HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss the sensational SuperFly 2 card, from Srisaket Sor Rungvisai's narrow decision over Juan Francisco Estrada in a Fight-of-the-Year-caliber main event, to McWilliams Arroyo's surprising and hard-earned victory over Carlos Cuadras, to Donnie Nietes' emphatic destruction of Juan Carlos Reveco in his HBO debut.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – For 11 rounds, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada produced 33 minutes of boxing of the highest caliber, throwing and feinting and counter-punching their way through shifts in momentum, first one man gaining the upper hand and then the other, as they battled back and forth in a display of highly violent chess.
And then, in the 12th round, they outdid themselves.
If Sor Rungvisai’s majority decision victory is a Fight of the Year contender with just a couple of months of 2018 in the books, then the 12th will take some beating for the year’s best round when December comes to a close. The first 11 rounds displayed prizefighting both cerebral and punishing, but the 12th was flatout warfare, two gladiators throwing caution to the winds and punches at each other with murderous intent. Neither man was prepared to leave any drop of energy in his fuel tank, and each tore into the other with extreme viciousness as the crowd roared itself hoarse and jaws ringside dropped in silent exclamation of what they were witnessing.
Sor Rungvisai was the official winner here, but there were no losers – not the crowd at The Forum, not the audience watching on HBO, not even the man who was, the record will show, in fact the loser. Estrada may have fallen short on the night, but he underlined both his brilliance and his rival’s, and if the two men don’t meet again in a rematch, then they will both have an abundance of options from whom to choose in the packed and deep lower weight divisions.
After a slightly cagey opening, Sor Rungvisai began to dial in his punches in the second, throwing heavy leather and landing thudding southpaw rights and lefts. Estrada, though, looked confident as the Thai fighter marched forward, looking to counter him with short, sharp punches on the inside. Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 39 KOs) pressured Estrada, swarming him, thumping him with left hands, but Estrada twisted and turned under the assault, causing most of the blows to land on his shoulders and back until a pair of lefts at the end of the fourth rocked the Mexican backward for the first time in the fight.
Suddenly, Sor Rungvisai was in the ascendant. He had found his range and accuracy and was dialing in his power punches. A straight left landed. And another. And another. And now Estrada, having seemingly lost the counter-punching edge, was standing and trading more, and all at once it was Sor Rungvisai who was doing the countering to great effect. And when the Thai fighter’s punches landed, they did so with a clear authority that estrada’s, although sharp and precise, did not.
Then the eighth round came, and now Estrada (36-3, 25 KOs) had adjusted anew, taking a fraction of a step back and forcing his opponent to reach with his punches just that little bit more and leave himself open to the Mexican’s counters once again. Sor Rungvisai was throwing the harder, if increasingly weary, punches, but Estrada was landing the crisper combinations.
The final phase of the fight was a war of attrition, the two champions -- and both men are clearly and deservedly champions, even if Sor Rungvisai is now the lineal king at super flyweight -- trying to impose their strength and strategies, every one of the closing rounds seemingly in the balance until their end. And when those final, brutal three minutes had concluded, there could be few who felt able to assert with any great confidence that they knew for sure who had won.
The answer, in the end, was Sor Rungvisai. Judge Dave Moretti scored the bout a 114-114 draw, but Cathy Leonard saw it 115-113 and Steve Morrow a surely-too-wide 117-111. Sor Rungvisai, after a pair of 2017 wins over former pound-for-pound No. 1 Roman Gonzalez, has now established himself as the main man at 115 pounds. But he is also clearly one of the handful of very best boxers, of all weights, in the world. So, too, is Estrada, even in defeat. This fight, and both men, were -- and are -- that good.
In the latest contest to emerge from the pipeline of clashes between Mexico and Puerto Rico – surely the most intense national rivalry in the sport – McWilliams Arroyo scored a majority decision win over Carlos Cuadras to secure bragging rights, at least for this night, for the Boricua contingent in the crowd. Arroyo (17-3, 14 KOs) tore into Cuadras from the start, digging left hooks to the body and looking to inflict maximum punishment with every punch he threw. Cuadras (36-3-1, 26 KOs) appeared surprised and a little overwhelmed by Arroyo’s strong start, but landed the first big punch of the night in the form of a counter right hand that spun Arroyo 90 degrees late in the second.
Cuadras sought to slow things down a little with his jab, and there was a brief period when it seemed that Arroyo may have run out of gas; but from the fourth round, he switched to the second phase of his assault, in which his aggression was tighter and entirely more controlled. He was now happy for Cuadras to come to him and use up energy with right hands flung from distance, while he remained compact and composed, steering the Mexican onto punches of his own. By the fifth, the Cuadras offense was starting to look sloppy, while Arroyo’s was tight and torqued. Increasingly, the Mexican’s punches were hurled without the full force of his body behind them, while the Puerto Rican’s were shorter and turned over with greater effect. Arroyo landed a hard right hand as Cuadras launched a flurry in the fifth, cracked him with a series of hard shots in the left that seemed to bring a confident smirk to his face in the seventh, and tore into him with digging left hands in the eighth as he tested his foe’s remaining reserves.
Perhaps overly confident of his position on the scorecards, Arroyo eased up over the final two frames as Cuadras fought desperately to make up ground, but although judge Fernando Villareal saw a 95-95 draw, Pat Russell and Tony Crebs overruled him with scores of 98-92 and 97-93, respectively.
In the opening bout, flyweight champ Donnie Nietes made his HBO debut an impressive and dominating win, hurting Juan Carlos Reveco at the end of the sixth, dropping him in the seventh, and prompting a corner stoppage to retain his flyweight title.
Nietes (41-1-4, 23 KOs) has held a world title for a decade, and is one of the most celebrated champions in the storied history of Philippines boxing. And he simply had too much class for the brave and game Reveco (39-4, 13 KOs), who was a determined ball of energy and never stopped throwing, but simply wasn’t in the same league as his foe.
Reveco started faster, winging punches from mid-range, but Nietes was merely biding his time; and bit by bit, he slowly reeled Reveco in, closing the gap between the two men until it was just to his liking, and steadily breaking him down with right hands and uppercuts behind a solid jab. Reveco’s offense was the more active and frenetic, but Nietes threw his punches with greater calculus, purpose and effectiveness.
A counter right hand at the very end of the sixth hurt Reveco badly. He walked away as referee Ed Hernandez Sr. stepped between them at the bell, but as he headed to his corner it was on drunken legs and he wound up missing his target and falling into the adjacent ropes. The one-minute respite wasn’t sufficient and he came out for the seventh in a less-than-convincing condition. Nietes smelled blood, and went for the finish, backing him to the ropes and dropping him with a four-punch combination in a neutral corner. Reveco beat the count, but his corner threw in the towel.
INGLEWOOD, CA – He wasn’t supposed to be here.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai wasn’t supposed to escape the life of anonymity and extreme poverty into which he was born.
He wasn’t supposed to rise above the life he found for himself when, at 13, he ran away to Bangkok: the life of a trash collector — a trash collector, moreover, who had to rummage through that trash in search of food.
He wasn’t supposed to become any kind of boxer, especially after scoring just one win in his first five fights.
He certainly wasn’t supposed to defeat Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, then considered the number one boxer in the world, pound-for-pound, when he challenged him last March.
And after he emerged with a disputed decision win after a fantastic fight in which he sent his celebrated foe to the canvas, he wasn’t supposed to win the rematch.
But he did, knocking out Gonzalez in sensational fashion in the fourth round. And now, although he is far too modest to talk about it at any great length, he is a hero in his homeland and one of the brightest stars in boxing’s firmament.
And here he is, as the A side of a main event on an HBO broadcast, his third successive contest in the United States and on the network, and probably just one win away from invading pound-for-pound lists, if he is not in fact already on many of them.
But the man he faces on Saturday night has similar designs, after himself battling against the odds to find himself on the cusp of the kind of achievement and acknowledgment to which he has been agonizingly close for the last five years.
Juan Francisco Estrada lost his parents at the age of seven; two years later, he was boxing, and by age 18 he had turned professional. His record stood at 26-1 when, in November 2012, he faced off against a Chocolatito Gonzalez who was then at the height of his powers, and gave the Nicaraguan what was to that point the toughest fight of his life before ultimately falling short on points over 12 rounds. Five months later, he was a little-known underdog against Brian Viloria, who was riding high and cresting the wave of the third act of his roller-coaster professional career. But Estrada beat him, too, and then he kept on beating tough opponent after tough opponent: undefeated Milan Melindo; tough, skilled, and experienced Giovanni Segura.
Meanwhile, Chocolatito’s fame was growing; and as it did so, Estrada’s rose in tandem with it, his narrow defeat standing in stark contrast to the succession of knockouts that Gonzalez was scoring on his path to the sport’s pinnacle. The drums beat ever louder in support of a rematch between the pound-for-pound king and the mysterious Mexican who had come closest to toppling him; but then Gonzalez had an equally tough go-around with Carlos Cuadras, who promptly usurped Estrada’s spot in the Chocolatito rematch stakes. And then Sor Rungvisai actually beat him — officially — and then, at the Superfly card last September beat him beat him again — convincingly — and now, at Superfly 2, Chocolatito isn’t even here at all.
But Estrada is. And so is Sor Rungvisai. And so too, on the undercard - televised and otherwise – are those who have traveled their own improbable paths. Donnie Nietes, who has 45 pro bouts to his name (just one of them a loss) and has held a world title for a decade, and is finally making his HBO debut. Viloria, whose remarkable up-and-down journey through the peaks and valleys of professional boxing is on course for one final ascent. And Louisa Hawton, whose tale of being a single mother, training alone in her garage in Western Australia, is one that she has told with such joy and charisma that the undefeated junior flyweight has been one of the hits of fight week.
There was a time when those in the very lightest weight classes struggled for attention. There would be exceptions – a Michael Carbajal here, a Johnny Tapia there – but they would come and they would go and they would take interest in their weight divisions with them. But this feels different. There is now a deep pool of genuine talent at flyweight, super flyweight and bantamweight, all looking to fight each other and create genuinely meaningful and exciting contests. And the fans have noticed: The Forum is expecting to open up the upper tier of seats for Saturday night’s action, and over 8,000 are expected to watch a card in which the heaviest combatants weigh 131 pounds., and the majority tip the scales at between 107 and 115. And the lighter weight fighters are the stars of the show, the reason why thousands will be watching in person and on HBO. Not so very long ago, it would have seemed highly improbable that a group of lighter weight fighters could not only fill a card, but fill a card that was one of the most highly anticipated of the year so far. But that is just what Saturday’s fighters will be doing.
They weren’t supposed to be here. Yet here, deservedly, they are.
Official Weights from Inglewood:
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai: 114.8 pounds
Juan Francisco Estrada: 115.0 pounds
Carlos Cuadras: 114.6 pounds
McWilliams Arroyo: 114.2 pounds
Donnie Nietes: 111.6 pounds
Juan Carlos Reveco: 112.0 pounds
Watch a recap of the Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Juan Francisco Estrada final press conference. The Superfly 2 tripleheader, featuring Sor Rungvisai vs. Estrada, Carlos Cuadras vs. McWilliams Arroyo and Donnie Nietes vs. Juan Carlos Reveco, takes place Saturday, Feb. 24 at 9:30 pm ET/PT on HBO.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai ahead of his fight against Juan Francisco Estrada. The Superfly 2 tripleheader, featuring Sor Rungvisai vs. Estrada, Carlos Cuadras vs. McWilliams Arroyo and Donnie Nietes vs. Juan Carlos Reveco, takes place Saturday, Feb. 24 at 9:30 pm ET/PT on HBO.
When last September's "Superfly" triple-header was announced, many thought that several potential mouth-watering matchups would be cemented, two of which would be a rematch between Roman Gonzalez and Carlos Cuadras or a unification match between "Chocolatito" and WBO counterpart Naoya Inoue, who was making his U.S. debut and was expected to blow out Antonio Nieves.
While Inoue did his part by impressively dismantling Nieves in six rounds, neither Gonzalez or Cuadras held up their end of the bargain as Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who many thought should have lost to Gonzalez in their first match, crushed Gonzalez in four rounds while Juan Francisco Estrada used a powerful second-half rally (and a 10th round knockdown) to score a narrow but popular unanimous decision. Now, "Superfly 2" will produce what should be a tremendous main event between Sor Rungvisai and Estrada, mostly because of the contrast in styles: Sor Rungvisai's swarming versus Estrada's science.
With his twin victories over Gonzalez, Sor Rungvisai vaulted himself from a bit player in Chocolatito’s victory train to a legitimate candidate for 2017 Fighter of the Year. Yes, many thought he shouldn't have gotten the majority decision in fight one, mostly because Gonzalez had dominated statistically (441-284 overall, 69-7 jabs, 372-277 power and percentage gaps of 44%-30% overall, 20%-4% jabs and 56%-36% power) and the round-by-round breakdowns showed that Gonzalez led 9-3 overall, 11-0-1 jabs and 8-4 power. The rematch, however, was a real eye-opener in terms of the result and a transformative affair in terms of the narrative. Gonzalez's face was a picture of doubt and trepidation while Sor Rungvisai's visage was calm and confident.
The fight itself was largely one-way traffic for the Thai, who scored two knockdowns in round four and the right hook that ended the bout was a contender for 2017's Knockout of the Year. The numbers further illustrated the Thai fighter’s dominance as he led 80-58 overall and 80-54 power and was the more active fighter (84.8 punches per round to Gonzalez's 61.8).
The accuracy gaps were surprisingly small as Sor Rungvisai led 27.5%-27.4% overall and 34%-31% in power shots. The difference in energy and attitude, however, was stratospheric and he'll likely carry that confidence into the fight with Estrada.
Estrada's array of skills have been on full display in the 10 fights since his own decision loss to Gonzalez, and, at his best, he inspires visions of another Juan — Juan Manuel Marquez. Since giving up his WBC and WBO flyweight belts, Estrada has fought three times against Raymond Tabugon (W 10), Anuar Salas (KO 5) and Cuadras (W 12) — and the combined numbers are impressive. Averaging 69.8 punches per round to his opponents' 73.5, Estrada still racked up significant advantages in the connects-per-round in all three phases (26.9 vs. 16.6 overall, 7.3 vs. 5.3 jabs and 19.6 vs. 11.3 power) while also boasting big leads in accuracy (39%-23% overall, 35%-135 jabs, 40%-34% power).
These leads held despite the fact that Cuadras actually held the statistical cards in their bout; Cuadras was more active (73.8 vs. 64.4 punches per round), jabbed better (42.6 thrown/7.8 connects per round to Estrada's 21.4/5.2), was the more precise puncher (29.4%-28.6% overall and 44%-31% power), and held leads of 260-221 overall, 93-62 jabs and 167-159 power. So why did Estrada win. First, most of Cuadras' leads were crafted in the first five rounds (116-75 overall, 42-27 jabs, 74-48 power) while Estrada rallied in rounds 6-12 (148-144 overall, 111-93 power). Second, in the midst of his rally Estrada scored a 10th round knockdown. Finally, shot-for-shot, Estrada was the heavier hitter. But while Estrada carries respectable pop, Sor Rungvisai will be the much more forceful hitter.
Inside The Numbers
Both are power punching machines. Sor Rungvisai's 55.3 thrown per round ranks #3, while Estrada's 51.1 thrown per round ranks #4. Sor Rungvisai's 21.7 power landed per round ranks #3, while Estrada's 19.9 landed ranks fourth. 39.5% of Sor Rungvisai's landed punches are body shots- #1 among CompuBox Categorical Leaders and double the CompuBox average. 81.6% of Rungvisai's thrown punches are power shots (#1 rank- CompuBox average: 58.6%) and 94.8% of his landed punches are power shots (#1 rank- CompuBox average.: 72%). 30.7% of Estrada's landed punches are body shots- third among CompuBox Categorical Leaders. Estrada's 72 total punches thrown per round and 25.4 landed ranks #3 in both categories and he also landed 5.6 jabs per round and landed 26.7%-ranked fifth.
Sor Rungvisai will be the aggressor but his aggression has thought behind it. Estrada will be the thoughtful boxer but his thinking-man's approach is backed up by a desire to inflict damage. Both are busy fighters and there will be plenty of exchanges. The last southpaw Estrada faced was a somewhat faded Hernan Marquez in his final fight at 112, and he was utterly dominant (201-97 overall, 34-21 jabs, 167-76 power and percentage leads of 38%-20% overall, 21%-18% jabs and 47%-21% power).
Against his best four opponents (Gonzalez twice, Shinsuke Yamanaka and Cuadras), Sor Rungvisai was struck by 45% of their power shots. Against a precision hitter like Estrada, that's a big problem. Sor Rungvisai's power will present a constant threat, and the Thai is the naturally bigger man and the much bigger puncher. If he strikes Estrada correctly, he is more than capable of scoring the KO. Estrada knows this as well, and thus will bestow the proper portion of respect. However, he won't grant so much respect that he will blunt his own assets. Therefore, the guess is that Estrada will win a hard-fought decision close enough to ignite calls for a rematch.
By Eric Raskin
You say you have sequel fatigue? Franchise fatigue? Reboot/remake/spinoff fatigue? Well, get over it. SuperFly 2 is here, and this is one case where it makes complete sense to keep building on existing intellectual property.
Last September at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., K2 Promotions put on the pay-cable boxing card of the year, a tripleheader called SuperFly featuring three fights in the loaded but previously under-exposed 115-pound division. The show opened with a thrilling back-and-forth 12-rounder in which Juan Francisco Estrada edged Carlos Cuadras, then it introduced Naoya Inoue to American audiences as the Japanese mega-talent stomped all over Antonio Nieves, and it ended with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai claiming the top spot in the division with a stunningly brutal knockout of former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
Promoter Tom Loeffler figured if it ain’t broke, slap a “2” on the end and do it again, so he put together another tripleheader, for Feb. 24 at the Forum in Inglewood, with a few of the same headliners and the same fan-friendly concept. The main event pits Sor Rungvisai against Estrada to crown a new lineal champion at super flyweight. Cuadras returns in a Mexico vs. Puerto Rico showdown with McWilliams Arroyo, and two of the top three 112-pounders in the world, Donnie Nietes and Juan Carlos Reveco, will aim to show that regular ol’ flyweights can be super too.
“I think we’ve actually managed to top it this time, if you can imagine,” Loeffler said on the HBO Boxing Podcast. “These lighter divisions, they’ll fight the best fighters. They’re not afraid to defend their titles or unify their titles against other top fighters. And I think that’s what allows us to make these great fights. … These small guys, it’s nonstop action with those guys. Fans know they’re going to get a lot of fireworks, a lot of entertainment, and nonstop action.”
If Loeffler is right that SuperFly 2 is going to be better than the original, it’s the main event that will elevate it to those extreme heights. Sor Rungvisai vs. Estrada is a dream fight for fans of the little guys. With Inoue having moved up in weight, these are the clear top two fighters at 115, and the winner will be crowned champion of the division by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board as well as The Ring magazine.
It’s a fascinating matchup of prime, peaking fighters with varied histories against the fellow elites of their division. Estrada (36-2, 25 KOs) was first to get a shot at Chocolatito, back in 2012, and he came closer than anyone else had at that point to upsetting the champ. On the first SuperFly card, he became the only fighter besides Chocolatito to hand Cuadras a loss. In between, “El Gallo” defeated Brian Viloria, Giovani Segura, and Hernan “Tyson” Marquez. If Estrada isn’t on or within striking distance of your pound-for-pound top 10, your list isn’t worth much.
The same could be said of a pound-for-pound list that doesn’t have Sor Rungvisai on or damned near on it. The Thai southpaw (44-4-1, 40 KOs) did what Estrada and everybody else couldn’t by handing Gonzalez his first loss (by disputed decision in a corker) and his second loss (by undisputed crumpling). Sor Rungvisai also shared the ring with Cuadras, against whom he lost an inconclusive eight-round technical decision in 2014. As for Sor Rungvisai’s other three defeats and his draw, you have to go back to his first five pro fights to find any of them.
“I know a lot of people think that Sor Rungvisai is going to beat me and knock me out, because he looked very good against Gonzalez,” Estrada said on ESPN’s A Los Golpes, “but boxing is a matter of styles. Cuadras beat Rungvisai, and I beat Cuadras … One fight has nothing to do with the other. I’m preparing for a tough fight and to win the world championship.”
Estrada’s correct that styles matter, of course, and the clash of styles here is overflowing with intrigue. We think of the 31-year-old Sor Rungvisai as a straight-forward, mow-‘em-down bully, but he’s actually a much better counterpuncher than people give him credit for. He’ll counter with either hand to the body and the head, and he’s able to do it so well because he’s not the least bit afraid to take a punch on his sturdy chin while looking for his spots. Estrada, however, has an essential weapon in his arsenal that can prevent Sor Rungvisai from getting comfortable enough to lead or counter: feints. The 27-year-old is a master at bending at the waist ever so slightly, making it look a punch is coming, until opponents truly have no idea when they do or don’t have something to defend against. Expect a lot of feints from Estrada, especially in the early rounds, to limit how much the Thai banger can do what he wants to do.
That said, with Sor Rungvisai, it only takes one shot. He generates serious power with his muscular legs, leading even his less explosive punches to push opponents around. He isn’t a big combination puncher, but with single blows, he can do major damage. We’re talking about a guy who once made an opponent vomit mid-fight from a single left hand to the stomach. Simply put, Estrada doesn’t want to stand still in front of Sor Rungvisai and exchange with him.
But when on his toes, Estrada is likely the most well-rounded fighter in the super flyweight division. He possesses an accurate left jab, he punches in combination, and he rolls with shots well and has better defense than Sor Rungvisai. Estrada is also a highly skillful infighter, and from that position, while there are certainly risks, he can limit the impact of Sor Rungvisai’s southpaw stance.
Sor Rungvisai vs. Estrada is a fight in which no prediction is remotely safe. They’re No. 1 and No. 2 in the division for a reason. If we’ve entered the post-Chocolatito era at the top of the 115-pound class, the division is certainly in good hands with either of these scrappers as its ruler.
The shadow of Chocolatito looms over the co-feature as well, as both Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KOs) and Arroyo (16-3, 14 KOs) are members of the somewhat exclusive “we went the distance with Gonzalez” club. Puerto Rico’s Arroyo, 32, hasn’t fought for nearly two years, and he was a 112-pounder his entire career until now, so he does face some disadvantages against the slick Mexican showman. Cuadras, 29, has taken criticism for questionable preparation in the past, but that seems unlikely to be an issue coming out of his first training camp in Big Bear, Calif., with new coach Abel Sanchez.
“I know Arroyo very well, he’s a great fighter,” Cuadras said at the press conference announcing the card. “It’s Mexico vs. Puerto Rico, which is always a great fight. I have to beat Arroyo and then I want to fight Estrada again. I have the medicine in my fist to beat them both.” Never one to disappoint his fans, Cuadras then added what has become a catch phrase of sorts: “I’m fast and strong and very, very handsome.”
Handsome doesn’t win fights, but fast and strong do, and who’s faster and stronger between flyweights Nietes (40-1-4, 22 KOs) and Reveco (39-3, 19 KOs) is anyone’s guess. They’re ranked second and third, respectively, in the weight class by the TBRB, and if anything, there’s a case to be made that Nietes should be higher than that — he just hasn’t been a flyweight long enough. The 35-year-old Filipino hasn’t lost since 2004 and has put together title reigns at 105, 108, and now 112 pounds. Alphabet belts don’t always mean much — Nietes beat a fringe contender to claim his vacant title — but if he defeats 34-year-old Argentine Reveco, who’s had alphabet reigns of his own at 108 and 112, it lends a lot of legitimacy to Nietes’ case as top dog among flies.
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney open up the mailbag, answering fan questions about how to keep boxing's momentum going, top up-and-coming UK fighters, divisions worthy of a "Superfly"-style fight card, and much more.