By Jake Donovan
As a rematch with Juan Francisco ‘El Gallo’ Estrada is being groomed for a big event in the second half of 2016, Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez has set his sights on another flyweight unification bout.
The reigning World flyweight champion has informed local media at home in Nicaragua that plans are in the works for a clash with Amnat Ruenroeng. Once finalized, the two will put their respective unbeaten records and titles on the line in a unification clash targeted for February 16.
In addition to his lineal championship reign, Gonzalez is the recognized WBC flyweight titlist; Ruenroeng owns the IBF belt.
Gonzalez is coming off of a 9th round knockout of Brian Viloria on October 17th at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The win was his second straight to air on HBO (this bout airing live on HBO Pay-Per-View and replayed one week later on the flagship station), as he has emerged in the eyes of many as the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound.
With the financial backing of HBO, it was hoped that there would be enough money on the table for a long-awaited rematch with Estrada, whose 2 ½ year title reign began with an April ‘13 upset win over Viloria in Macau, China.
The feat came just five months after Estrada dropped a competitive decision to Gonzalez in their Nov. ’12 shootout. Gonzalez made the final defense of his junior flyweight belt, moving up to flyweight but not getting his shot at a title until finally landing World (lineal) champ Akira Yaegashi in the ring last September, scoring a one-sided 9th round knockout to pick up his third title in as many weight classes.
Gonzalez and Estrada are joined at the top of the division by Ruenroeng (16-0, 5KOs), whose awkward style can frustrate nearly any flyweight on the planet. It has led to a successful reign which began with a vacant title win over Rocky Fuentes last January.
Four successful defenses have followed for the former kickboxer from Thailand, including a pair of impressive road wins over previously unbeaten Kazuto Ioka (May ’14 in Japan) and Zou Shiming this past March in Macau. Ruenroeng has also registered title fight victories over McWilliams Arroyo and John Riel Casimero, both taking place in Thailand and carrying varying degrees of controversy.
Ruenroeng was dropped midway through his 12-round win over Arroyo, with their Sept. ’14 bout competitive throughout and one that could have easily gone the other way. Far more controversial was the manner in which he outlasted Casimero in June. The bout was a foul-filled affair, with inept referee Larry Doggett never gaining control at any point in the fight.
While Ruenroeng won a decision, but it was widely believed that a rematch would be ordered upon successful appeal by Casimero’s camp. Instead, the IBF ordered a final eliminator between Casimero and Arroyo, with the winner to get a second crack at the flyweight title.
The ruling paved the way for Ruenroeng to seek an optional defense, allowing his handlers to negotiate a fight with Gonzalez.
A few details remain before making the fight final, but Gonzalez is confident that Ruenroeng – and not Estrada – will be the first boxer he sees in 2016. That said, he expects a rematch to serve as the centerpiece of what he hopes to be a career-best year after emerging as a breakout star in 2015.
“We’re both great fighters, and both must (continue to) win,” Gonzalez (44-0, 38KOs) told Canal 4 Nicaragua of keeping hope alive for what he envisions as a multi-million dollar rematch with Estrada in which HBO has expressed considerable interest. “The fight against ‘El Gallo’ can come after I face (Ruenroeng). I want to fight more often and know that 2016 will be my best year in boxing.”
Location and affiliated network coverage have yet to be mapped out, although early whispers suggest that the fight lands in Japan, where Gonzalez is co-promoted by Mr. Honda’s Teiken Promotions. The unbeaten phenom fights for K2 Promotions for his bouts in the United States.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox