By Cliff Rold
StubHub Center, Carson, California - The televised opener delivered on every bit of the promise it carried on paper.
In a fascinating clash of styles, 27-year old Juan Francisco Estrada (35-2, 25 KO), 114 ¾, of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, overcame an early scoring deficit to take over in the second half, dropping 29-year old Carlos Cuadras (36-1-1, 27 KO), 114 ½, of Mexico City, Mexico, in the tenth round. It was the single point difference between victory and a draw for Estrada in a unanimous decision initially announced incorrectly.
Estrada earns a mandatory WBC title shot at the winner of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai-Roman Gonzalez II while Cuadras goes back into line waiting for a chance to regain the title he lost last year. The referee was Jack Reiss.
Much of the opening frame was a feeling out session with Cuadras catching the eye with combinations to the body and a sharp right before the bell. The flashier Cuadras took advantage of a sometimes too patient Estrada through much of the first four rounds, appearing to build a lead and forcing the countering Estrada to get more aggressive in the fourth.
Action heated up in the fifth, Estrada rocking Cuadras only for Cuadras to find his legs, roar back, and freeze the moment’s momentum. Estrada seized it right back in the sixth, making Cuadras miss more than he had most of the night and walking him down with crisp, straight shots upstairs and hard blows to the body.
It got worse for Cuadras in the seventh. Seeming to have found his punching range, Estrada put on a clinic of punishing combinations and counters. Cuadras bravely rallied a little in the last minute, refusing to yield to the downhill assault. Both men would have moments in the eighth, and a clash of heads saw both walk away unmarked, with Estrada closing stronger with some crowd thrilling straight shots.
An uppercut from Cuadras in the ninth drew a roar from the masses and Estrada made sure to pay it back before the round was done, again closing stronger and wobbling Cuadras at the bell. Where the ninth was close, round ten was strikingly for Estrada who dropped Cuadras with a picturesque right. Cuadras rose and survived the round but his early work in the bout must have felt a lifetime away.
After another round, the eleventh, where Estrada’s greater accuracy held sway, the crowd saluted both men as they came out for the final round. Cuadras, potentially needing a knockdown badly, tried for a big finish and did some good work along the ropes during a burst where he got Estrada trapped. Estrada escaped and ended the fight landing the sort of stiff, true punches that had turned things in his favor.
Then came the scores and all hell broke loose. Announcing unanimous scores of 114-113 for Carlos Estrada, Michael Buffer would have to correct himself while the crowd rained down angry boos at the perceived injustice. In the correction, Estrada had his moment to celebrate and the crowd erupted for the man called “Gallo.”
Estrada was relieved after the errant announcement and gave Cuadras his due after the contest. “His quickness and fast hands surprised me early but once I figured him out I was winning. I won the last 7 rounds, he opined. He was also of the opinion the judges got it right after what was certainly a tense moment. "I'm glad they got the scores correct and I didn't get robbed.”
Cuadras disagreed with Estrada’s take and suffers his second narrow loss on the scorecards. "I won the fight. I landed the harder punches,” he said, despite suffering the night’s only knockdown. “No way he beat me. The knockdown was a slip, I was never hurt." Looking ahead, Cuadras demanded a chance at revenge. "I want an immediate rematch"
Estrada was making his third start in the division since vacating the WBO and WBA flyweight titles in 2016. Estrada won his unified portion of the crown from Brian Viloria in 2013, one fight removed from a memorable decision loss to Roman Gonzalez. Estrada defended his titles five times. Cuadras was in his second start since losing the WBC super flyweight title he won from Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2014 and made six defenses before a close loss to Gonzalez in 2016.