Birmingham’s former WBA world champion Kal Yafai will excitedly be watching this weekend’s super-flyweight dream rematch between Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada but his days in that division are numbered.
Yafai, who is looking at a return in May, hasn’t boxed since losing to the brilliant “Chocolatito” back in February last year. Yafai was brave, but stopped in round nine in Texas.
He is now 26-1 (15) and the former 2008 Olympian is 31 but he will be a fan just like the rest of the boxing world on Saturday night.
“Damn right,” he said, when asked whether he was staying up for the bout that pits WBA king and future Hall of Fame Gonzalez against WBC champion Estrada.
He thinks the 33-year-old Nicaraguan star will win.
“He’s just very cute inside,” explained Yafai. “Technically he’s unbelievable, he picks his shots very well and I just see him winning. I can make a case for Estrada as well, he’s a great boxer, a boxer-puncher and it could be the right time for him because he’s closer to his prime than Gonzalez, probably. After that tough fight he had with Carlos Cuadras (Estrada was down in round three but twice dropped Cuadras before winning in the 11th), last time out, that might have taken something out of him.”
When Yafai returns, he will no longer be trained by Max McCraken.
He said he’s back in training and getting into shape while planning his next moves but Gonzalez represented his last night at super-fly.
“The performance wasn’t great,” he admitted. “I couldn’t do what I wanted to do in the fight. I couldn’t hit and move, I couldn’t box. I’m not one for making excuses and that’s why after the fight I didn’t take anything away from ‘Chocolatito’, he’s great, an all-time great and a great fighter and I think it was just one fight too many for me at super-flyweight. It did murder me [making weight] and I think with my performances before that fight you could see that. But take nothing away from him in that fight, he was absolutely brilliant and I’m not deluded to say I would have won the fight because he’s that good. [Moving forward] Once I get down under nine stone I will see how I am and then try to get down to the bantamweight limit.”
Yafai is clearly full of respect for Gonzalez. He said the old master just knew too many tricks and praised his “cuteness”, saying that it actually felt different being in with someone so good, at the Hall of Fame level.
“One hundred percent it felt different,” he added. “I can look to touch somebody to the head and then switch the left hook to the body and I know I’m going to land it, and if I land it, I’m going to do some damage. I was adamant a couple of times I was going to land that left hook to the body and I would have bet my house on it and all of a sudden he’d stick his elbow out and deflect it and I’d think, for f---’s sake!”
Is there a chance Gonzalez gets old over night?
“There could be but when I boxed him, it seemed like he was back in his prime. Maybe I made him look that good, I don’t know.”
But Yafai’s own game plan was altered by what he could do that night, going in having toiled to make the weight.
“I was thinking I’ve really got to get on this guy,” he recalled. “I haven’t got the legs to outbox him for 12 rounds, I haven’t got that in me tonight. I thought I needed to get him out of there ASAP and it didn’t work. And it’s pretty reckless thinking that way but when you know how you feel going into that ring it’s the worst feeling in the world. It’s a big learning thing for me because I know it’s not about killing yourself to make the weight.”
Super-flyweight, which includes brilliant Thai Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, is one of the sport’s hottest divisions but Yafai, who ranks the top three with Gonzalez at one, Estrada at two and Sor Rungvisai at three, won’t be going back there.
“I have to move up in weight because it’s detrimental to my health,” he concluded. “I could stay at that weight and be in the mix and keep getting into these big fights and make loads of money from them, but it’s not going to do me any good.”