HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Best Blow

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2017. Here, they make their selections for "Best Blow" -- not necessarily a knockout, but the single punch that stuck out to them the most.

More: Fight of the Year | Fighter of the Year | Round of the Year | KO of the Year | Best Corner | Breakthrough Fighter | Favorite Moments

Nat Gottlieb: Sor Rungvisai’s right hook on Chocolatito

Call it boxing’s version of the shot heard around the world. For years Roman Gonzalez was considered the best in the game. But then last March, Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai won a tight majority decision over him. Six months later in the rematch, Sor Rungvisai stunned the boxing world in the 4th round by landing a monstrous right hook that dropped Gonzales. Somehow Gonzalez managed to get back up. Still wobbly, the Nicaraguan briefly tried to trade punches with the Thai until a right hook by Sor Rungvisai put him down for good. That first knockdown blow changed the landscape of boxing.

Springs Toledo: Joshua’s right uppercut on Klitschko in the 11th

The uppercut, when thrown with leverage and at the correct range, is a shocking punch that can sneak in and turn the tables. It's the punch that most makes boxing unfun; the spectacle of getting caught by something that comes up from the depths, that you can't see, that puts you on queer street and renders you either unconscious or helpless as the onslaught only heightens. It's the stuff of nightmares.

In the 11th round, Klitschko threw a right at Joshua's head and Joshua rolled around it and came up with a left hook that missed but also torqued a right uppercut that landed flush. Klischko's head flew back and for a second it looked like it flew off.  A photograph of the moment was making the rounds that had been photoshopped to look as if Klitschko's neck stretched like Mr. Fantastic. This writer was among those who had no idea it was photoshopped because the punch was that destructive. Klitschko stutter-stepped and then tried to play it off as if he was unhurt; Joshua swarmed him and he went down about seven seconds later. The fight was called off in the last minute of the round, but the uppercut was what made that conclusion a foregone one.

Hamilton Nolan: Ward’s low blow on Kovalev

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Andre Ward hitting Sergey Kovalev in the nuts. There is no doubt that Ward was outboxing Kovalev in their rematch. It is likely that Ward would have won if the fight had gone the distance, barring him getting caught with a Kovalev shot. But the reason that Ward was able to end the fight when he did was because he landed three, maybe four, good solid uppercuts to Kovalev's nuts, which absolutely drained him and opened him up for the head shot that was the beginning of the end. Well done, I guess.

Gordon Marino: Joshua’s uppercut against Klitschko

Frank Della Femina: Klitschko’s blow on Joshua in Round 6

The biggest blow of the year that sticks with me is the Round 6 bomb that Klitschko landed on Joshua during their heavyweight showdown at Wembley Stadium. At the time I remember thinking it may have been enough to turn things back in his favor, having just been knocked down himself in the previous round. But I also remember thinking Joshua showed the poise of a veteran in that moment to acknowledge he was banged up and allowed momentum to take him down for a breather. Had he not, Klitschko was fully prepared to follow up with something more, as evidenced by his charge through the falling Joshua, which could have truly altered the course of the fight.

Oliver Goldstein: Joshua’s right uppercut on Klitschko

Boxing rarely looks like the films, so it’s always quite something when the representation of it enters the real. This was in the eleventh round, when Joshua had just about taken over the fight after seeing out Klitschko’s mid-bout resurgence. Still, such was the overinvestment in the Brit made by Wembley Stadium’s collective consciousness that no one seemed willing to believe it. Then he landed a right uppercut so outrageously cartoonish that everyone saw the revelation. The fight ended a minute later.

Kieran Mulvaney: Joshua’s right uppercut on Klitschko

Wladimir Klitschko has long been dismissed for having an insufficiently sturdy chin, but that criticism has been overplayed. If you truly have a paper jaw, you don’t get dropped three times by Samuel Peter, get up each time, and go on to win. If your mandible is carved from glass, you don’t get up every time Anthony Joshua puts you down. And you certainly don’t survive the hellacious uppercut Joshua landed in round 11. That punch would have decapitated most mortals. But while Klitschko survived it, it was the beginning of the end: a beautifully delivered punch that snapped back the Ukrainian’s head and short-circuited his nervous system. He survived, but he never truly recovered; various other blows combined to drop him twice more and leave him being pummeled on the ropes. But it was the uppercut that set up the conclusion to one of the greatest nights in British boxing history.

Carlos Acevedo: Sor Rungvisai’s right hook on Chocolatito

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It was a hard end for super flyweight Roman Gonzalez, whose thrilling run as the biggest little man in boxing came to a halt on September 9 courtesy of a compact right hook that left him laid out on the canvas like a patient etherized on a table. In March, Sor Rungvisai won a grueling split decision over Gonzalez that most observers considered dubious at best. Sor Rungvisai was determined to prove his performance in the first fight—whether it was a win or a loss, it was still a rousing brawl—was no aberration. He dropped Gonzalez in the fourth round and when they again swapped blows furiously in center ring, he landed the shattering right hook. For a man who had, for sustenance, been forced to scavenge dross from his job as a trash collector, the definitive blow he landed against Gonzalez was more than just a sporting achievement, it was the myth of rags-to-riches made real.

Eric Raskin: Ward’s right to Kovalev’s jaw

Ward landed quite a few punches below the belt in his rematch with Kovalev, but it was one that landed about three feet above the belt that I’ll remember most. During the eighth round, with Kovalev showing signs of tiring but the fight still up in the air, Ward crashed home maybe the most perfect right hand of his entire career, connecting square on Kovalev’s jaw and causing his legs to do a dance. “Ward by knockout” was the most unlikely scenario before each of their fights because he was the smaller man moving up in weight and was never a heavy puncher. So when he visibly hurt Kovalev, it was a gasp-worthy moment — and the moment that decided the outcome, as Kovalev couldn’t recover and was stopped several follow-up salvos (made up of legal and illegal blows) later.

Diego Morilla: Joshua’s right uppercut on Klitschko

The heavyweight title fight at Wembley was full of historic moments and unforgettable images, but the one picture of Wladimir Klitschko’s neck being stretch upwards with its muscles struggling to hold his head over his shoulders after a brutal uppercut by Anthony Joshua turned out to be a perfect depiction of the defining moment of this magnificent heavyweight title bout. Up to then, Joshua’s resurgence after struggling in the middle rounds was still in progress, and he appeared exhausted as the second half of the bout began. But as Klitschko himself started to lose steam and the championship rounds were rang in, Joshua gained the poise and the control that he needed to finish the job – and that picture-perfect, sweat-spraying, panic-grin-inducing uppercut was the beginning of the end of an extraordinary fight.

Michael Gluckstadt: Joshua's uppercut on Klitschko

There's something especially dramatic about an uppercut that lands flush. The way the victim's head extends violently upwards like a defeated Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot. Gennady Golovkin landed an uppercut like that against David Lemieux, and I remember being shocked by the human neck's capacity for holding on to its head when faced with such force. Joshua's uppercut of Wladimir Klitschko was the heavyweight version of that punch. It's no wonder that Klitschko decided to make that round his final one in a boxing ring.

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: KO of the Year

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2017. Here, they make their selections for KO of the Year.

More: Fight of the Year | Fighter of the Year | Round of the Year | Best Blow | Best Corner | Breakthrough Fighter | Favorite Moments

 

Nat Gottlieb: Lemieux TKO Stevens

Apparently Curtis Stevens did not get the memo about never trading hooks with David Lemieux. In the third round Stevens connected on a left hook, but Lemieux countered with an overhand right and then followed it right up with a short, but powerful left hook that crumbled Stevens to the canvas flat on his back. Stevens remained unconscious for a long stretch before being removed from the ring on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. It was one of the most brutal knockouts of the year.

Springs Toledo: Lemieux TKO Stevens

The dummy jab is one of boxing's great inventions. It allows you to slide in closer and makes an opponent blink just in time for what's coming next. It works best when your opponent's back is at the ropes. Lemieux's set up a right hand that landed, but at near full-extension, which means most of the force had fizzled, and Stevens did well by countering it with a left hook. However, Lemieux's right hand was something of a dummy too, because Lemieux was still moving in to position himself at mid-range as he threw it. Stevens' left hook landed first, on Lemieux's neck. Lemieux's landed on Stevens' chin, where it says nighty-night.

Before the fight, Stevens referred to Lemieux with a particularly offensive obscenity. That proved a costly mistake, as Lemieux used it to recast a simple contest into a mission. "I wanted to make an example of him," he said in the post-fight press conference. "Respect everybody, respect every fighter."    

Hamilton Nolan: Joshua KO Klitschko

No changing of the guard was bigger than Joshua ascending into the heavyweight throne that the Klitschkos have controlled for many years.

Gordon Marino: Joshua KO Klitschko

Frank Della Femina: Lemieux TKO Stevens

David Lemieux knocking out Curtis Stevens gets my nod for KO of the Year. As is common for Stevens, he spent all of fight week talking about how he was going to hurt/kill/maim/severely injure his opponent (see also: Golovkin, Fall 2013). And while this is all good and great when it comes to promoting the fight, if you’re Curtis, at some point you have to consider whether this is actually working out in your favor anymore. Look no further than the left-handed howitzer Lemieux landed in the third round of their March 11th bout that sent Stevens into the shadow realm. The exchange on the ropes was oddly reminiscent of Canelo-Kirkland, which if memory serves was also my 2015 pick for KO of the Year.

Oliver Goldstein: Sor Rungvisai KO Chocolatito

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There were good arguments to be made that Chocolatito deserved the nod after his first fight with Sor Rungvisai. None were available after the second. If this wasn’t the knockout as total wipeout, it was still shockingly, solemnly definitive.

Kieran Mulvaney: Lemieux TKO Stevens

In the aftermath of this crushing blow, there was some mild pushback from those who watched the knockout on TV to the reaction of those who were in the arena. “Hey, it didn’t look that bad.” “I’ve seen way worse.” “I’m not convinced it’s knockout of the year.” “Jim and Max sure seemed to be overly dramatic in their selling of it.” Maybe it was one of those moments when you had to be there. I was there, and I’m telling you: there probably wasn’t a single person in the arena at Turning Stone that night who didn’t think, for at least a moment, that Curtis Stevens might be dead. It wasn’t just the hammer blow that knocked him out – and if you like to judge your knockouts on their technical brilliance and not whether or not the guy at the receiving end is unconscious and unmoving afterward, Lemieux’s hook was a thing of beauty, timed perfectly, thrown with precision and purpose. Nor was it solely the way he crashed to the canvas right in front of the announce team, his left arm unfolding from his prone body and convincing the timekeeper to beat a hasty retreat. It’s also that he lay there, completely unmoving, for a loooong time. It is not an exaggeration to say that a lot of eyes were trained on Stevens’ chest, to make sure he was actually breathing. There are knockouts, and there ae knockouts. This was a knockout.

Carlos Acevedo: Lemieux TKO Stevens

There is no telling just where Curtis Stevens went after David Lemieux nailed him with a left hook so concussive it left him draped out on the ring apron. He seemed to have an out-of-body experience as physicians rushed to his aid. In a battle between two left-hooking machines, Lemieux landed his first (and with more accuracy) when the two exchanged blows along the ropes in the third round. The explosive shot sent Stevens in a free-fall. He was unconscious before he hit the canvas. That knockout blow, and its effect, underscored the cruel paradox of boxing: how terror and beauty can co-exist simultaneously. Thankfully, Stevens was not seriously hurt, and likely does not remember a thing about what happened to him. Better for him, then, and better for us as well.

Eric Raskin: Beltran KO Maicelo

beltran maicelo KO

It’s the punch you don’t see coming. And Maicelo definitely never saw Beltran’s left hook coming. Beltran feinted just enough to get Maicelo looking at the wrong shoulder, then suddenly the hook struck the jaw, and the Peruvian prospect was out before he hit the canvas. The back of his head slammed into the mat with sickening force, and, maybe it’s distasteful to say it, but that’s why this is my KO of the Year pick over David Lemieux-Curtis Stevens. Both knockouts were the result of vicious, single hooks, but the landing for Maicelo was more violent.

Matt Draper: Lemieux TKO Stevens

I don’t know what could top David Lemieux’s destruction of Curtis Stevens back in March. HBO’s Roy Jones Jr. summed it up best: The Canadian caught Stevens “right on the button.” It was an instant KO, with Stevens’ body just crumbling to the canvas. Our digital team covering the fight paused before posting anything until we had word Stevens was conscious and coherent – because so much time had gone by without him moving a muscle. He eventually left the ring and headed to the hospital, which wasn’t a surprise considering the strike Lemieux landed.

Diego Morilla: Sor Rungvisai KO Chocolatito

The first fight was so mired in controversy that it afforded Gonzalez the chance to keep a lower position in most of the pound-for-pound rankings he had dominated up to then. But the signs were troubling, starting with his razor-thin win over Carlos Cuadras in his previous bout. And it all came crashing down on a chilly night in Carson, when the Nicaraguan paid a heavy price for his jump in weight, his change of training habits, his loss of his lifelong trainer Arnulfo Obando, and especially his fan-friendly style that exposed himself to a lot of punishment in his quest to dish out a similar and more devastating brand of his own. The hopes of imposing such a punishment on Rungvisai in their anticipated rematch finally disappeared in the fourth round, when it became clear that the Thai champ was just too strong and too determined for him. Legend has it that if a fighter falls face-first to the canvas without making an effort to stop his fall with his hands, he is knocked out already. Gonzalez gave testimony of his greatness when he stood up to challenge that notion after nosediving onto the mat in the first knockdown. He was, however, unable to challenge Rungvisai’s claim of superiority for much longer, as he went down on his back in his next trip to the canvas to put an effective end to his run as a pound-for-pound entrant in one of the year’s most devastating stoppages.

Michael Gluckstadt: Lemieux TKO Stevens

There are sports sounds that stay with you. The crack of the bat on an Aaron Judge home run. LeBron James rattling the rim. David Lemieux's punches have their own timbre. And his thwacking KO of Curtis Stevens earlier this year is its signature song.

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Round of the Year

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2016. Here, they make their selections for Round of the Year.

More: Fight of the Year | Fighter of the Year | KO of the Year | Best Blow | Best Corner | Breakthrough Fighter | Favorite Moments

Nat Gottlieb: Salido vs. Roman, Round 8

The nod here goes to the eighth round of the Miguel Roman vs. Orlando Salido war on December 9. Relying on years of experience and sheer guts, Salido somehow managed to take Roman into the latter rounds after being knocked down in the fourth round. Then in the 8th came a round for the ages. A stinging left hook from Roman put Salido down hard. Although the aged veteran got to his feet, it seemed there was no way he would make it to the end of the round. But in what turned out to be the final blaze of glory for the 37-year-old, former two-time featherweight champion, Salido turned the tables on Roman and beat him from pillar-to-post for the remainder of the round. As the bell sounded, the Las Vegas crowd rose to its feet and roared with appreciation for the gutsy display of fighting from both men.

Springs Toledo: Salido vs. Roman, Round 8

Round eight of the Mickey Roman-Orlando Salido fight looked like a George Bellows oil from the early 20th century come to life. Salido, a thirty-seven-year-old warhorse with thirteen losses and a reputation that renders every one of them a moot point, stuck his head on the shoulder of Mickey Roman and dug uppercuts and hooks in while Roman, who came into the bout with a last-chance, do-or-die mentality, was his less-grizzled mirror image. Their visages obscured and their gloves a-blur as if Bellows was slashing a canvas in black and yellow, the drama of the round reached a crescendo when a seemingly never-ending combination forced Salido back toward the ropes where he collapsed. Salido sat for a moment and then wearily got himself to his feet.

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When the referee asked him if he was all right, his response was that of a street corner kid: "Si," he said with a gesture that looked like he was hoisting up his trunks as if it ain't no thing. "Are you sure?" the referee asked again. "Si!" Salido shot back like an old man offended at a stupid question. He got back to work, and in the last ten seconds was in command--digging in hooks and uppercuts while Roman, winded and stunned, could only keep his gloves high. The bell rang and the old warhorse turned his back and headed to his corner; Roman stood still for just a moment and watched him, with respect.

Hamilton Nolan: Sor Rungvisai vs. Gonzalez 2, Round 4

Round 4, Rungvisai-Gonzalez 2. Sor Rungvisai's knockout of Chocolatito was a few things simultaneously. It was proof their first fight was not a fluke; it was the end of one man's dominance; and it was, probably, the end of Gonzalez's career. He was broken.

Gordon Marino: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 11

Frank Della Femina: Canelo vs. Golovkin, Round 5

During Round 5 of Canelo-Golovkin, both fighters met on the ropes which just around a minute to go. At this point the fight that started so favorably for Canelo was beginning to level out. This exchange between the two was easily my favorite moment of the year, as Golovkin’s right found the head of Canelo, but the Mexican stood his ground, stared back, and just shook his head. Seconds later, Canelo answered back with a few shots and just missed a right of his own over an evasive, grinning Golovkin. GGG responded in kind by shaking his head, Canelo shook his head before fighting his way off the ropes, and by the end of the fight, everyone was shaking their heads.

Oliver Goldstein: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5

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Four rounds in, Anthony Joshua was doing OK. Boxing on the outside against a cautious but focused Wladimir Klitschko, Joshua seemed content to operate in a holding pattern: if he wasn’t winning, he wasn’t losing either. But then, at the start of the fifth, the Londoner suddenly overcame the gap between them and crashed the Ukrainian to his knees. Badly shaken, Klitschko stumbled to his feet while euphoria surged through the Wembley crowd. Yet as the seconds passed, Joshua, coursing with adrenaline, grew overeager, then reckless. Suddenly, before anyone had time to make sense of it, the Brit was swaying stiffly on his feet, rocked senseless by a resurgent Klitschko. The round ended with Joshua clinging to consciousness.

Kieran Mulvaney: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5

This was the round that elevated this clash from interesting to epic, and its story is told in a sequence of reactions from the 90,000-strong, highly pro-Joshua, crowd. First. The roars of delight as Joshua had Klitschko down and seemingly there for the taking. Then an odd quiet for such a large contingent of humanity, as the spectators struggled to comprehend what they were witnessing: Joshua, having been on the brink of victory, now seemingly frozen, his legs leaden. Finally, a different kind of roar: of shocked realization, of concern, of trying to rally their champion from the brink of sudden defeat. Joshua made it to the bell, but it would be a few more rounds yet before the echoes of the fifth finished reverberating around Wembley and Joshua resumed his ultimately conclusive control.

Carlos Acevedo: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5

Heavyweights rarely rumble at the pace Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua set last April. And when they do, the results can be mesmerizing. The fifth round of their struggle saw Klitschko cut and dropped after Joshua unloaded some of his precision combinations. In pursuit of a knockout win over the most accomplished heavyweight since Lennox Lewis, Joshua tore after Klitschko, battering the veteran around the ring. Even with Joshua storming after him, Klitschko, a pro since 1996, kept his composure, and when Joshua began to gas, “Dr. Steelhammer” went to work, rallying to hurt Joshua repeatedly before the bell rang to end the round. For the action junkie, the Mickey Roman-Orlando Salido dustup probably had more rounds of all-out ferocity than Joshua-Klitschko. But the fifth round of Joshua-Klitschko did not just stand on its own but was also a harbinger of the dramatic shifts in momentum to come.

Eric Raskin: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5

To quote my own Twitter feed (something only really cool people do), the fifth round of the Joshua-Klitschko fight was “one of the best heavyweight rounds I’ve seen in a long time. Wlad has a weak chin, but no lack of testicular fortitude.” Joshua rocked Klitschko early in the round, Wladimir was cut over the left eye, and he finally went down. He tried to hold, looked like he was in pure survival mode — but then the 41-year-old ex-champ started firing back. And before you knew it, Joshua was exhausted and in survival mode himself, eating a right hand, a left hook, a right uppercut. It was as dramatic as a round of heavyweight boxing gets, a round that helped show us what both Joshua and Klitschko are made of.

Diego Morilla: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5

There is no legitimate lineage claim in the biggest prize in sports without a dramatic moment to validate the win in the most emphatic fashion. Joe Louis visited the canvas in the first round against Jim Braddock to later stop him in his title-winning bout, Muhammad Ali was almost blind for an entire round before clearing his vision to stop Sonny Liston in his first title fight, and then withstood a non-stop shellacking by George Foreman to score the biggest upset ever in the second one, and the list goes on. And this heavyweight championship bout had to have its moment of drama as well. Going into the fifth round, Klitschko was behind on all scorecards after a dull start, and Joshua moved in for the kill. It turned out to be a bad idea, as the aging champion and fellow Olympic gold medalist withstood the early onslaught and came back to open a cut on the local favorite. Joshua responded with a barrage that sent Klitschko to the canvas, but he rose to produce what ended up becoming the last two truly competitive minutes of his career as he rallied to keep the suddenly gassed out Joshua on the defensive – and on the brink of a stoppage himself. The fight had a few ups and downs before culminating in a well-earned win by Joshua, but this round lives on as a testimony of Klitschko’s grit during what was supposed to be just a ceremonial handing of the scepter to the new king.  

Michael Gluckstadt: Joshua vs. Klitschko, Round 5

This is the kind of round you would call unrealistic if they put it in a movie. The ascendant star sees an opportunity to make a statement in front of 90,000 of his countrymen and seizes it. The legendary champ on his way to retirement -- who'd been dinged throughout his career for not showing enough heart -- storms right back at him. So often, boxers finish their careers as husks of what they once were. He's washed. Wladimir Klitschko left the sport after the fight of his life.

Sor Rungvisai Knocks Out Chocolatito, Becomes Super Super Fly

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

CARSON, Calif -- This time, there was no doubt. Six months after leaving Madison Square Garden with a world title via a disputed decision win over previously unbeaten Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai underlined that he is the real deal by defeating Gonzalez again, this time with a decisive and dramatic knockout that surely brought down the curtain on the Chocolatito era. 

The fight did not last long, the end coming at 1:18 of the fourth round, but the StubHub crowd loved every moment of it, and with good reason. The duration may have been brief, but the action was intense from the opening bell, each man tearing into the other with singular viciousness and a fusillade of punches. There was little nuance, little setting up, just two skilled and ferocious fighters standing in each other’s wheelhouse and opening fire. Gonzalez, noticeably the smaller man, found perhaps his greater success at the closest of ranges, while Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KOs) had the most impact when able to gain just that little bit more distance in order to benefit his longer arms and torqued punches. 

A notoriously slow starter, Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KOs) was greatly outworked in the first round, throwing just 31 punches to the 71 of his opponent, granting early credence to the notion that, after almost 50 frequently hard-fought bouts, he was entering a late-career decline. But he stayed on his feet, unlike in the opening frame of their first contest in March, which could also be seen as progress of sorts. And indeed, in the second and third rounds, he matched Sor Rungvisai in both punches thrown and landed. He was giving as good as he got – almost. Whereas Chocolatito’s punches landed in fast combinations to Sor Rungvisai’s body and head, the Thai fighter’s punches physically moved Gonzalez backward and sideways. And the beating Sor Rungvisai laid on Gonzalez’s body in the third augured poorly for the Nicaraguan’s prospects in the later rounds.

Those later rounds would not come. In the fourth, Sor Rungvisai knocked Gonzalez sideways twice with big right hands, backed him off with punches to the body, and then stepped forward and uncorked a short right. Gonzalez did likewise, but Sor Rungvisai’s landed first, and Gonzalez toppled downward, crashing to the canvas on his side. He nodded to referee Tom Taylor that he was OK, and after rising he returned to the fray. But Sor Rungvisai was a man on a deadly mission, and another right and a left sent Gonzalez to his back, where Taylor waved off the contest without a count.

It is testament to the nature of the contest that, of a combined 138 punches landed by both men, just four were jabs – none of them landed by Sor Rungvisai. 

Gonzalez was on the canvas for several minutes, and when he sat up, it was with the saddened recognition of a man who realized his time at the top had come crashing to an end in the cruelest of ways, as so often happens in this cruelest of sports.

For Sor Rungvisai, however, the future is bright.

“I trained really hard for four months,” he declared. “I knew I would knock him out.” Asked who he wanted to fight next, he declared, “I am afraid of no one.” 

With a performance like Saturday’s, nor should he be.

***

Naoya Inoue’s US debut was a dominant one, the unbeaten and highly-touted Japanese softening up, beating up, dropping and stopping overmatched Antonio Nieves after six one-sided rounds. Inoue (14-0, 12 KOs), stalked Nieves from the first bell, backing him up repeatedly with a stiff jab and following that up with thudding right hands. To his credit, Nieves was able to absorb many of the blows on the gloves that he kept pinned to his face behind a high guard; but slowly and surely, Inoue walked him down and dismantled him. It was clear, even from ringside, that despite being 115 pounds, Inoue carries thumping power, as evidenced by the fact that at one point he was able to keep Nieves pinned to the ropes with his jab alone.

After a few rounds of tenderizing Nieves (17-2-2, 9 KOs), Inoue moved up a gear in the fifth, targeting the American’s body and dropping him to one knee with a left hook below the rib cage. For the rest of the round, and in the decisive sixth, he brutalized his opponent’s torso, pounding the fight out of his perpetually retreating foe, until Nieves’ corner pulled their man from the contest between rounds.

***

In the opening bout, Juan Francisco Estrada scored a tenth round knockdown and used his serious punching power and technique to secure a close but unanimous decision win over a game and determined Carlos Cuadras. Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KOs) started brightly, scoring with a stiff jab and left hooks, and firing off combinations to body and head while utilizing deft footwork to leave Estrada chugging ineffectually after him. 

Estrada began to steer Cuadras into some straight counterpunches in the second, but his activity level was too low for him to win many, or perhaps even any, of the opening rounds; every time it appeared that Estrada (36-2, 26 KOs) was on the verge of reeling Cuadras in and asserting control, his opponent unleashed another torrent of activity to seize the initiative back. 

Cuadras’ punches were looping and wide, however, and as his energy level dipped slightly, Estrada was increasingly able to close the distance, until suddenly in the sixth he exploded into action, sending a sequence of right hands thudding into Cuadras’ head. He did the same in the seventh, now stalking Cuadras, who continued to fire off combinations but to progressively less effect. An Estrada right hand dropped Cuadras onto his rear in the tenth, but still Cuadras battled back. His punches were relatively ineffectual, however, whereas Estrada appeared to shake him to the core each time he landed cleanly; even so, Cuadras was firing furious combinations in a desperate attempt to pull out the win as the bell rang to end the fight.

It appeared clear that, despite falling behind early, Estrada had done enough to win, and there were furious boos throughout the StubHub Center when the decision was initially announced in favor of Cuadras. That was swiftly corrected, however, with all three judges scoring 114-113 for Estrada.

Weigh-In Recap + Slideshow: Superfly Promises Big Action on Saturday Night

By Kieran Mulvaney

CARSON, Calif. -- If it were possible to somehow meld Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras and Juan Francisco Estrada into one giant blob, that four-person mashup would still weigh less than the combined poundage of Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko when the two behemoths clashed at Wembley Stadium in late April. (You’d need to add a little more than one-quarter of Naoya Inoue or Antonio Nieves to tip the scale in favor of the blob monster.)

Joshua and Klitschko put on what remains the clear frontrunner for Fight of the Year honors, and there’s no guarantee that any two – or four, or more – of the participants in Saturday’s “Superfly” card (HBO Boxing After Dark, 10:15 PM ET/PT) will combine to produce anything that might match or exceed that contest. But it would be a brave man indeed who bet against any of them doing so. The super-flyweight (or, if you prefer, junior bantamweight) division is stacked with talent, and the StubHub Center will be showcasing the cream of the crop on Saturday.

No matter how good a boxer, he can ultimately only be judged against the quality of the foes he faces, and it is a peculiar phenomenon of boxing that, at various times, the stars align in such a way that various divisions take their turns at being the relative center of gravity. Most famously, the 1980s saw a succession of great fights between Wilfred Benitez, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler; but some of that quintet squared off first at welterweight (Duran began his professional career at lightweight) and then junior middleweight before Duran, Hearns and Leonard moved up to 160 lbs., where Hagler was waiting for them.

Rungvisai believes that something similar has happened – on a literally smaller scale – to create the concentration of talent at super flyweight.

“The best want to fight the best, so everyone moved up from 108, 112 to 115 so they can fight the best,” he explained to HBO Boxing earlier this week.

And the fact that they have done so is something that has fight fans excited at least partly, added Gonzalez, because “we fight to please the crowd. We do what is expected of us, and we win the crowd over.”

“We have it all at 115,” declared Nieves. “We have speed, we have power, we have ring generalship. We have it all.”

The six fighters on Saturday’s card boast a remarkable combined record of 190-9-4, and of those nine losses, three came very early in the career of Rungvisai (who started out 1-3-1 before subsequently going 42-1) and four came at the hands of each other (Rungvisai lost to Cuadras, Gonzalez to Rungvisai, Cuadras and Estrada to Gonzalez).

In addition to talent, the card boasts storylines: Gonzalez, formerly considered the number one fighter in the sport, pound-for-pound, is looking to avenge a controversial March loss to Rungvisai in a brutal fight; Cuadras and Estrada – who, before Rungvisai defeated Gonzalez, were the two opponents who came closest to doing so – squaring off for the right to face the Gonzalez/Rungvisai winner; and Naoya Inoue, who has risen rapidly to prominence and become something of a darling among those who scour YouTube for fights on distant shores, making his US and HBO debut against a determined Nieves.

None of the six boxers is close to being the biggest or tallest to enter the ring on HBO this year, but top to bottom the entire card is almost certainly the deepest. Gonzalez’s battles with Rungvisai, Cuadras and Estrada were all sensational brawls; it would be a shock if Saturday night doesn’t produce at least one fight that proves equally electrifying.


Weights from Carson:

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai: 115.0 lbs.

Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez: 114.8 lbs.

Naoya Inoue: 115.0 lbs.

Antonio Nieves: 113.8 lbs.

Carlos Cuadras: 114.6 lbs.

Juan Francisco Estrada: 114.8 lbs.

Watch: Sor Rungvisai vs. Chocolatito and Inoue vs. Nieves Previews

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney talks to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez about their thrilling first fight and upcoming rematch. Then, he speaks one-on-one with Naoya Inoue and Antonio Nieves about the intrigue of Inoue's United States debut.

Boxing After Dark: Sor Rungvisai-Chocolatito happens Saturday, September 9 on HBO at 10:15 PM ET/PT.

Watch: Superfly Tripleheader Preview 2

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue, Antonio Nieves and Carlos Cuadras break down why the Superfly tripleheader is one of the most anticipated nights of boxing this year.

Tune in to HBO for all the action Saturday, September 9 at 10:15 p.m. ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.

CompuBox Preview and Prediction: Sor Rungvisai vs. Chocalatito 2

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By CompuBox

On the morning of March 18, 2017, Roman Gonzalez was 46-0 and sat atop most pound-for-pound lists. Before he went to bed that night, he was bloodied, no longer unbeaten and toppled from his pound-for-pound perch following a disputed majority decision loss to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who regained the title he had lost by technical decision to Carlos Cuadras in May 2014. The thrilling two-way action and controversial decision begat this rematch at the StubHub Center in Carson, which, given the venue's history, couldn't be staged in a better place.

Will the rematch live up to the original? Given that even after the fight Gonzalez topped four of the 10 CompuBox Categorical Leaders list (punches thrown per round with 89, total punches landed per round with 34.3, average power punches thrown per round with 67.6 -- 13.1 more than his closest rival -- and average power connects per round at 29.4 and 7.8 more than second place), version #2 should approach, if not exceed, expectations.

Act One

Sor Rungvisai-Gonzalez I remains one of the best action fights of the year. The two boxers swapped 1,953 total punches thrown, of which 1,423 (or 72.9% - CompuBox avg.: 58.5% ) were power shots. Gonzalez's 372 power connects set a new all-time CompuBox record at 115. Other stats were heavily in favor of "Chocolatito": Connect leads of 441-284 overall, 69-7 jabs and 372-277 power, percentage gaps of 44%-30% overall, 20%-4% jabs and 56%-36% power, and round-by-round leads of 9-3 overall, 11-0-1 jabs and 8-4 power.

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However, Sor Rungvisai scored a first-round knockdown and because he opened two severe cuts on Gonzalez's face, the Nicaraguan had the look of a hurting fighter struggling to survive. That, combined with Sor Rungvisai fighting much better than expected, might have given the Thai enough of the close rounds to score the upset.  Rungvisai is all about the power punch.  21.9 of his 23 landed punches (95.2%)a re power shots- CompuBox avg.: 72%  & 55.8 of his 67.7 thrown punches (82.4%) are power shots. CompuBox avg.: 41.5%.  Rungvisai opponents landed 39.4% of their power shots.  

Eroding Dominance

The first Sor Rungvisai fight continued a downward trend in which Gonzalez couldn't dominate opponents the way he had at 105, 108 and early in his 112-pound reign. His three pre-Sor Rungvisai fights against Brian Viloria, McWilliams Arroyo and Carlos Cuadras were punishing affairs in terms of physical damage, though statistically he still was well ahead. In those fights, he averaged a combined 22 more punches per round (88.5 vs. 66.5), landed 11.5 more total punches per round (30.8 vs. 19.3), 12 more power shots each round (27.9 vs. 15.8) and was more accurate overall (35%-29%) and in power punches (44%-34%).

But in the four preceding fights against Akira Yaegashi (from whom he won the WBC flyweight title), Rocky Fuentes, Valentin Leon and Edgar Sosa (his HBO debut), Gonzalez was far more successful and appeared to be a more well-rounded fighter. Yes, the activity gap was smaller (78.9 per round to 69.7) but the punishment gulfs were larger as he more than doubled his foes' total connects (32.2 vs. 13.4) and landed power shots (26.7 vs. 11.9), while also prevailing by much larger percentage margins (41%-19% overall, 27%-6% jabs, 46%-29% power).

The biggest differences between today's version of Gonzalez and the one of before are his diminishing use of angles and footwork as well as his eroding jab success (24.5 thrown/2.9 connects, 11.8% accuracy vs. Cuadras, Arroyo and Viloria; 20.6 thrown/5.5 connects per round, 26.7% accuracy vs. Yaegashi, Fuentes, Leon and Sosa). To regain the title, he'll need to turn back the clock and restore the diversity of his offensive attack.

Prediction

With 12 rounds of experience and nearly six months to rest and recuperate, Gonzalez will find his way back to the top. Many thought he should have won the first fight despite the blood and punishment he suffered, but now that he has a clean face and many more skills still at his disposal, Gonzalez will recapture enough of his previous self to capture a hard-earned decision.