By Nat Gottlieb
In the loaded super flyweight division, all roads to the top lead through a Thai roadblock named Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Juan Francisco Estrada has been down that path once before, losing a Fight Of The Year candidate bout to Rungvisai in February. The Mexican wants a rematch, but before he can get one he’ll have to maneuver his way around another barrier in two-time world title challenger, Felipe Orucuta, a rugged fighter with something of a size advantage.
The two boxers will headline Superfly 3, a tripleheader that will be broadcast on HBO’s Boxing After Dark this Saturday at 9:45 PM ET/PT.
In the co-feature, three-division champion, Donnie Nietes (41-1-4, 23 KO’s) will be moving up to super flyweight in a quest to add another title to his decorated resume. Nietes will be up against a hard-hitting fellow Filipino, Aston Palicte (24-2, 20 KO’s), who throws wicked uppercuts with both hands.
In order for the 5’4” Estrada (36-3, 25 KO’s) to defeat a taller opponent in the 5’7” Orucuta (36-4, 30 KO’s), who has fought the majority of his bouts at bantamweight, he’ll have to overcome his tendency to start fights slowly.
In Estrada’s loss to Rungvisai, the Mexican was doing a lot of counterpunching in the early rounds, and while he did land some good shots, the Thai’s higher volume of punches was scoring points on aggression.
A former world champion, Estrada wisely changed tactics in the eighth round and began attacking behind a crisp jab, throwing combos that got through Rungvisai’s defense and did damage. The Mexican appeared to dominate the final five rounds, and it was reflected on two judges’ scorecards. Dave Moretti and Cathy Leonard each gave Estrada four of the last five rounds, but Steve Morrow scored four of them for Sor Rungvisai. The result was Estrada lost a majority decision, 113-115, 114-114, and 111-117.
"I felt I won the fight,” Estrada says. “I boxed him all night long and then I attacked him the last three rounds. I landed great shots at the end. I don't know what the judges saw. I thought I won clearly."
Like Rungvisai, Orucuta is a high-volume puncher. Unless Estrada gets more aggressive in the early rounds, he may find himself in the same boat as he did in his fight with the Thai fighter. Whether Estrada can change his early style is open to question.
In his last fight before facing Rungvisai, Estrada went up against another punching machine in former world champion Carlos Cuadras. Estrada came out counterpunching and was outworked in the early rounds by Cuadras before he picked up his attack in the later rounds. Estrada’s methodical counterpunching nearly cost him the fight. He managed to win a razor-thin unanimous decision, 114-113 on all three cards. The only thing that prevented Estrada from having to settle for a draw was that he knocked Cuadras down in the 10th round.
The 32-year-old Orucuta is a hard one to get a read on. Although he’s had 40 fights, the vast majority of them were against glorified club fighters and journeymen. So, while Orucuta’s 36 victories include 30 by knockout, his 75 percent KO rate doesn’t necessarily prove he has elite knockout power.
Based on his competition, it might even be fair to question whether Orucuta belongs in the same ring as Estrada. Ironically, however, judging by two of Orucuta’s losses, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
Those defeats were inflicted by Omar Andres Narvaez, a two-division world champion who dominated the flyweight and super flyweight divisions for eight years, from 2006 to 2014.
Orucuta faced Narvaez twice toward the tail end of his long reign and gave the champion all he could handle, dropping a split decision loss in 2013, and a majority decision defeat the following year. Worth noting is that those two fights took place in Narvaez’s native Argentina.
In the first bout, Orucuta tried to keep the fight in the middle of the ring where he could utilize his four-and-a-half-inch height advantage and four inches longer reach. But the veteran champion, who had won 16 of 17 world title fights at that point, kept backing up to the ropes, forcing Orucuta to fight in tight quarters where he couldn’t extend his long arms. Still, two of the three judges’ cards indicated how tough an out Orucuta was, both scoring it 115-113 for Narvaez, while the other inexplicably had Orucuta winning, 118-110
In their rematch, the scorecards again showed how much trouble Orucuta gave to Narvaez before the champion won a majority decision, 114-114, and 116-112 twice. Since then, Orucuta has won seven of his last eight fights, his lone defeat coming at the bantamweight level to Jose Cayetano, who has since competed at super bantamweight and featherweight.
In the co-feature, Nietes has not lost a fight since 2004, but the three-division champion is moving up to super flyweight for the first time against a bigger opponent in Palicte, who can fight inside or outside and breaks down opponents with stinging uppercuts.
The 36-year-old Nietes, who has been fighting professionally for 15 years, is well aware of the stakes. “This fight represents a lot to me as I will seeking my fourth world championship in a fourth different weight division,” Nietes says. “Winning the world title will put me at the level of Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire and will add worldwide recognition to my career.”
Palicte, nine years younger, will be fighting a world class opponent for the first time, but with 20 of his 24 victories coming by way of knockout, and Nietes moving up in weight, he may be catching the longtime champion at an opportune time.
The first of the three televised fights involve the intriguing return to the ring of former three-division champion, Kazuto Ioka (22-1, 13 KO’s), who retired in November of 2017. Ioka will be moving up to super flyweight for the first time to face two-time world title challenger, McWilliams Arroyo (17-3, 14 KO’s), who scored an impressive majority decision over Cuadras in Superfly 2.
Ioka stunned the boxing world by retiring at 28 while still at the top of his game, having won six straight title fights. Why did he come back and move up in weight?
“First I retired because I fulfilled my initial goal of being a three-class champion,” Ioka says. “I went to Superfly 2 and I had a renewed energy to fight again. It surprised me. I got the urge to fight with a totally new situation. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I un-retired. I had never been in the atmosphere of American boxing and I loved it. Not to be cocky, but when I saw the level (at Superfly 2), I saw that I could compete at this level as well.”