By Cliff Rold
It’s arguably as good a support bout on paper as any pay-per-view main event has had since the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez. That show gave fans Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse for their hard earned dollars. The stateside fanfare for the fighters here probably isn’t as high. The firework potential might be higher.
Next Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST), on the undercard of the middleweight unification fight between Gennady Golovkin (WBA) and David Lemieux (IBF), the flyweights take center stage.
On one side of the ring, Nicaragua’s 28-year old WBC and lineal 112 lb. king Roman Gonzalez (43-0, 37 KO). He’ll be attempting the third defense of his title and looking to defeat his eighth current, former, or future major titlist.
Already having won titles in three divisions, Gonzalez has answered plenty of questions since his first title win at 105 lbs. in 2008. He’s faced veterans, brawlers, boxer-punchers, and men with solid hand speed. It’s been enough for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Ring Magazine to name him the best fighter in the world in the wake of Mayweather’s retirement.
One big question remains.
The man on the other side of the ring next weekend might be the one to ask, and answer, it.
34-year old former Olympian, two-division, and unified flyweight titlist Brian Viloria (36-4, 22 KO), has had his ups and downs. It kept him from meeting the hopes of being a new Michael Carbajal, an expansive lower division star for the US market. He’s done plenty on his own merits. Fourteen years after his professional debut, he remains a danger to anyone near his weight for what the old cliché says is the last thing to go.
Viloria can punch. He doesn’t always land the big shot. When he does, bad things happen to the legs of other men.
His explosive, single shot power is something we haven’t seen Gonzalez faced with yet. That Viloria remains quick fisted makes that power deliverable. He’ll also be well rested, having picked up four fairly easy wins since his last tough fight and defeat (more on that shortly). Assuming he doesn’t get run over, and no one has ever run over Viloria, he’s going to land at some point.
How Gonzalez responds will go a long way to answering if he’s as good as he looks.
Roman Gonzalez has looked very good.
His current division has also looked very good for most of the last four years. There aren’t a lot of really good divisions in boxing. Most of them have a good fighter or three. Few have genuine depth in their top ten. Flyweight has shown that depth in recent years, with real clash among the top guys on a fairly consistent basis. It has also built towards new fights, some that we’ve seen and some we still hope for.
There will be more building blocks laid imminently. Assuming both men stay in the division for at least another fight or two, the winner next weekend will be in line for probably the biggest fight of the division’s current run.
That fight will be a rematch.
But what rematch are we talking about?
Right now, the very top of the flyweight division comes down to two men: Gonzalez and Mexico’s 25-year old WBA and WBO titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (33-2, 24 KO). Let’s start there.
Gonzalez-Estrada II: Everything that has happened since these two first met in 2012 has seemed to point them towards each other. Estrada moved down to challenge Gonzalez for his WBA 108 lb. title on the undercard of Viloria’s unification win over a then-red hot “Tyson” Marquez. Viloria-Marquez was a hell of a fight. Gonzalez-Estrada stole the show.
While Gonzalez appeared to win a solid eight rounds, none of them were easy and Estrada has done nothing but win since. In his very next fight, he upset Viloria with a split decision that should have been unanimous. He’s made five defenses, including a rout of former lineal 108 lb. champion Giovani Segura in September 2014. In his last appearance, Estrada routed “Tyson” Marquez, scoring seven knockdowns on the way to a tenth-round finish.
Before Gonzalez can say he’s truly finished his business at flyweight, before he can chase a desirable future against 115 lb. titlist Naoya Inoue, he must face Estrada again. His run will incomplete if he fails to do so.
It’s not enough that’s already defeated him. Timing matters. Estrada was good in 2012. He’s demonstrably improved, so much so that there can be doubt about who the better man might be right now.
And Estrada must face Gonzalez again. No matter the evidence of improvement, he still took the loss. He can think he’s better now, think he’s good enough to win a return. Thinking is no proof.
Through various quotes and social media postings from the fighters and/or their handlers, this rematch is looking increasingly likely for 2016. From a purist’s perspective, this is the fight we should already be getting. Building Gonzalez as a network star at HBO against a known American name is a more sure path to getting there than both men drawing eyes on Spanish television and YouTube. HBO’s new interest in the division will go a long ways towards resolving potential financial issues for a unification showdown.
All Gonzalez has to do is defeat Viloria to clear the way.
If he doesn’t, we could be looking at…
Estrada-Viloria II: Only once has Viloria attempted to avenge one of his four losses, drawing with Omar Nino after losing the WBC 108 lb. title in 2006 (the fight was later deemed a No Contest when Nino failed a drug test). The economics and the stakes would make this a likely case for his second run at revenge. Their first fight wasn’t a classic but it was very good. More money, and more belts, might bring on even more fight.
Viloria’s win over Marquez was the first unification contest at flyweight in almost fifty years when it happened. In a rematch with Estrada, he’d have the chance to engage in his second unification bout while also attempting to reclaim his lost diadems. This was, by many accounts, almost the fight we got this fall. Before Estrada signed to fight Marquez and Viloria signed to challenge Gonzalez, there was talk of an Estrada-Viloria rematch. That talk has been there since their first fight.
If Viloria could beat Gonzalez and Estrada at this later stage of his career, he’d likely punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. If Estrada found that the rematch he’s been waiting for was really Viloria, he’d have a man he already knows he can beat with a far greater spotlight than an HBO2 undercard in Macau, China provided.
Estrada, if he successfully got by a Viloria rematch in this scenario, would be in the driver’s seat for what would still be a very sellable rematch with Gonzalez. This assumes, of course, that a Viloria win over Gonzalez wouldn’t lead instead to…
Viloria-Gonzalez II: In an interview with BoxingScene’s Thomas Gerbasi this week , Viloria alluded to the possibility that his fight with Gonzalez could lead to a sequel if he wins. Should we get a classic puncher’s duel, it might be the quickest way to the biggest dollars. For all his quality, Estrada has less exposure to HBO’s English-speaking audience right now. If fans in a packed Madison Square Garden arena and watching on television get a fight that surpasses expectations, they’re not going to be opposed to seeing it again.
Fans who think Gonzalez is being a little overrated right now will relish in saying so in the wake of a Viloria upset. Gonzalez, and his fans, will want to see him get a chance to redeem himself.
Could a Viloria upset set the stage for the sort of round robin that eventually leads to all of these fights playing out in some order over the next year or two?
That’s the great thing about Gonzalez-Viloria next weekend. It’s not just a good fight built on the ever-present boxing narrative of a rising star facing an aging one trying to hang on while he’s still got it. It’s a fight with implications for more quality fights just over the horizon. Boxing is at its very best when we have a fight to look forward to and the realistic belief that there will be more where that came from.
The chief undercard bout on the Golovkin-Lemieux show is boxing at its very best.
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]