Weigh-In Recap and Slideshow | “Hopefully, We’ll See Some Blood”: Braekhus and Shields Prepare to Take Their Places on Historic Stage

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

CARSON, CA. – Seven months ago, Cecilia Braekhus made history.

When her hand was raised in victory at the end of a hard-fought decision over Kali Reis at the StubHub Center in May, on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin’s demolition of Vanes Martirosyan, she became the first female boxer ever to win a fight on HBO.

A little more than half a year later, she will make history again. Her clash this Saturday night (10:20 PM ET/PT) with Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes will be the HBO main event – which for female fighters is unprecedented, and will also be forever unmatched, as theirs will be the last fight of any kind to be aired on the network.

Braekhus, while acknowledging the significance of the event, chooses not to dwell on it, at least not yet. “You know what? When I’m old and retired, I can look back and I can really, really say that I made history.” For now, she is fixing her attention on Magdziak-Lopes, fully aware that her foe is made of stern stuff.

“I have to be focused on my fight,” she said after the final pre-fight press conference this week. “I have a tough competitor, and I need to be 100 percent focused on her, and I cannot allow myself right now to take in the historical event that this is for boxing. The most important thing is that I have to produce my best performance ever.”

That said, on the three previous occasions that Magdziak-Lopes has challenged for a world title belt, she has fallen just short. Braekhus can expect another tough night but will anticipate it ending with her in position to move on to one of the higher-profile challenges that await.

Perhaps that challenge will be in the form of MMA star Cris Cyborg, who has long coveted a bout with the Norwegian, who was ringside when Braekhus fought Reis, and who will be present again on Saturday – and who will in fact be walking to the ring with another possible future Braekhus opponent, Claressa Shields, who opens the HBO broadcast against Femke Hermans.

Shields’ presence on the card – and indeed, her fame and status as the only American Olympian to win back-to-back boxing golds (in 2012 and 2016) – is testament to a rise in the attention being given to women’s boxing in the United States. Such increased attention is exemplified by the fact that, by the end of the broadcast on Saturday, the number of women’s bouts on HBO will have risen from zero in 45 years to four in seven months. (Heather Hardy defeated Shelly Vincent at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in October, in the second female bout on the network.)

“I think what’s happening now in the States is extremely beautiful to watch,” said Braekhus, who has fought most of her career in Germany, where women’s boxing has long had a higher profile – to the extent that she has headlined pay-per-views. “I just hope that this will continue.”

(It is not just women’s boxing that has long battled for the spotlight. Lower-weight male fighters have also traditionally been given short shrift, but the flyweight and super-flyweight divisions have received a shot in the arm over the last couple of years, a consequence of a remarkable concentration of talent in their upper reaches. Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai may be the cream of that particular crop, but Juan Francisco Estrada, who has lost close decisions to both men, is right behind them, and has perhaps been the biggest beneficiary of his division’s moment in the sun. The only fighter to appear on all three iterations of the “Superfly” franchise, he steps in for an injured Gonzalez and takes on Victor Mendez in the middle bout of Saturday’s triple-header.)

For Shields – who is facing Hermans just three weeks after defeating Hannah Rankin to run her professional record to 7-0 – Saturday night is an unexpected opportunity to realize a lifelong dream.

“Growing up in the amateurs, I watched HBO, and I told myself, ‘I want to fight on HBO.’ And then I thought my chance was gone, but boom! Here we are. I’m just so happy that HBO thought of me and gave me the chance.”

At the end of the day, however, boxing is boxing, whoever is filming or calling the action, and what matters most is what happens when the combatants enter the ring. Asked to predict how events will unfold on Saturday night, Shields underlined that when that happens, issues of history, weight class and gender are largely irrelevant, and the attractions that keep people tuning in to watch boxing are fundamental and simple to articulate.

“I’m going to break down her body. I’m going to punch her in the face. And hopefully we’ll see some blood.”

After Chocolatito's Knee Injury, Juan Francisco Estrada Steps in to face Victor Mendez

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Following a knee injury sustained in training by Four-Division Pound-for-Pound Champion Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, former Unified World Champion and #1 ranked Juan Francisco “El Gallo” Estrada, (37-3-0, 25 KO’s), of Sonora, Mexico will now face cross-town Mexican rival Victor ‘Spock’ Mendez, (28-3-2, 20 KOs), also of Sonora, Mexico in a ten-round super-flyweight clash at Undisputed on Saturday, December 8 emanating from the StubHub Center in Carson, CA. The tripleheader will be televised live on HBO Boxing After Dark beginning at 10:20 PM ET/PT.

“It’s unfortunate that Roman suffered this knee injury in training, he was in great shape and very excited to fight again after his ‘Knockout of the Year’ victory on September 15 in Las Vegas,” said Loeffler. “However, Juan Francisco Estrada and Victor Mendez have both been in training for upcoming fights and each eagerly jumped at the opportunity to fight each other.”

“This will be Juan Francisco’s fourth consecutive fight on HBO, the first coming at the StubHub Center at Superfly 1 in his outstanding battle and victory over Carlos Cuadras. He’s fought on every Superfly show and is always in exciting fights which has made him very popular with boxing fans who will be thrilled to see him fight again on December 8.”

Said Estrada, “Everything happens for a reason, my fight fell scheduled in Mexico fell through but now I have a bigger opportunity on HBO. I’ve had a great training camp and can’t wait to fight Victor Mendez. We’ve known each other for years and now get to settle who is the best super flyweight from Mexico.”

“Juan Francisco Estrada is a great champion and I’ve wanted to fight him for a long time,” said the 25-year-old Mendez. “I’ve heard many great things about the outstanding battles and great fans at the StubHub Center and look forward to fighting there on December 8 and on HBO.”

Estrada is currently world ranked #1 by Ring Magazine and #2 by ESPN. He is also world ranked #1 by the World Boxing Council.

The 28-year-old Estrada is coming off a dominant 12-round decision over Felipe Orucuta on September 8 at Superfly 3. Prior to that, the 28-year-old Estrada challenged WBC Super Flyweight World Champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai on February 24 at Superfly 2, losing a hotly contested 12-round majority decision in a sure-fire ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate that had the huge crowd at the Forum in Inglewood, CA on their feet cheering throughout. Both fights were featured as the main event on HBO’s Boxing After Dark.

Mendez has won nine of his last ten bouts including his last four in a row. Most recently he knocked out Alberto Ascanio in the third round on June 1, 2018. In 2014, he battled current world champion Luis Nery in an eight-round clash losing by very close majority decision.

Undisputed is headlined by  ‘The First Lady’ Cecilia Braekhus (34-0, 9 KOs), defending her titles against two-time world title challenger, Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes, (18-4-3, 1 KO), a native of Gilwice, Poland, now based in Marshfield, MA in the televised ten-round main event. Magdziak-Lopes also holds a victory over Braekhus’ recent opponent Kali Reis.

Opening the HBO Boxing After Dark telecast, two-time United States Olympic Gold Medalist and Claressa Shields, (7-0, 2 KOs), of Flint, MI faces WBO Women’s Super-Middleweight World Champion Femke Hermans, (9-1, 3 KOs), of Londerzeel, Belgium in a ten-round middleweight world title clash.

PODCAST: Superfly 3 Postfight (Ep 271)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney analyze the results from Saturday's Super Fly 3 tripleheader, including Juan Francisco Estrada's action-packed win over Felipe Orucuta, Donnie Nietes' controversial draw with Aston Palicte, and Kazuto Ioka's HBO coming-out party against McWilliams Arroyo.

Estrada Forced to Work for Superfly 3 Win

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

INGLEWOOD, Ca -- Juan Francisco Estrada put the pedal to the metal in the championship rounds, battering Felipe Orucuta over the closing minutes to secure victory in a Superfly 3 main event that was almost certainly more fraught than he would have wanted or might have expected.

Through the first several rounds, the contest looked set to be a borefest, Estrada (37-3, 25 KOs) seemingly in control and moving around the ring seemingly without effort, cracking the slower Orucuta with right hands and left hooks at will. There were, however, warning signs: Orucuta’s punches in return were looping and slow, but Orucuta kept throwing them in an almost metronomic fashion, and beginning in the third round, they began to land with a frequency that Estrada may not have anticipated. It didn’t help that Estrada appeared almost bored, as if the underdog had no business even being in the ring with him, let alone throwing punches at him; Estrada gave the impression that all he should have to do was throw power shots and Orucuta would inevitably fall, and that he had not figured out how to defend himself against his opponent’s punches because he did not expect he would have to.

As a result, even as Estrada was winning rounds, Orucuta remained a pesky presence; and then, around the midway point of the contest, he suddenly began fighting like a pesky presence who believed he actually had a chance to win. Forward he plowed, throwing punches, and shrugging off the sharp blows that Estrada bounced off his chin. The seventh and eighth saw the contest burst into life, as Orucuta (36-5, 30 KOs) landed bludgeoning hooks and Estrada responded with cracking right hands. Every time it looked as if Estrada was on the verge of asserting himself, Orucuta came back again, impossible to deter, constantly churning forward.

Entering the final two rounds, Estrada appeared to have regained the initiative, but victory was far from certain. In the 12th, however, he erased all doubt, connecting on 44 total punches out of 115 thrown and repeatedly rocking his foe with right hands.

All three judges saw him as the clear winner, by scores of 118-110 and 117-111 (twice).

“It was a good fight, no question,” said Estrada afterward. “Any time you have two Mexicans in the same ring it’s going to be a good fight and Orucuta is a good fighter. He’s taller, he’s got longer range, he’s difficult but at the end I got the win.”

***

Donnie Nietes maintained his 14-year unbeaten run, but the veteran Filipino had to settle for a draw with compatriot Aston Palicte, who was seven years younger and fully five inches taller. It took the 35-year-old Nietes (41-1-5, 23 KOs), a former three-weight world titlist, a few rounds to figure out the puzzles posed by his lankier foe, who initially was able to keep the older boxer at bay with lengthy jabs and right hands. Beginning in the fifth, however, Nietes appeared to be growing into the contest, timing Palicte (24-2-1, 20 KOs) and slipping inside his long reach to land sharp right hands and cracking left hooks. It was a contest that was more cerebral and chess-like than the crowd at The Forum would have liked, but over the final third, Nietes appeared to be in the mood to make it shorter than the scheduled twelve rounds. The final round, in particular, saw Nietes stagger Palicte and chase him around the ring in search of a conclusive finish, and when the bell rang, it appeared as if the veteran had done enough to win. Judge Danny Sandoval certainly saw it that way, handing in a 118-110 card in his favor; Robert Hoyle, however, scored it 116-112 for Palicte, and Max DeLuca split the difference with a 114-114 card.

Nietes was upset with the decision. “Of course I won the fight,” he said. “I dealt with his reach, I hurt him, and I controlled the fight.”

***

Kazuto Ioka made his American debut an impressive one, the former three-weight titlist taking his bow at 115 lbs. by assaulting McWilliams Arroyo to body and head over ten hard-fought and fast-paced rounds, and knocking him down at the end of the third to seal a unanimous points decision. Ioka, who had been out of the ring since April 2017 and had even announced his retirement before electing to return to action, showed no sign of ring rust as he tore into Puerto Rican Arroyo over the first two rounds, ripping him with repeated body punches before switching hard shots upstairs.

In the third round, Arroyo (17-4, 14 KOs) began to return fire with increasing effect, working behind a stiff jab and mixing in uppercuts that landed cleanly as Ioka bent forward to launch his body punches. Then, suddenly, at the end of the third, Arroyo’s work was undone as Ioka threw out a quick jab and followed up with a straight right hand that landed on Arroyo’s chin and dropped him to one knee.

Ioka reasserted control in the fourth and fifth, bouncing in and out with constant, pressuring action, although an Arroyo right hand at the bell to end the fifth knocked Ioka into the ropes. Arroyo grew more comfortable by the eighth, taking his turn to control the range and fire jabs, straight rights and uppercuts, and sought to maintain that momentum in the ninth, but a crunching hook from Ioka (23-1, 13 KOs) stopped him in his tracks and likely cost Arroyo the round. The 10th saw both men throwing at a furious pace, and at the end, the three judges saw the bout for the Janapese boxer by scores of 99-90 and 97-92 (twice).

 

Superfly 3 Preview

The Superfly series returns with a stacked triple-header featuring Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Felipe Orucata, Donnie Nietes vs. Aston Palicte, and Kazuto Ioka vs. McWilliams Arroyo. Superfly 3 starts tomorrow night at 9:45 PM on HBO.

One-on-One: Juan Francisco Estrada

Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Juan Francisco Estrada before his superfly weight fight against Felipe Orucuta. Don't miss all the Superfly 3 action tomorrow night starting at 9:45 pm ET/PT on HBO.

Weigh-In Recap and Slideshow: Superfly 3 Highlights Little Guys’ Strength in Depth

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

INGLEWOOD, Ca. - It is testament to the strength in depth of the 115-pound weight class that this Saturday’s Superfly 3 card – the third iteration of a series showcasing boxers who are more than flyweights but not quite bantamweights – boasts a trio of genuinely intriguing and potentially exciting matchups despite the absence of the fighter who caused the franchise to come into being and the one who made it his own.

The notion was conceived as a way to provide main event status to Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, who had been acclaimed as the number one pound-for-pound boxer in the world on the basis of years of dominant performances across three weight divisions, and who had finally come to the attention of American boxing fans through a series of appearances on Gennady Golovkin undercards. Before he could take advantage of the opportunity, however, Gonzalez suffered his first loss, a controversial defeat on points to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. So the first Superfly was capped by Gonzalez seeking his revenge — and failing to find it, as he fell to a crushing, and seemingly career-ending, fourth-round knockout.

That left Rungvisai in the catbird seat, and he returned to headline Superfly 2, where he eked out a close win over Juan Francisco Estrada at the end of 12 closely-fought and fast-paced rounds. The Thai fighter was subsequently penciled in to be the main eventer for Superfly 3, but in the midst of some personal issues, elected to spend some time back home and fight in front of a domestic audience. Gonzalez, meanwhile, having decided to continue his career, is once again on a GGG undercard, fighting in the opening bout of Golovkin’s pay-per-view rematch with Canelo Alvarez on September 15.

As a result, the baton has passed to Estrada, who takes on fellow Mexican Felipe Orucuta in Saturday’s main event. In the co-main, an all-Filipino clash sees veteran Donnie Nietes — 14 years unbeaten, but now taking advantage of Superfly to gain exposure in the USA — meet Aston Palicte. And in the opener, Kazuto Ioka — like Nietes, and like Gonzalez before them, already a champion at 105, 108 and 112 pounds — faces off against McWilliams Arroyo, who is coming off an impressive win at Superfly 2.

Ioka in fact retired at the end of 2017 – his most recent bout was last April – but his mind was changed after buying a ticket to Superfly 2. Blown away by the action in the ring and the enthusiasm of the crowd outside it, he vowed to lace up the gloves again, so he could be a part of it.

“The little guys, they come to fight,” says Estrada. “they show a lot of technique, a lot of punches. I think the small divisions are the best, and I’m looking forward to Saturday night. I think you’ll have some great fights with the little guys.”

Weights from Inglewood:

Juan Francisco Estrada: 114.4 pounds.

Felipe Orucuta: 114 pounds.

Donnie Nietes: 114.8 pounds.

Aston Palicte: 114.6 pounds. 

Kazuto Ioke: 114.6 pounds.

Mc Williams Arroyo: 114.4 pounds.

PODCAST: Superfly 3 Preview (Ep 270)