So little in life is reliable.

In boxing, even the most exciting fights on paper can go wrong. Styles might not clash. Head clashes can send things home before the fourth round leaving us with no result.

So far, the saga of the Hardcore Four bucks the trend. It’s reliable. It doesn’t disappoint. Sometimes it’s just pretty good. More often, it’s been great. On several occasions, it’s been timeless. 

Ten contests between Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and Carlos Cuadras have forged a legacy that is limited only by their size in how popularly it will be recalled. Saturday night in Texas, Estrada and Gonzalez did it again for twelve violently beautiful rounds of skill, leather, and character.

Estrada got his revenge for the first fight but his post-fight comments sounded like a man who isn’t sure he earned the victory. Based on social media reaction, many viewers seem to agree. The score here was 115-113 Gonzalez, giving Estrada the first, third, sixth, seventh and eleventh. There were swing rounds that could have gone the other way. The line between close fight and controversy ultimately comes down to one other thing that feels all too reliable in boxing.

That one scorecard.

Too often, boxing’s best fights are gashed by a pair of defensibly close outcomes and a wide card nearly impossible to justify. On Saturday, the card came from Carlos Sucre who somehow saw nine of the twelve rounds for Estrada and all of the last five. That would include a final round almost universally hailed as Gonzalez’s, a frame where Estrada was outlanded, outthrown, and seemed briefly buckled. 

But don’t let the debate about the outcome obscure the majesty of what occurred in the ring. Two aging gunslingers put forth a 2,000 punch war eight years and change in the making, delivering at least two round of the year nominees (the sixth and twelfth) and the likely front runner for Fight of the Year. We saw two great fighters do great things together.

We saw chapter ten.

And the story isn’t over. 

Does anyone who has followed this golden era at Jr. bantamweight really want it to end? 

Let’s get into it. 

The Future for Estrada: Estrada made his third defense of the lineal Jr. bantamweight crown and added the WBA belt to his war chest, making him a unified titlist in two weight classes after previously holding two belts at flyweight. The Mexican warrior added some other feathers to his cap as well. 

Estrada is the firm leader of the four way rivalry, standing now at 4-2 and Estrada is the only man with official wins over all of the other three. Estrada can also now say he has avenged every loss on his record. His other two losses, by decision to then-future titlist Juan Carlos Sanchez and then-Jr. bantamweight titlist Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, were turned back by knockout and decision respectively. Estrada should be considered a future Hall of Famer without qualification at this point.

What comes next? The heat of the moment will have many ready to see a third with Gonzalez. The bigger purse might be there too. To make it happen, Estrada might have to relinquish the WBC belt. The mandatory looms with Sor Rungvisai and their rivalry stands just as tied as Estrada-Gonzalez. Estrada’s two fights with Gonzalez have been better viewing than the two with Sor Rungvisai, but that’s by minor degrees as both series are fantastic. Fans won’t lose either way. Cuadras role in the four-way is likely concluded but Estrada, Gonzalez, and Sor Rungvisai can be mixed and matched a few more times without really facing anyone else and no one would complain.

Buckle up. Chapter eleven is coming.     

The Future for Gonzalez: Gonzalez was already considered one of the great sub-bantamweight fighters of all time before his second act. His win over Khalid Yafai and performance on Saturday only further his case. Greatness isn’t exclusively about the win column. To do what Gonzalez did, at his size, over thirteen years after he won his first title and after a devastating knockout loss, is rare.

Chocolatito is special. 

If he isn’t Nicaragua’s greatest fighter of all time, it’s Alexis Arguello. It’s a debate either way.

Fifty-three fights into his career, Gonzalez only has one indisputable defeat. That will change as he continues and how long he has is anyone’s guess. If Gonzalez can maintain the condition he was in Saturday, meaning the between camps discipline it takes to do so, he can extend his run. If Estrada goes to the Sor Rungvisai rubber match, Gonzalez has two opponents in particular who would be interesting. 

Gonzalez is the second man in history to win belts in each of the four lowest weight classes. The third and fourth, Donnie Nietes and Kazuto Ioka, arguably got there in part because their teams went around Gonzalez. In Ioka’s case, the use of WBA sub-belts allowed the skipping of Gonzalez and Estrada. It would feel incomplete, with Nietes returning to the ring next month, not to see Gonzalez against both of them even if it isn’t what it might have been at a previous date. Ioka, who has a WBO belt, would create an opening to win a belt and make a third fight with the winner of an Estrada-Sor Rungvisai III another unification opportunity. 

Ioka has looked excellent at 115 lbs and is coming off one of his best wins over Kosei Tanaka. It would be a pick ‘em fight. We can’t be sure what Nietes has left after two years off until we get an idea next month. Either bout would be welcome. So would skipping to a third with Estrada. Gonzalez fell short of a chance at a second lineal crown. Time will tell if he gets another. 

Rold Picks 2021: 11-2

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