The Roman Gonzalez era of boxing is now definitively over. In a night of super flyweight bouts on HBO, the recently deposed and long-ruling pound-for-pound king got knocked out by Srikaset Sor Rungvisai, in a rematch of a hotly disputed decision.
It was a Saturday evening that shined a spotlight on the depth and excitement of the division, but the main event was a sad anticlimax. We all saw Gonzalez fading with age and as he moved up in weight, but the suddenness of Gonzalez’s decline put a dour note on an otherwise promising series of match-ups.
Sor Rungvisai fought well, extremely well, against Gonzalez earlier this year. He just didn’t deserve the win. Still, we’d seen the once-dominant Gonzalez struggle in a series of bouts, including against Carlos Cuadras. Moving up in weight from 105 to 115 was taking a toll on his ability to do damage and take it, and turning 30 for a little man isn’t usually a good thing.
As competitive as the first fight was, Gonzalez never got it going against Sor Rungvisai this time. He was starting to throw punches in combo like he usually does around the 2nd round, but Sor Rungvisai still out-worked him. A big right hand in the 4th dropped Gonzalez. Another ended it, forcing Gonzalez to take a trip to the hospital.
Gonzalez was one of the finest little men in decades. He isn’t anymore. That’s fine. HBO saying this loss is all we’ll remember him for is silly. The Hall of Fame will call soon enough, if he retires as he should. His career, not one loss, will define him.
The good news for HBO, which banked a lot on Gonzalez, is that there are still a couple great match-ups in the division, and Sor Rungvisai — who’s both good and exciting — figures into the picture.
In the fight just before, Japan’s Naoya Inoue won his U.S. debut showcase against Antonio Nieves. Nieves started like someone who would be a solid foe, with good defense and solid timing on his punches. But before long Inoue’s ability (his jab, his speed, his power) took over, and Nieves was just trying to last. A 5th round body shot knockdown heralded the beginning of the end. The extra 6th round the corner and ref gave him was ample, and they stopped it appropriately thereafter.
The best fight of the night pitted the aforementioned Cuadras against Juan Francisco Estrada, both of whom had given Gonzalez a rough night. In what seemed like a tactical mistake, Estrada started slow, giving away much of the first half of the fight, but perhaps he was just pacing himself for his big second half of the fight, which featured much greater punch volume and a big right hand knockdown in the 10th. It was a nip and tuck, back and forth affair with plenty of sizzling exchanges and technical metronome style versus freewheeling rhythm style, but Estrada won the decision 114-113 on all three scorecards, even though ring announcer Michael Buffer flubbed it by announcing Cuadras had won.
Gonzalez’s lackluster showing when a competitive loss would have kept him viable diminishes the depth of the division. But put Sor Rungvisai, Inoue, Estrada and Cuadras in the ring together for a mini-tournament and you’ve still got three wonderful fights. Mix it up, fellas.