (yes, seriously), opened cuts over Gonzalez’s eye and on his scalp with head butts, constantly filling Chocolatito’s right eye with red effluent. Between butts, Sor Rungvisai showed he could take Gonzalez’s best punches while moving forward and land plenty of his own in the process. The pair battled on even terms for 12 of the most ferocious rounds you will ever see. The feeling afterward was that Sor Rungvisai had taken more out of Gonzalez than vice versa. The rematch was Chocolatito’s highest-profile fight yet, headlining a card of smaller fighters dubbed ‘Super Fly.’ But what looked to be the case in Gonzalez-Sor Rungvisai I — that the Thai had done more damage — turned out to be just that when Sor Rungvisai brutally stopped Gonzalez in four rounds.
It seemed that Chocolatito was done, but after fighting only once in 2018 and 2019 against marginal opposition, Gonzalez rebounded with an excellent 2020, stopping Khalid Yafai and then cruised home to a wide unanimous decision against Israel Gonzalez. He was not the same destructive force that he’d been in younger years, but it wasn’t necessary. Lost in all the poetic ramblings about his prior dominance is just how absurdly skilled Gonzalez is. There is no wasted motion and his balance is as close to perfect as can be. He can change his punches, his upper body and his foot angles seemingly at will. Like the elder Manny Pacquiao, Gonzalez has adopted a more economical strategy of dominating in spurts and controlling the action with distance while he takes a breather. If you’re good enough, and those two are, it even looks like you’re pressing the action.
None of that is why we’re here, but all of that is why we’re here. We’re here because cruising against Estrada, even just for a moment, will get you knocked out. And any momentary drop in defensive attention or lapse of ferocity against Gonzalez will end in the same. If you’re not prepared to find a new best with every breath, either of these men will run you out of the ring.
That’s why they’re here too. Greatness requires blood sacrifice, and the greater the sacrifice, the greater the glory. Saturday night, both men aim to be the priest wielding a blade at their own altar.