2022 started with different plans.

At the start of the year, we were headed toward two more chapters of the four-way, ten-year saga that has been at the center of a golden era at Jr. bantamweight. Carlos Cuadras-Srisaket Sor Rungvisai II and then Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman Gonzalez III were all set. It seemed inevitable we'd see both those fights result in at least one more clash between the four before the year was over.

It didn't work out that way.

Estrada pulled out of the Gonzalez rubber match due to COVID. Sor Rungvisai fell ill, pulled out of the Cuadras rematch and time's wheel turned.

Youthful talent Jesse "Bam" Rodriguez leapt from Jr. flyweight to defeat Cuadras as a late replacement and then followed with a stoppage win over Sor Rungvisai. Gonzalez accepted and then battered WBC flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Martinez as a replacement in March. Estrada, inactive since receiving the decision in the second fight with Gonzalez in March 2021, didn't return until September with a tough decision win over unheralded Argi Cortes.

Saturday (DAZN/PPV, 8 PM EST), we arrive at an intended destination after all. The 32-year old Estrada (43-3, 28 KO) will attempt his fifth defense of the lineal Jr. bantamweight crown versus the 35-year old Gonzalez (51-3, 41 KO) in one of the best matches boxing could have made this year.

Estrada-Gonzalez is one of the best matches boxing can make in any year as evidenced twice already.

The rubber match takes place on a different game board than what we had at the start of the year. Rodriguez, who won a version of the WBC title against Cuadras (Estrada is their franchise champion and the regular WBC belt is on the line this weekend), has vacated and dropped to flyweight. WBO titlist Kazuto Ioka (29-2, 15 KO) will face WBA tiltist Joshua Franco (18-1-2, 8 KO) in a New Year's Eve unification. Fernando Martinez (15-0, 8 KO) has replaced Jerwin Ancajas as IBF titlist, breathing new life into the title scene.

It's impossible to say Estrada-Gonzalez III will definitely be the last clash between Jr. bantamweight's "hardcore four," but it feels like it could be. Sor Rungvisai (50-6-1, 43 KO) is 35 and coming off his first knockout loss since being stopped in his first two pro starts in 2009. Cuadras (39-5-1, 27 KO), is 34 and has lost two straight. The winner this weekend versus the winner of Ioka-Franco is the fight that will make the most sense in 2023.

If this, the eleventh clash between the four, is the finale of their rivalry, boxing has been more than blessed. A collection of talents who started firmly in the category of hardcore fan darlings evolved to elevate each other to be much more.

It started with Gonzalez and Estrada, an unanticipated Jr. flyweight classic on the undercard of Brian Viloria-Tyson Marquez. If it ends there this weekend, it will be fitting. No one could have known in November 2012 what was getting started. In May 2014, when Cuadras defeated Sor Rungvisai in their contest, the coming tide still was just rising. This whole thing happened organically, with nine of the eleven fights happening since 2016.

As of today, the records against each other are:

  • Estrada (4-2, 1 KO)
  • Sor Rungvisai (3-2, 1 KO)
  • Gonzalez (2-3, 1 KOBY)
  • Cuadras (1-3, 1 KOBY)

No matter what happens this weekend, if this is the final chapter Estrada would end the series with the most wins and as the only man in the series with a win over each of his rivals. Gonzalez would need an official win over Sor Rungvisai even if some still argue his case in their first of two encounters.

Gonzalez, who won titles in each of the four weight classes from strawweight to Jr. bantamweight, is already a certain Hall of Famer. A win for Estrada this weekend would leave him at 5-2 in this series and should make him a lock for anyone still on the fence.

Debatable decisions have helped fuel the series in ways that worked out in the long run for the fans. If Gonzalez gets the decision against Sor Rungvisai in their first fight, we might never have seen Estrada-Cuadras or Estrada-Sor Rungvisai, at least not in the order we did. Cuadras-Gonzalez II might instead have headlined the inaugural SuperFly card.

Similarly, if Gonzalez had gotten the decision most seem to think he deserved in the Estrada rematch last year, there's no rubber match this weekend. In a winter without Errol Spence-Terence Crawford, this third contest is a reminder of the best of boxing. 

Would anyone replace what was and is for guesses at what might have been? This is too good a bird in the hand. 

If Estrada-Gonzalez III is half what the first two fights were, it will be one of the best fights of the year. The quality across the first ten bouts has been consistently high with several fights exceeding all expectations. Thinking about the series, there just haven’t been any bad fights. The closest would be the Cuadras-Sor Rungvisai fight, a still quite good fight that was heating up when a cut ended it early. 

We’ve seen Gonzalez come off the floor against Sor Rungvisai and force the Thai banger to literally run away from him in the final round of their first fight…Sor Rungvisai stretch Gonzalez in their rematch…Estrada come off the floor to stop Cuadras in their rematch…Estrada and Sor Rungvisai split two memorable battles….Cuadras and Gonzalez beating the hell out of each other.

And we’ve borne witness to Estrada and Gonzalez letting loose thousands of punches against each other, never backing down, pushing each other to be greater every step of the way.

We’re about to see it again.

It couldn’t end any other way. 

Cliff’s Notes…

As a closing note, here’s a personal ranking of the fights of the series so far. The first five were all of Fight of the Year contenders and number one may be the greatest fight in the history of the division, a likely unanimous fight of the year if not for the combined action and spectacle of Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko that same year:

1) Sor Rungvisai-Gonzalez I

2) Gonzalez-Estrada I

3) Estrada-Gonzalez II

4) Estrada-Cuadras II

5) Gonzalez-Cuadras 

6) Sor Rungvisai-Estrada I

7) Estrada-Cuadras I

8) Estrada-Sor Rungvisai II

9) Sor Rungvisai-Gonzalez II

10) Cuadras-Sor Rungvisai

Everyone who saw them all can enter this weekend already grateful. That there is still room to finish the era beyond this four-man play in 2023 leaves us with plenty to still look forward too.

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com