Saturday, April 27, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Srisaket-Estrada II, Roman-Doheny

Friday's fight card at the Forum in Inglewood, California produced thrilling action, head-scratching decisions and world-class boxing at the highest level. In the main event, Juan Estrada boxed masterfully and survived a late threat by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai to avenge his 2018 loss, winning by unanimous decision and claiming a junior bantamweight title. And as entertaining as that fight was, the co-feature surpassed it. The junior featherweight unification bout between Daniel Roman and TJ Doheny checked off all the boxes: wild swings of action, knockdowns, adjustments, and two boxers fighting for their lives. Roman won by majority decision and scored two knockdowns, but he had to survive a hellacious seventh round where he was perhaps one or two shots away from getting stopped. Although Friday's card didn't sell out, those who attended witnessed a fantastic night of boxing.

The main event certainly delivered sustained action, but the most memorable aspect was Srisaket's unusual decision to fight the first eight rounds of the bout in an orthodox stance (he had not previously been known for switch-hitting). In another surprise, he tried to out-box Estrada at mid-range, neglecting the pressure style that had been such a significant factor in his success. These were baffling choices. Estrada is one of the elite boxers and what brought Srisaket to the dance wasn't his boxing ability. Srisaket became a world-class fighter because of his relentless pressure, unconventional punches from the southpaw stance, and crunching power. Although he still displayed heavy hands throughout the fight, the bone rattling right hooks and straight left hands were replaced by less effective punches from the orthodox stance. 

Estrada connecting on Sor Rungvisai
Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Belatedly Sriskaet returned to the southpaw stance in the ninth round and lo and behold, he started to have sustained success. Within moments he was landing his characteristic combinations, such as lead right hook to the head/straight left to the chest, right hook to the body. And as elite as Estrada looked throughout much of the first eight rounds of the fight, suddenly he appeared to be far less menacing.

Srisaket continued to succeed in the southpaw stance in rounds 10 and 11 and hurt Estrada with a couple of big shots, but in a telling sign, he eased off the pressure in the 12th round, the perfect punctuation for a confounding performance. Overall, when Srisaket fought as a southpaw, he was better than Estrada, but Estrada's victory was deserved. He was the more consistent fighter over 12 rounds.

I had a bad take on the match as I was watching it live. Paraphrasing here, I tweeted out that the fight will be remembered more for Srisaket losing it than Estrada winning it. And although there is some truth to that, it's essentially a misreading of the fight. Srisaket switched to an orthodox boxer because he was spooked from their first fight. It was Estrada's success at countering Srisaket and beating him to the punch that made Srisaket reconsider his approach. Even when he reverted to southpaw on Friday, one could sense his wariness of Estrada's straight right hand. The switch to orthodox was an attempt at neutralizing Estrada's lead rights down the middle. But unfortunately for Srisaket, Estrada has such an array of offensive weapons that the strategy failed. As a result, Estrada's jab and left hook became much more of a factor in the rematch, and they were shots that landed throughout the fight.

Estrada deserves all the credit in the world for the win. In a game of "chicken," he made his opponent blink first. Overall, Estrada's well-rounded skill set secured the win. He fought Sor Rungvisai so convincingly in the first fight that Srisaket turned a strength into a weakness. And once in the orthodox stance, Srisaket wasn't a match for Estrada. The final scores of the fight were 115-113, 115-113 and 116-112, but in a sense those tallies, although explicable and defensible, didn't fully capture the essence of the fight. Yes, Rungvisai made it close at the end, but he was already well behind. Srisaket's defeat can be attributed to Estrada's myriad skills and Sor Rungvisai's profound respect for them.

At 32 Srisaket is at an age when many smaller-weight fighters start to implode and there were signs of slippage against Estrada. He refused to apply his customary pressure throughout most of the fight and displayed an unwillingness to go to war. He lacked confidence trying to box from the pocket and he seemed a long way off from the destructive force of nature who knocked out Roman Gonzalez 19 months ago. It should also be noted that Srisaket is now making decent money, is married, and no longer faces the same type of abject poverty that drove him to become a world-class fighter. Once a garbage man trying to subsist, now he has ascended the socioeconomic ladder. He's met the Thai president on multiple occasions and is recognized around the country.

This is not to say that Srisaket is finished as a world-class fighter, but it would certainly be understandable if he didn't have the same desire that he once did. Srisaket is a success story. He accomplished what he set out to achieve. Will he still have the desire to train as he once did? Will his mind and body allow him to fight in the style that gives him the best chance to succeed?

As for Estrada, in a career marked with notable victories, valiant defeats, injuries, and false hopes, he has finally secured the signature win of his career. And although Estrada has now established himself as one of the top fighters in the sport, the junior bantamweight division is so competitive that there's no guarantee he will continue to win. Estrada is 29, but that might be an older 29. He's already had a lot of wars. Going into Friday's fight, Estrada boasted that his training camp was the first in years that he was 100% injury-free. But how many more training camps will he be able to remain fully healthy? Was Friday the beginning of a new chapter in his career or will it be the final reminder of his greatness?

Overall, Srisaket and Estrada have provided boxing fans with two wonderful fights and have served as terrific ambassadors for the lower weight classes. Selfishly of course I'd love to see a third fight to settle the score, but there's no need to be greedy. Even if they never face each other again, they have demonstrated their supreme quality in the ring and have displayed a willingness to compete against the best in the sport. Whatever next steps they choose, they have earned it. 


Unification fights are rare in boxing. And even rarer is a unification fight that didn't require a lengthy marination period. Refreshingly, there was no building to Roman-Doheny, no need for the junior featherweight champs to space out their tough fights and milk their titles. No, instead they wanted to get right to it. And although both Daniel Roman and TJ Doheny are mild-mannered outside of the ring, they displayed the type of venom and spite in the squared circle on Friday that led to a Fight of the Year contender.

Daniel Roman and TJ Doheny weren't on radar screens two years ago. They were not fighters destined to become champions. But both took advantage of their opportunities. They each won their world title in Japan and have mostly remained out of the limelight, happy to let other fighters luxuriate in notoriety and hype.

Prior to Friday's fight I had tried to interview Doheny, but it wasn't able to come together. Doheny is an excellent fighter, but so few had seen him. The bookies had made him a 5-1 or 6-1 underdog, which seemed absurd to me. The guy could really fight. I did speak with Doheny on Thursday, the night before the fight, and he was apologetic about not doing the interview weeks before. He said that he didn't like talking about himself and rarely fulfilled media requests. He characterized himself as shy.

Doheny (left) congratulates the winner Roman (middle)
Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland 

Well, shy or not, he put forward a fantastic performance on Friday, and Roman did too. Roman scored knockdowns in the 2nd and 11th rounds, which essentially put the fight out of reach for Doheny on two of the scorecards. The official scores were 116-110, 116-110 and 113-113 (I had it for Roman 114-112).

What led to Roman's victory were two adjustments that he made in the second half of the fight. After barely surviving the seventh round, where Doheny blitzed him with lead left hands, right hooks and left uppercuts, Roman dipped into his arsenal and brought out the left hook to the body and the uppercut. It was a counter left hook that sent Doheny to the canvas in the 11th, the type of menacing liver shot that few fighters can withstand. Somehow Doheny made it back to his feet, and even won the final round as he was going for the knockout, but the damage had already been done; Roman's versatility proved to be just a little too much. 

After the scores were announced, the Forum crowd gave a deafening cheer for Roman, their hometown champion. But in perhaps a more telling moment, the fans provided Doheny with a tremendous roar of appreciation during his post-fight interview. Doheny praised Roman's ability and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to make a name for himself in front of Roman's fans. He hit all the right notes. 

Later on in the night Roman and Doheny, both busted up, bruised and bandaged, embraced and posed for pictures together. They understood the enormity of the moment, for Friday's fight changed their fortunes. Doheny won more fans in defeat than he had in the many wins he attained toiling in relative obscurity. His stock has certainly risen and he would be a welcome opponent against any top fighter at 122 lbs. Roman has now cemented himself as among the best junior featherweights in the world and is one of the few unified champions in the sport. With class in and out of the ring and an all-action style, he has a winning combination.

Roman-Doheny brought out the best in each fighter. In the end, what they acquired, as much as titles, trinkets or money, was respect – for each other, from boxing fans and from the industry. No longer will they ever be anonymous champions.  

Their battle was an advertisement for boxing at its best. And when a fight is that memorable, the notion of winning and losing becomes more important to the record keepers than those who were fortunate enough to witness the sublime. Victory and defeat occur every weekend. But special, now that's something infrequent and far more elusive. Special creates new fans. Special reaffirms our attachment to the sport. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.   

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