by Cliff Rold
When a weight class can lose a talent as outstanding as Naoya Inoue and remain loaded, one can rest assured it’s a special time.
Jr. bantamweight might not feel as red hot as it did a year ago but it’s hard to see where it’s really cooled off. Sure, Inoue is gone to bantamweight and former titlist Carlos Cuadras has also moved three pounds north.
In 2018, the class welcomed McWilliams Arroyo, Donnie Nietes, and Kazuto Ioka into the fold. Roman Gonzalez is still around, if recovering from injury, along with titlists Jerwin Ancajas and Khalid Yafai. We’ve continued to see good fights but, if there is anything that has lent a chill to the air, it’s the feeling that the division was in wait for the rematch at hand.
In February 2018, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada put on one of the best fights of the year, decided by the narrowest of margins. It wasn’t a controversial decision but it was close enough for reasonable minds to see it differently.
It demanded a sequel.
Maybe we will find this later to have been the midway point of a trilogy.
Maybe this Friday (DAZN, 7:30 PM EST), the conclusion we find will be definitive.
Either way, it would be a shock if this were anything less than excellent.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
Title: WBC Super Flyweight (2017-Present, 3 Defenses); Lineal/TBRB/Ring World Jr. Bantamweight Champion (2018-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Super Flyweight (2013-14, 1 Defense)
Hails from: Si Sa Ket, Thailand
Record: 47-4-1, 41 KO, 2 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-1, 3 KO
Last Five Opponents: 170-11-5 (.927)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Akira Yaegashi TKO by 3; Yota Sato TKO8; Carlos Cuadras L8 – Technical; Roman Gonzalez MD12, KO4; Juan Francisco Estrada MD12
Juan Francisco Estrada
Previous Titles: WBA/WBO Flyweight (2013-Present, 5 Defenses)
Hails from: Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
Record: 38-3, 26 KO
Rankings: #1 (TBRB, Ring), #2 (Boxing Monthly, ESPN, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-2, 4 KO
Last Five Opponents: 164-15-4 (.907)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: Juan Carlos Sanchez L8, TKO10; Roman Gonzalez L12; Brian Viloria MD12; Giovani Segura TKO11; Hernan Marquez KO10; Carlos Cuadras UD12; Srisaket Sor Rungvisai L12
The Case for Sor Rungvisai: Sor Rungvisai has the confidence of knowing he beat Estrada the first time and knowing that, outside of a cut-hastened decision loss to Cuadras in 2014, no one has had the better of him since a 1-3-1 start to his career. The champion doesn’t win with a lot of finesse so don’t look for him to back off a box or try to get cute. He’s a heavy handed southpaw who, in the first fight, often led with the left hook to the body or hammering rights to the gut. Sor Rungvisai’s power kept Estrada cautious last year and the champion was too smart to get reckless. After losing the first two rounds on two judge’s scorecards, Sor Rungvisai won rounds three through seven across the board. Friday the champion would be best served by staying aggressive, bringing the fight to Estrada responsibly, and looking to put the challenger in a similar hole. If he can, Sor Rungvisai is well positioned to retain.
The Case for Estrada: It’s been written before but bears repeating: Estrada fights in the wrong era. His temperament, stamina, and the way he gets better and sharper as a fight moves along would have made him an even bigger force in a fifteen-round era. He was well behind in the first fight only to come roaring back to win four of the last five rounds on two official scorecards. Estrada has a better jab than Sor Rungvisai and used it well the first time but it took awhile to feel comfortable letting combinations go. Will Estrada be more focused on countering the body attack of Sor Rungvisai this time? Can he afford to be more aggressive early despite the knockout power he faces? Estrada has to find a way to start sooner if he wants to add another title to his resume and push this rivalry toward a third chapter.
The Pick: This fight was almost impossible to call last year and little has changed. These two are evenly matched even if they might be closer to a big slide than most realized. Sor Rungvisai struggled in spots even as he won almost every round against Iran Diaz in the fall. Estrada seemed to be going through the motions in his last two fights. The candles sometimes burn faster in the lower weight divisions. Estrada has already been a force for most of the decade and Sor Rungvisai isn’t getting any younger and his first win over Gonzalez and last year against Estrada were both physically taxing. The pick here for Estrada was wrong last time around but only by a little. The Mexican is still the better technician, is younger, and still has more ways to win. It won’t be easy but the thinking is Friday night ends with a new champion, likely by decision.
Rold Picks 2019: 19-8
This has the makings of one of those weekends where everyone remembers something about it years from now…Early previews tease that the Battle of Winterfell will be longer than Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers movie. Stop and think, for all readers who watch Game of Thrones, about what a fun ride it’s been waiting eight years to see a giant fight with a zombie army…For boxing fans, Friday’s card will also include a unification match at 122 lbs. between WBA titlist Danny Roman(26-2-1, 10 KO) and IBF titlist TJ Doheny(21-0, 15 KO). Jr. featherweight has a great tradition of action fights and this could be a show stealer. Leaning towards Roman in a competitive decision…Additional picks and previews for the WBSS semi-finals at bantamweight and Jr. welterweight will come later this week, even with the air of disappointment hanging over the bantamweight field. WBO titlist Zolani Tete was forced to pull out of his showdown with Nonito Donaire in what looked like a very interesting clash. It dampens a field that started as promising as the cruiserweights were a year ago…Who bought their End Game tickets with all the fights on this weekend in mind? Don’t forget; Showtime has a nice main event too as Robert Easter throws down with Rances Barthelemy.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com