Monday, September 11, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Superfly

The lasting image of Saturday's Superfly card will forever be Roman Gonzalez, the former pound-for-pound king, sprawled out on the canvas after a deadly right hook from Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. In one sense, Saturday's fight represented an end of an era. Gonzalez, the dynamo from the lighter weights who had captured the imagination of boxing fans and network executives, no longer represented an unstoppable, frenetic force. And while that's all true, Saturday wasn't the end of his legacy, but only a specific chapter of a potentially much larger story. The card featured perhaps 5 of the top 25 fighters in the world on HBO World Championship Boxing, an unheard of number of top talents on one broadcast. That all materialized only because of Gonzalez's exceptionalism.  

Superfly's opener was a fantastic matchup of two former Gonzalez victims, Juan Estrada and Carlos Cuadras, who were in line for potential rematches with Roman. The middle fight of the card was headlined by Japanese star Naoya Inoue, seen by many as the biggest threat in the 115-lb. division. And, of course, Gonzalez himself topped the action against his Thai nemesis, Srisaket. 

HBO hadn't been a consistent investor in the lower weights for over 20 years prior to Gonzalez. Because of his scintillating style and the rapt affection of his devotees, the network broke from recent traditions and decided to feature an obscure Nicaraguan who had fought mostly in Central America and Japan. This was not a typical page from HBO's playbook. Only because of Gonzalez's success and magnetism did a major U.S. boxing network scrap its traditional rules for how it showcases the sport. 

Sure, it would've been nice had HBO been on board with Gonzalez a few years earlier, when he was in his prime. Fights against Estrada, Francisco Rodriguez and Akira Yaegashi would've wound up making Gonzalez an even bigger star had they been in America. And in that era, there was no one else in the sport quite like Roman. 

Thus, Saturday served as some stiff medicine for many of Roman Gonzalez's biggest fans, and other boxing observers who delighted in seeing the best in the sport. Gonzalez's presence helped democratize boxing in America. For a brief window, the world of boxing had opened up to U.S. fans. No longer needing to trawl the Internet at ungodly hours in hopes of catching a grainy feed from Japan, now hardcore boxing fans could see the best in the sport on their own TV screens. Perhaps even more importantly, Gonzalez helped reinforce the crucial notion that great boxers can fight at any weight and can come from even the most far-flung boxing outposts. 

Hopefully HBO will stick with the little guys. The 115-lb. division is the deepest it has been in generations. In addition to Srisaket, Estrada, Cuadras and Inoue, super flyweight/junior bantamweight also features excellent talents such as Khalid Yafai, Jerwin Ancajas and John Riel Casimero. Not one of these fighters is American, or often fights in the U.S., but they are all worthy of attention. 


Things were amiss for Roman Gonzalez from the beginning of Saturday's rematch. In the first round, he fought very tentatively. Trying to box from range, Gonzalez couldn't accomplish anything of note. Even when he attempted to get inside, his forays lacked conviction and he seemed wary of Srisaket's power punches and mauling style. 

In essence, Roman Gonzalez was defeated rounds before he was actually stopped. For if Roman Gonzalez wasn't going to fight in his patented daredevil style, would he even still be Roman Gonzalez? How could he expect to win then? He didn't beat people from range. The best way for him to overcome his disadvantages in size and reach would be in close. 

Andre Ward made a key point during the fight when he talked about how Gonzalez was far too concerned about Srisaket's head butting. To him, if Gonzalez's attention was devoted to self-protection, then he wasn't actively thinking about ways to win the fight. It was a shrewd observation and Ward correctly noticed Gonzalez's hesitancy and caution. 

Saturday wasn't a continuation of their epic first fight from earlier in the year. Srisaket fought with confidence throughout the match; there was no retreat from him. He also was much sharper with his right hook than he had been in the initial bout. In addition, Gonzalez's defensive reflexes had continued their decline from where they had been earlier in his career. In the past, he would be hit with big shots here and there but now he couldn't avoid Srisaket's bombs. 

Trading power punches in the fourth round, Srisaket landed first with a right hook that sent Gonzalez to the canvas. Later in the round, Srisaket navigated himself around Gonzalez to land an unguarded and unseen right hook, the Holy Grail of punches – the  free shot! Gonzalez remained supine on the canvas for several moments after the punch; he was finished. Srisaket had defeated him physically, technically and psychologically. It looked like one of those Humpty Dumpty knockouts, whereby it's uncertain if Gonzalez will ever be able to put himself back together again.  

In one sense, Srisaket is a fairly limited fighter. He's essentially a two-punch guy, with just a straight left and a right hook. There's nothing particularly clever about him or how he goes about fighting. However, both of his main punches are real knockout weapons. In addition, he has several intangibles that elevate him above his raw technical attributes. His motor is unstoppable. He has loads of self-belief. He's not afraid to get hit. He also features a relentless determination in the ring. 

Srisaket took enormous punishment early and late in the first Gonzalez fight. However, he was the far more confident fighter on Saturday. Although he has had 49 professional bouts, so few of them have been on the world level. It's certainly possible that his experiences from the first Gonzalez fight have led to improvement, both technically and with his own confidence level. 

Soon to be 31, Srisaket is approaching the territory where many smaller fighters (such as Gonzalez) start to decline rapidly. It's certainly possible that Srisaket meets a similar fate in his next few fights. However, Srisaket has also engaged in very few fights of note over his career. He could still be well preserved with another two or three good years left in him. Either way, I hope to see much more of him. 


Way back in 2013, Juan Estrada defeated unified 112-lb. champion Brian Viloria in one of the more impressive performances of the year. After a competitive first third of the fight, Estrada turned on the jets and comprehensively beat Viloria with a stunning array of boxing, power punches and movement. On that day, Estrada looked like truly one of the elite fighters in the sport. In his previous outing, he had dropped down to 108 lbs. to fight Gonzalez. Estrada gave a great account of himself, but he was a little too green for that fight (he was just 22) and Gonzalez's consistent pressure and volume were enough to get the decision. In Estrada's three fights after Viloria, he continued to look like one of the best talents in boxing, decisively beating Milan Melindo (who is currently a 108-lb. champ), Richie Mepranum and Giovani Segura.

It should be stated that the Estrada of that era was far different than the fighter who defeated Carlos Cuadras by the slimmest of margins on Saturday. The 2013/14 version of Estrada had the entire package. He moved gracefully in the ring. A spectacular combination puncher, he had numerous knockout weapons. Defensively, he was responsible and was always ready to counter. 

Since the Segura fight, Estrada hadn't faced one fighter of consequence until Saturday. Injuries, promotional problems and unrealistic financial demands kept him from a Gonzalez rematch and other big fights during that period. But Saturday wasn't an example of ring rust. Physically, he no longer resembled his best self. To my eyes, Saturday's version of Estrada was perhaps 70% of what he once was. Against Cuadras, he was a straight-line fighter. His shots were often just ones and twos. His defensive reflexes were poor in the early rounds. He got out-worked at a number of stages in the fight. 

That Estrada was able to find a way to beat a fighter as talented as Cuadras speaks to his intelligence and boxing technique. However, the 114-113 margins were razor thin (and there is certainly an argument that Cuadras could've won). Estrada did score an impressive knockdown in the 10th round from a short right hand and generally got the best of the later rounds. Many pointed out his resemblance to Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday – how he gradually made adjustments and won a fight against a more athletically talented fighter by intelligence and punch placement. But again, that comparison speaks mostly to the latter version of Marquez, who was far less mobile than he had been earlier in his career.  

Unfortunately, mainstream boxing fans, like they did with Roman, might have missed the best version of Estrada. He lost crucial years rehabbing from injuries and embroiling himself in the type of boxing politics that keeps a fighter out of the ring. At 27, he's not too old to go on a final run. Although he could certainly be competitive against Srisaket, he's no longer at his best. He may only have another 12-18 months at the top level of the sport. He should make them count. 

As for Cuadras, he continues to run hot-and-cold. He can look absolutely dominant for stretches of time or for specific rounds. When Cuadras is at his best, he appears to be one of the top fighters in the sport. However, he coasts, he gives inconsistent effort and he doesn't realize that other fighters get paid too. It's almost like it insults him that opposing fighters don't just give up after he finishes off a dazzling six-punch combination. And sometimes it seems as if Cuadras's real purpose in the ring is to amass an amazing highlight reel tape instead of fighting to win. In his losses to Gonzalez and Estrada, Cuadras could've done more. He neglects basic boxing fundamentals in favor of showmanship. Although there's something to be said for that, boxing fans like showmen who win. Furthermore, Cuadras hasn't fully grasped the need to fight consistently for three minutes a round. Yes, he may land the best combinations in every round, but that doesn't necessarily lead to winning a fight. 

Certainly this isn't the first time that these flaws have been pointed out. Cuadras remains a stubborn, talented and proud fighter. However, he'd have fewer losses in his career and a much healthier bank account if he'd heed the advice of his corner more often. They've stressed the need to be more defensively responsible and not trade recklessly. But Cuadras insists on doing it his own way. Hence, Cuadras remains just a step below the truly elite in the sport. Sure, on a good night he could pick up another title and give anyone a tough fight. However, he lacks the consistency to be at the top and it's a shame because the raw tools are there. 


Naoya Inoue made his American debut on Saturday with a stoppage win against overmatched Antonio Nieves. Displaying lethal left hooks to the body, poise and tremendous footwork, Inoue dominated virtually every second of the fight's six rounds. Inoue has ferocious power and with that knowledge he stalks opponents relentlessly. 

Inoue is only 24 but he's already had a quite a career. He's picked up belts in two divisions (108, 115) and dislodged the top guy in those respective classes to win his titles. Not that Adrian Hernandez or Omar Narvaez were elite fighters in a pound-for-pound sense, but they were the best of what was out there at the time. 

Already ranked as a top-ten fighter in the sport by many publications, Inoue has the opportunity to ascend toward the top should the right opponents be placed in front of him. HBO, in an odd bit of American chauvinism, kept treating Inoue as some type of prospect during the broadcast. Inoue is already one of the more established figures at 115. In addition to Narvaez, he also owns solid wins over David Carmona and former titlist Kohei Kono. In an otherwise strong broadcast, HBO hinted that Inoue perhaps wasn't ready for some of the other super flyweights on the card, which is nonsense; he's more than ready. 

Doing big business in Japan, it's unlikely that Inoue will become a permanent fixture on the American fight scene. But now aligned with K2 Promotions for his U.S. fights, perhaps he can come stateside every 12 or 18 months, further building his popularity globally.

Inoue has the power, charisma and youth to become a major international boxing star. Hopefully the powers that be strike while the iron is hot. Inoue has the potential to beat any of the tough fighters at 115 (although that's certainly not a guarantee). If his handlers allow themselves to be bold, they could wind up with a phenomenon on their hands.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of 
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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