By Kieran Mulvaney
CARSON, Calif -- This time, there was no doubt. Six months after leaving Madison Square Garden with a world title via a disputed decision win over previously unbeaten Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai underlined that he is the real deal by defeating Gonzalez again, this time with a decisive and dramatic knockout that surely brought down the curtain on the Chocolatito era.
The fight did not last long, the end coming at 1:18 of the fourth round, but the StubHub crowd loved every moment of it, and with good reason. The duration may have been brief, but the action was intense from the opening bell, each man tearing into the other with singular viciousness and a fusillade of punches. There was little nuance, little setting up, just two skilled and ferocious fighters standing in each other’s wheelhouse and opening fire. Gonzalez, noticeably the smaller man, found perhaps his greater success at the closest of ranges, while Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KOs) had the most impact when able to gain just that little bit more distance in order to benefit his longer arms and torqued punches.
Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KOs) a notoriously slow starter, was greatly outworked in the first round, throwing just 31 punches to the 71 of his opponent, granting early credence to the notion that, after almost 50 frequently hard-fought bouts, he was entering a late-career decline. But he stayed on his feet, unlike in the opening frame of their first contest in March, which could also be seen as progress of sorts. And indeed, in the second and third rounds, he matched Sor Rungvisai in both punches thrown and landed. He was giving as good as he got – almost. Whereas Chocolatito’s punches landed in fast combinations to Sor Rungvisai’s body and head, the Thai fighter’s punches physically moved Gonzalez backward and sideways. And the beating Sor Rungvisai laid on Gonzalez’s body in the third augured poorly for the Mexican’s prospects in the later rounds.
In the event, those later rounds would not come. In the fourth, Sor Rungvisai knocked Gonzalez sideways twice with big right hands, backed him off with punches to the body, and then stepped forward and uncorked a short right. Gonzalez did likewise, but Sor Rungvisai’s landed first, and Gonzalez toppled downward, crashing to the canvas on his side. He nodded to referee Tom Taylor that he was OK, and after rising he returned to the fray. But Sor Rungvisai was a man on a deadly mission, and another right and a left sent Gonzalez to his back, where Taylor waved off the contest without a count.
It is testament to the nature of the contest that, of a combined 138 punches landed by both men, just four were jabs – none of them landed by Sor Rungvisai.
Gonzalez was on the canvas for several minutes, and when he sat up, it was with the saddened recognition of a man who realized his time at the top had come crashing to an end in the cruelest of ways, as so often happens in this cruelest of sports.
For Sor Rungvisai, however, the future is bright.
“I trained really hard for four months,” he declared. “I knew I would knock him out.” Asked who he wanted to fight next, he declared, “I am afraid of no one.” With a performance like Saturday’s, nor should he be.
Naoya Inoue’s US debut was a dominant one, the unbeaten and highly-touted Japanese softening up, beating up, dropping and stopping overmatched Antonio Nieves after six one-sided rounds. Inoue (14-0, 12 KOs), stalked Nieves from the first bell, backing him up repeatedly with a stiff jab and following that up with thudding right hands. To his credit, Nieves was able to absorb many of the blows on the gloves that he kept pinned to his face behind a high guard; but slowly and surely, Inoue walked him down and dismantled him. It was clear, even from ringside, that despite being 115 pounds, Inoue carries thumping power, as evidenced by the fact that at one point he was able tp keep Nieves pinned to the ropes with his jab alone. After a few rounds of tenderizing Nieves (17—2-2, 9 KOs), Inoue moved up a gear in the fifth, targeting the American’s body and dropping him to one knee with a left hook below the ribcage. For the rest of the round, and in the sixth, he brutalized his opponent’s torso, pounding the fight out of his constantly retreating foe, until Nieves’ corner pulled their man from the contest between rounds.
In the opening bout, Juan Francisco Estrada scored a tenth round knockdown and used his serious punching power and technique to secure a close but unanimous decision win over a game and determined Carlos Cuadras. Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KOs) started brightly, scoring with a stiff jab and left hooks, and firing off combinations to body and head while utilizing deft footwork to leave Estrada chugging ineffectually after him. Estrada began to steer Cuadras into some straight counterpunches in the second, but his activity level was too low for him to win many, or perhaps even any, of the opening rounds; every time it appeared that Estrada (36-2, 26 KOs) was on the verge of reeling Cuadras in and asserting control, his opponent unleashed another torrent of activity to seize the initiative back.
Cuadras’ punches were looping and wide, however, and as his energy level dipped slightly, Estrada was increasingly able to close the distance, until suddenly in the sixth he exploded into action, sending a sequence of right hands thudding into Cuadras’ head. He did the same in the seventh, now stalking Cuadras, who continued to fire off combinations but to progressively less effect. An Estrada right hand dropped Cuadras onto his rear in the tenth, but still Cuadras battled back. His punches were relatively ineffectual, however, whereas Estrada appeared to shake him to the core each time he landed cleanly; even so, Cuadras was firing furious combinations in a desperate attempt to pull out the win as the bell rang to end the fight.
It appeared clear that, despite falling behind early, Estrada had done enough to win, and there were furious boos throughout the StubHub Center when the decision was initially announced in favor of Cuadras. That was swiftly corrected, however, with all three judges scoring 114-113 for Estrada.
By Kieran Mulvaney