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Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman Gonzalez II: Do Not Miss This Fight

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  • Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman Gonzalez II: Do Not Miss This Fight

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    By Matt McGrain

    Of all the sequels that boxing could make, Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman Gonzalez II, staged this weekend in Dallas, Texas, is the most fascinating. Superflyweight has been over-delivering on top-class competition for years now but this being the second Gonzalez-Estrada fight, coming more than eight years after the original, makes it special even for 115lbs.

    Their first fight was a classic and classical, a combat of legitimate intensity fought at the highest-level boxing can deliver. Estrada, fast-handed, longer and taller than Gonzalez, started fast and stayed fast while Gonzalez, immediately aware of an unexpected danger, sunk tactical boreholes to try to find the answer. The answer, as it happened, was as old as boxing, a pressure and corner style, paying tolls, picking himself to win two thirds of the spells of technical craftsmanship they swapped inside, Estrada dangerous with uppercuts, Gonzalez lashing him with the compact combinations that made him famous.

    It was close and remained close and many of the rounds were close and this was unexpected. Estrada was unrated and underrated, 26-1 and had never fought in a twelve-round fight. I think about that sometimes; Estrada fought his first twelve round fight against an absolute monster of a champion in Roman Gonzalez, an all-time-great pound-for-pounder. Estrada took an early lead in the fight, was pegged back by a tactical adjustment and began to fight his way out of the predicament. Then Gonzalez adjusted again.

    Estrada was inexperienced and unheralded; he is anything but that now.

    Ranked number nine pound-for-pound by TBRB he is the reigning champion of a 115lb division which remains the deepest in all of boxing, he is thirty years old and 41-3, in his physical prime and is coming off a stoppage victory over Carlos Cuadras, a man who took Gonzalez to the absolute edge in 2016.

    “I am stronger and have more desire than the first fight,” said Estrada in the build-up. “In the first fight, I was 21 years old, and I had no experience of big international fights, he was a pound-for-pound star at that time, but now I think this time it favours me.”

    It is impossible to verify that the established Estrada is more motivated than he was as a twenty-one-year-old with none of the material trappings he has since gathered, but everything else he says is irrefutably true. And there is more.

    “We are fighting two weight classes above the first fight, so it is already very different. I know that I can win this time. I know it’s a tough fight and I think it will be a better fight, but I have already faced him, I know his qualities and I feel that I can beat a fighter who has been knocked out.”

    Here, Estrada touches upon two key points. First is size; there can be little doubt that the 115lb limit suits Estrada more than Gonzalez. 115lbs was always going to be the absolute roof for Roman, a short, stocky fighter who brings pressure and absorbs punishment despite an elite defence, he can ill-afford to take on bigger men. That he has made it from 105lbs to 115lbs is in itself a testimony to his surprising elusiveness; but these returns have been diminishing as the smaller man has aged.

    Which brings us to Estrada’s second point. Gonzalez, at thirty-three, an advanced age for a fighter who turned professional at 105lbs, has been in wars, and he has been hit and has been hurt. He is indeed a fighter “who has been knocked out” having been devasted by Wisaksil Wangek as long ago as 2017. Since, Gonzalez has glimmered, smouldered, but never blazed as he did in the days when he was tearing top fighters to pieces. Estrada sees something different now than he did the first time he looked upon Gonzalez, and the confidence is clearly flowing.

    Gonzalez, meanwhile, is training principally for power. This makes sense. His first attack in earnest upon 115lbs saw him match Carlos Cuadras in 2016. It would be an exaggeration to say that Cuadras walked through him – that ignominy awaits at bantamweight should he have an unfortunate rush of blood – but it was shocking to see Cuadras live with him for spells of exchanges. This limitation was then firmly underlined by Wangek and since, Gonzalez has been matched stiffly but not dangerously. In terms of quality of opponent, Estrada is the first to represent a callback to an opponent as good as Wangek since that knockout loss.

    “One of the things we are working on is long combinations. He threw more than 1000 blows in the previous fight, but now he`s punching with greater power,” trainer Marcos Caballero told Boxing Scene. “We are going to war with Estrada.”

    Talk of war is well and good but the postscript was more interesting to me:

    “We know the quality of the opponent, but we trust that in the ring, the one who arrives better prepared and with the best strategy, will win. That will be us.”

    Roman’s strategy in the first fight, was war. He recognised quickly that he was being presented with a different proposition than he had been prepared for and adjusted accordingly. The final adjustment he made was to introduce in earnest his left-hook. It was awful to watch and underlined Estrada’s toughness for all time.

    Remember, this was not superfly Gonzalez who bounces hard punches off hard fighters; this was light-fly Gonzalez who steamrolled those he could hit. At the beginning of the eighth, as Estrada tried to operate his own right, having slipped behind in the fight for the first time, Gonzalez repeatedly landed his torpedo-like left-hook and riffed behind it with increasingly fluid, terror-laden combinations. Gonzalez is the best combination puncher in history below 112lbs – with apologies to Ricardo Lopez fans – and when he finds that afterburner, he is essentially impossible to beat.

    The problem is that these torque-filled punches have proven resistible at 115lbs – that is why the interest in power-punching during training. Estrada was perhaps the only man below 115lbs that really stood up to these punches in a meaningful way, in a way that allowed him the opportunity, at least, of turning the tide. Of the five available rounds after Gonzalez ignited his left, he won three of them; but it is notable that Estrada was able to outfight his prestigious foe in what must have felt to both men a key twelfth round. Still, the predominance or otherwise of the Gonzalez left hook may determine the result of this fight.

    Round eight will be too late this time, I suspect. Estrada was close to being too big for Gonzalez first time around and that was in a weight division that better suited the smaller man. Now Estrada is in the weight division that he arguably most belongs in while there is ever a sense that Gonzalez is waiting in the knowledge of the bigger man. The law of Joe Louis says this though: once a puncher has found a mover, he has found him for all time. While I am not suggesting Gonzalez is the equal of Louis, he is, or at least was of that class by my eye; there is a possibility that having found Estrada with his left in the eighth of the last fight, he will find him in the first of this, their second fight, regardless of how long has elapsed. In the first fight Estrada bagged the first two rounds, the key punch perhaps the uppercut; Gonzalez needs to meet and greet that punch with one of his own and outfight the bigger, younger, faster man early, a tall order for even a great fighter.

    Roman Gonzalez looks different now. His face, full even at 105lbs in a boyish way, has taken on the puffiness of a civilian. He never wore the visage of a fighter but he is beginning to look like the favourite uncle of your youth. He talks openly of retirement. He knows some ending is approaching.

    He is a dramatic underdog here, in the twilight of his career. Should he win, he will match Wangek in a second dramatic rematch. If he loses it will be retirement or the continued career of a fighter with problems. There is nowhere for Gonzalez to go if Estrada masters him; 118lbs would be a dangerous disaster, 112lbs is beyond the reach of his pugilist’s body. Either he becomes the champion of a division in which he has always walked the tightrope or his career as an elite sportsman is over.

    Estrada could stand to lose and box on, even 118lbs not entirely beyond his lither frame but elite sports is so rarely about “who wants it more.” It is about who is better. I believe Estrada is a better 115lb boxer than Gonzalez – therefore I pick him to win a fight that feels close, with close rounds, but where the scorecards speak of a comfortable win, somewhere in the region of 117-111.

    But - keep your eyes peeled for that Gonzalez left early in the fight. I’ve been publishing fight reports on Roman Gonzalez for more than a decade now and if it is said of him that he is training for war, I believe it. Winning a war remains his last best chance of becoming a champion once more.

    At the risk of sounding redundant, do not miss this fight.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

  • #2
    Well first thanks for the write up, I was hyped about this fight when I first heard about it but have stayed hesitant to get too far into it due to all things with cancellations lately. But I did watch the first fight yesterday and I remembered it as I was watching yes it was a great fight 8 years ago. I have to leave it to those with the pen to talk it up at this point. But I have to say you put an extra spark on this one. What did you say ? DON'T MISS THIS FIGHT you are right on that one. Today is Wednesday so it looks like I can start to make a few calls now get things lined up. Yea it feels right.

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