by Cliff Rold
Sometimes, you can win for losing.
Last November marked one of the most anticipated Flyweight clashes in the U.S. since the heyday of Michael Carbajal. Former Olympian Brian Viloria was set for a main event unification clash with Tyson Marquez. As the narrative went, superlative Jr. Flyweight titlist Roman Gonzalez would be featured on the undercard.
Gonzalez has become, for the most part, that automatic at the lower ranks. One just sort of assumes that when he’s facing a generally anonymous opponent, he’s going to whack them out sooner or later.
Juan Francisco Estrada was a generally anonymous opponent.
Little seen outside of his native Mexico, he had a nice record but little of real quality on it. He didn’t appear to belong in the ring with Gonzalez…until the bell rang. In a fight that ended up stealing the show from the anticipated main event, Estrada came up short but gave Gonzalez everything he could handle and gave the fans a candidate for Fight of the Year.
There are those who would like to see Viloria-Gonzalez. It wasn’t going to come as part of the suddenly very interesting global spectacle that is the debut of Zou Shiming (HBO2, Saturday, 2 PM EST). Instead we get the best sort of comparison-shopping, boxing style. Estrada, the man who gave Gonzalez hell, gets rewarded for his efforts. Viloria will be fighting not just to win but, one would think, to prime the pump and further imaginations about a future clash with a looming rival.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBO Flyweight (2011-Present, 3 Defenses); WBA “Super” Flyweight (2012-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Light Flyweight (2005-06, 1 Defense); IBF Light Flyweight (2009-10, 1 Defense)
Weight: 111.2 lbs.
Hails from: Waipahu, Hawaii
Record: 32-3, 19 KO, 1 KOBY, 2 No Contests
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, ESPN, Ring, SecondsOut, BoxRec)
Record in Title Fights: 8-3, 5 KO, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 10 (Gilberto Keb Baas KO11; Eric Ortiz KO1; Jose Antonio Aguirre UD12; Omar Nino L12, NC12, TKO9; Edgar Sosa L12; Ulises Solis KO11; Carlos Tamara TKO by 12; Julio Cesar Miranda UD12; Giovanni Segura TKO8; Tyson Marquez TKO10)
Juan Francisco Estrada
Titles/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 112 lbs.
Hails from: Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
Record: 22-2, 18 KO
Rankings: #10 at 108 lbs. (BoxingScene, TBRB)
Record in Title Fights: 0-1
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. L8; Roman Gonzalez L12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Viloria B+; Estrada B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Viloria A; Estrada B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Viloria B; Estrada B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Viloria A; Estrada A
As much as one has to like the story of Estrada making a name for himself to get a fight like this, the story of Viloria is a roller coaster. He’s been up and down since the amateurs, currently riding the best wave of his paid tenure. Viloria’s rebound since the loss to Tamara has been a lot like the rebound of Wladimir Klitschko at Heavyweight after his loss to Lamon Brewster. Klitschko’s ride has been longer. Viloria may have had the better opponents.
He damn sure makes the better fights.
They each end up with some concussive results.
Viloria, early in his career, often handcuffed himself waiting for openings. He’s still not punch crazy in there, but he has a scary calm. He waits, but he punches at the right times now. Marquez, in his last fight, found out all about it. In the spots where he rocked Viloria, he found the cagey veteran even more dangerous. Few can let loose lethal, short power shots the way Viloria can. He obliterated the wild swinging Segura by consistently beating him to the punch.
He has mastered the art of being Brian Viloria.
At 32, and as a Flyweight, how long that counts remains to be seen. Estrada might be just the guy to end his career renaissance.
Estrada was a revelation against Gonzalez. He showed quickness, pop, and technique. He was sometimes too wide with his shots, especially as he fatigued. What he lacked in finesse he often made up for with energy.
The problem is we still don’t know what the Gonzalez fight really said. Was it just a case where a young fighter gets a shot and falls short with a hell of an effort? Or was it the beginning of a real force in the lower classes just getting his sea legs? Gonzalez was a huge leap in class for Estrada and he kept pace. Larry Merchant often reminded not to overrate a fighter off of a loss.
Estrada doesn’t have any particular win to point to just yet. That said, we know he can hang with a fighter many would pick to beat anyone from Flyweight down in Gonzalez. We know in his first loss, to the current 115 lb. titlist Sanchez, he came off the floor early and returned the favor before coming up just shy. One factor of interest: Estrada appears the taller man despite their listings. He certainly has the longer arms. If he can get his jab going, can he disrupt Viloria’s ability to set for counters?
We’ll know more once the action gets underway on Saturday.
This is a tough pick with reasons to like both men. Estrada’s sheer energy level could cause Viloria problems if it doesn’t play into his hands. Viloria does a good job of covering up and riding out assaults, and has become expert at finding holes while his opponents are throwing. Estrada won’t have the element of surprise this time either. Gonzalez might not have known what he was getting in Estrada. Viloria does. This could end up being a controversial decision by the end where volume offense is weighed against precision counters. Given the chatter is already about Viloria-Gonzalez, and maybe even Viloria-Shiming down the road, it feels like Estrada might have to dish out a pretty thick beating to get the call. Sticking with the more proven commodity, the choice is Viloria to win. It should be a hell of a fight.
Report Card Picks 2013: 7-7
Just as intriguing on Saturday afternoon’s show is the Jr. Lightweight belt action. Roman Martinez (26-1-2, 16 KO) never makes bad fights and he might have a chip on his shoulder. Many felt he deserved to lose his WBO belt last time out versus Juan Carlos Burgos. Diego Magdaleno (23-0, 9 KO) has long had the look of a comer. Saturday, he should finally come into his own and win his first major title.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]