By Cliff Rold
It couldn’t have been looking much better.
Juan Francisco Estrada (35-2, 25 KO) went from unheralded challenger to unified and defending titlist in just eight months between November 2012 and July 2013. The style with which he did it got a lot of attention from both hardcore fans and knowledgeable observers. The great Nacho Beristain, trainer of Ricardo Lopez and Juan Manuel Marquez, has been quoted more than once as believing Estrada is the best of Mexico’s current crop.
Not Canelo Alvarez.
Not Estrada’s Mexican opponent next weekend, Carlos Cuadras (36-1-1, 27 KO).
It sets a high bar for the man coined El Gallo. So what happened to the last couple years? It feels like it’s been a long time since Estrada had an opponent that could get the pulses racing.
It’s been since 2014 to be exact. In September of that year, a month that had a flurry of action at flyweight akin to the single day explosion coming this weekend, Estrada’s showdown with fellow Mexican Giovani Segura was heavily anticipated among followers of the lighter weight classes.
Estrada turned in a virtuoso performance, picking the wild but always dangerous Segura apart for eleven one-sided rounds. It was the culmination of a series of resume and reputation building fights that began with what one might call a ‘good’ loss.
Estrada challenged Roman Gonzalez for a title at Jr. flyweight in November 2012. Gonzalez was already building the buzz that eventually got him to HBO and by the end of the night he had found a rival. Estrada gave Gonzalez the toughest fight of his career to that point, losing clearly but in a way that suggested he was someone to see again.
Again would come against Brian Viloria in April 2013. Viloria, who unified two flyweight titles in the main event above Gonzalez-Estrada, faced Estrada in China. Ironically, Estrada made it to HBO before Gonzalez (albeit on an afternoon card on HBO2) and impressed with a solid win over Viloria. Estrada would return to China, and HBO2, for his first defense against future 108 lb. beltholder Milan Melindo.
He handed Melindo his first loss and the chorus of the impressed increased. The desire to see a Gonzalez-Estrada rematch increased as well over time, getting its loudest when Gonzalez joined Estrada as beltholder, in Gonzalez’s case also capturing the lineal throne, at flyweight in September ’14.
Now, here we are three years later at a fight that could be a main event on a lot of other nights. That’s a good thing. That it’s been three years since Segura is not. Gonzalez-Estrada II might have happened in 2015 but when Gonzalez finally broke through to premium American television that became a fight that suddenly could be made bigger and waited on.
Then Estrada had hand problems that cost him over a year of his career with no fights from September 2015 to October 2016. When he has been fighting the last few years, it wasn’t against much. Tyson Marquez was the biggest name foe and well past his sell by date. Estrada, who was finding himself on many mythical pound-for-pound lists along with Gonzalez, blew off track. He has a chance to restart the entire buzz this weekend.
A career that was ablaze with momentum can be redirected in a single night this Saturday (HBO, 10:15 PM EST). For all the talk of Gonzalez facing Inoue with a win this weekend, it’s easy to forget how long a rematch with Estrada was the best fight money could buy in the lower weights.
Are we really sure that’s not still the case?
What if the fight we should really be excited about, dreaming about, is Estrada-Inoue?
These might be the kinds of questions we’re all asking Sunday morning. It all depends on what direction Estrada is heading by then.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]