It seems like a lifetime ago … yet fast forward to today, a rematch which has been in the making for close to a decade remains as perhaps the most mouthwatering fight the sport can serve us.
When they first clashed that night in 17 November 2012, nobody could have envisaged that the forthcoming years would charter the meteoric rise, fall and resurrection of one of boxing’s all time great little man, the Nicaraguan wonder Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez. Standing opposite him, below, was Mexican prodigy, Juan Francisco Estrada, who at the time was a 26-1 prospect with little fanfare and a directory of sublime skills.
Twelve compelling rounds was all it took to forever intertwine two of the best little men that will ever dance under the bright lights.
Gonzalez won a unanimous decision in what was not only one of the best fights that year but one of the best in divisional history. Many observers felt Estrada did enough to nick it and that was enough to cause mouths to salivate at the tantalising prospect of a second installment.
Except it never came.
Timing issues compounded with Gonzalez seeking to become his country’s only four division world champion and a public desire to be paid at least a million dollars for any rematch with Estrada meant it never happened. And as time stretched its wings and sailed into the distance, we wondered if we’d ever see the rematch again, a perilous thought especially in a sport as unpredictable as boxing. One day you are the standard by which all fighters are judged. The next, you are just a doormat.
What made initially made the rematch so compelling was the sheer quality of both men demonstrated over the course of those original 12 stanzas. Fast forward to today and that remains an understatement. It was only during that passage of time between then and now did we really learn that these guys aren’t good. They aren’t great either. They are sensational, generational talents whose true greatness became ostensible under the microscope.
The ascent of ‘Chocolatito’ is well documented. Needing to freshen up its boxing roster and stale ideas, Gonzalez was drafted into the states by HBO and became one of the network’s must-see attractions. He was given featured spots on major HBO cards and his critical acclaim by fans and the media led to ‘Chocolatito’ lording over the superfly division and becoming the face of the newly formed ‘Superfly’ series, a stacked tripleheader series showcasing some of the best fighters at 115 lbs. ‘Chocolatito’ became a rock star – he made the little guys cool again. It was during these peak years of 2015 and 2017 where he fulfilled the wishes of his mentor Alexis Arguello, becoming the first and only four division boxing champion to hail from Nicaragua. And in the process of fulfilling this destiny, he plugged in the vacuum left by the departure of Floyd Mayweather and became the best pound for pound fighter on the planet. Yes, you read that right. The pound for pound number one boxer on the planet. And don’t let anyone ever even suggest Gonzalez didn’t deserve such a regal status because he did. He was that damn great.
As for Estrada? The nature of the first fight and the time that passed morphed Estrada into the Juan Manuel Marquez to Gonzalez’s Pacquaio, an apt description given Estrada is stylistically the closest thing boxing has today to the Mexican legend. Estrada followed up that bitter loss with the one thing he does best – winning, whether that be winning titles at flyweight or super flyweight or over elite competition such as Brian Viloria, Hernan Marquez, Giovani Segura and Carlos Cuadras, Estrada remained the Mexican reaper, forever breathing down the neck of Gonzalez, biding his time in the shadows waiting for his vengeance.
An unlikely obstacle in Thai machine Sor Rungvisai would change fate and bookend the careers of two rivals into entirely different trajectories.
Sor Rungvisai dethroned Gonzalez twice and became the man Gonzalez could not beat. Estrada too lost a close one to Sor Rungvisai but avenged his defeat in a dominant schooling. Where Gonzalez fell, Estrada rose.
The crumbling of the Roman Empire led to Gonzalez falling off the top of the boxing mountain. But where ashes lie do phoenix’s rise and that reminder was as poetic as ever when Gonzalez turned back the clock this past February in a performance of the year candidate knockout victory over undefeated Kal Yafai for the IBF title. It was the mini version of Duran savaging Moore, the old master rewinding the hands of time, reminding those watching that although form is temporary, class is permanent.
The rematch talk once again spiced up and Gonzalez wrote his name into one half of the equation with a masterful boxing shutout over Israel Gonzalez this past Friday.
There he was, miniature in stature but bedazzling bigger men with enough skills to topple mountains. He’s not as great as he once was but there remains enough class in the Nicaraguan’s tank to give you the hint there remains one epic performance in him.
Estrada travelled a much tougher route to write his name into the second half of the equation, climbing off the canvas and toppling a game Carlos Cuadras in one of the best fights the year 2020 will offer. Heart, balls, skills, Mexican style – it was all on display and with an emphatic 11th round TKO victory, Estrada closed the chapter of his rivalry with Cuadras.
One rematch leading to another.
Their forthcoming Part 2 isn’t a cash out bout or one between two old men or lacking historical significance. On the line will be the unified IBF, WBC and Ring Magazine super flyweight titles. That’s in addition to not only becoming the king of the superflys but also shaking things up in the pound for pound list. A Gonzalez victory will put to rest any controversy which may have lingered since 2012 and grant him re-entry into boxing’s roundtable of elite, a remarkable achievement for a living legend who is 33, ancient in the smaller divisions. Revenge for Estrada will grant him the career defining victory he has craved for so long and put to rest the demons which have haunted him for so long – the Gonzalez loss remains the only loss which Estrada has yet to avenge in his career.
Last Friday, both men sealed the deal. One in dominant fashion, the other in dramatic fashion. They remain the two faces of a division which has captivated audiences for years thanks to its blend of skill, speed, power and greatness. Between the two, every foe has been beaten – Gonzalez has beaten everyone except Rungvisai, Estrada beat Rungvisai but Gonzalez has beaten him. Gonzalez has aged but remains a living legend, a future Hall of Famer who may be a few steps slower but remains that perfect whirlwind of come forward pressure, catch and shoot defence, combination punching, impeccable punch selection, variation, accuracy, stamina and an unnerving desire in toppling bigger men.
Estrada is in peak form, leaving behind his previous hand injuries to become an ivory chess piece of a boxer, a complete technician who patiently stalks his prey, maintaining poise in the midst of adversity, capable of transitioning between offence and defence, smooth as silk and just so damn calm.
If only we could have this rematch now. Alas, we must wait that little bit longer but it promises to be worth it. Repeat or revenge. Bring on 2021.