By Michael Rosenthal
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai: If Juan Francisco Estrada can’t outbox Sor Rungvisai, who can? Naoya Inoue? Nobody?
Sor Rungvisai, coming off a one-punch knockout of Roman Gonzalez, surprised many in the boxing world by outpointing a better pure boxer in Estrada on Saturday night at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
The Thai fighter won what I thought was a close fight by a majority decision, 117-111, 115-113 and 114-114. I scored it a draw.
Sor Rungvisai (45-4-1, 40 knockouts) did it with his strength and power, as he imposed his physical advantage over Estrada for most of the fight even though he couldn’t take him out. And he did it with subtle skills: He looks relatively slow and crude but he knows how to land punches, even against an excellent technician like Estrada.
I thought Estrada used his unusual ability and athleticism to outbox – and outwork – Sor Rungvisai at various junctures of the fight but I understand that two judges leaned toward a power puncher who consistently found his target.
And Estrada might’ve been Sor Rungvisai’s greatest challenge because Inoue, the gifted Japanese titleholder, appears to be headed to 118 pounds.
Carlos Cuadras outpointed Sor Rungvisai in a cut-shortened fight in 2014 but, based on Cuadras’ so-so performance in defeat against McWilliams Arroyo on the undercard Saturday and Sor Rungvisai’s momentum, it’s hard to imagine a repeat victory for the Mexican.
Who else? Gonzalez? Obviously not. Jerwin Ancajas? He’s hot but Sor Rungvisai is a step up. Khalid Yafai? Talented but unproven. A rematch with Estrada might be his toughest test. And there are now two wildcards: Arroyo and the gifted Donnie Nietes.
For now, Sor Rungvisai is the king of a very good division after successive victories over Gonzalez by decision (when Chocolatito was unbeaten and No. 1 pound-for-pound), Gonzalez by KO and now Estrada. That’s impressive. He might reign for some time if weight doesn’t become an issue.
And if Sor Rungvisai isn’t on your pound-for-pound list, you should probably consider him now.
BIGGEST WINNER II
McWilliams Arroyo: Add Arroyo to the list of elite 115-pounders.
The former amateur star from Puerto Rico washed away two frustrating years of inactivity – at least in part because he couldn’t get suitable fights – by stunning Cuadras on Saturday, an enormous victory given that Arroyo already is 32 and had lost his first two major fights (to Amnat Ruenroeng and Gonzalez).
Arroyo (17-3, 14 KOs) won by a majority decision, 98-92, 97-93 and 95-95. I had it 97-93 for Arroyo, which means I don’t get the 95-95 score (by Fernando Villarreal). Arroyo clearly won the fight.
Cuadras was a significant favorite over Arroyo in part because he was coming off a strong performance against Estrada but Arroyo obviously didn’t buy into prognostications; he came to win.
He couldn’t match Cuadras’ strength or athleticism but proved to be a better boxer and, fighting with great hunger, he held his own during dangerous exchanges. Arroyo obviously understood what a victory would mean to his sputtering career and seized the moment.
Remember: Cuadras has that victory over Sor Rungvisai while giving Gonzalez and Estrada all they could handle in defeat. And Arroyo beat Cuadras handily.
In the process, the twin brother of McJoe Arroyo instantly became a major player at 115 pounds. He’s a legitimate opponent for any of the best junior bantamweights, which is exactly where he wants to be.
Carlos Cuadras: No one should write off Cuadras, who always gives a good account of himself. At the same time, he might be in some trouble.
The product of Mexico City is now 1-3 in his last four fights. He was competitive in all three of his setbacks – against Gonzalez, Estrada and now Arroyo – but the best fighters find ways to win. Cuadras isn’t doing that.
Cuadras (36-3-1, 27 KOs) is effective because he’s quick, strong and dynamic. He’s sloppy, though, at least compared to fine boxers like Arroyo and Estrada, whose technique is tight and punches are straight.
Cuadras might be able to get away with that deficiency if he had the power of Sor Rungvisai but he doesn’t.
Maybe he can still get better, though. He fought for the first time under trainer Abel Sanchez on Saturday. Maybe he needs more time to adjust to his new mentor, who is one of the best in the business. Maybe it’ll take just a little fine-tuning to get Cuadras over the hump, assuming he hasn’t lost confidence.
A lot of fighters go through rough patches, particularly when they face the best-possible opposition. Good fighters usually learn from the adversity. And I think Cuadras is a good fighter.
I won’t be surprised if he is a better fighter the next time we see him.
Donnie Nietes: I think I speak for a lot of people when I say this: I knew Nietes was good … but not THAT good. Nietes might’ve been the best fighter on the Sor Rungvisai-Estrada card.
I don’t want to get carried away given Nietes’ opponent, Juan Carlos Reveco, who isn’t in the class of the elite fighters on the Forum card. He’s a solid, experienced veteran with an impressive record (39-4, 19 KOs), though.
And Nietes overwhelmed him. The 35-year-old Filipino is the opposite of flashy but boxes sublimely and punches hard, as Reveco discovered. Nietes, always calm and cool, is extremely difficult to hit cleanly (Reveco barely touched him) and his punches are both precise and damaging.
Nietes relieved Reveco of his senses with a straight right moments before the bell to end Round 6, as the Argentine staggered to his corner. The fight continued but not for long, as Nietes put a shaky Reveco down again and the fight was stopped. Official time: 53 seconds into Round 7.
I don’t know about you but I believe strongly that Nietes is another fighter who deserves consideration for pound-for-pound lists. He’s that good.
Nietes hasn’t lost a fight since he was narrowly outpointed by Angky Angkotta in 2004, when Angkotta weighed in at six pounds over the 108-pound limit.
The only recent blemish on his record was a majority draw with Moises Fuentes in 2013, a disappointment he avenged by KO the following year.
He’s a remarkable 16-0-1 in major title fights.
And, of course, there are more to come. He called out Gonzalez and Sor Rungvisai after his victory, meaning he is willing to move up to 115 pounds even though he has fought only three times as a full-fledged 112-pounder.
Gonzalez was an aging little fighter who moved up too high in weight, which should serve as an example for Nietes. I have a feeling Nietes could handle it, though. I think he could give Sor Rungvisai all kinds of trouble.
I hope I have the opportunity to see if I’m right or wrong.
Brian Viloria: Viloria (38-6, 23 KOs) might be finished after losing a one-sided decision to relative unknown Ukrainian Artem Dalakian (16-0, 11 KOs) for the vacant WBA flyweight title on the Sor Rungvisai-Estrada card.
If it’s over, “Hawaiian Punch” should be tremendously proud of what he accomplished.
The 2000 U.S. Olympian had it all except size – skill, punching power, an entertaining style, charisma and four major titles in two divisions. He was often overlooked because of his weight classes but those who followed him were invariably impressed with his ability and never-say-die fighting spirit.
And because he was one of the nicest people in boxing, you rooted for him. It doesn’t get better than Brian Viloria in that regard.
I don’t know whether he has the resume to enter the International Boxing Hall of Fame one day but I believe one can argue in his favor. One, little fighters, especially aggressive ones like him, often fade as they enter their 30s. Viloria is an ancient 37. Two, he has been at or near the top of the heap at 108 and 112 pounds – with no prolonged drop off – for around a dozen years. That’s remarkable in any weight class.
Viloria was winner and did it for a long time. He deserves Hall of Fame consideration.
He also is one of the most articulate boxers you’ll ever run into. He once told me he’d like to get into broadcasting as analyst, which makes sense. I believe he’d do an excellent job in that position.
I hope that happens for him. I like the idea having him around for many more years.
Callum Smith (24-0, 17) did the predictable on Saturday in Nuremberg, Germany, defeating late replacement Nieky Holzken (13-1, 10 KOs) by a unanimous decision to earn a date with George Groves in the World Boxing Super Series super middleweight tournament championship on June 2. I would rather have seen Smith earn his way into final by beating veteran Juergen Braehmer, who pulled out because of illness, but I believe the result would’ve similar. Smith vs. Groves is an excellent matchup of very good boxers with some pop. I lean toward the more dynamic Groves but I won’t be surprised if Smith wins. Now we just have to hope Groves recovers sufficiently from his shoulder injury to fight. For the record, Holzken, a former kickboxing champion, did better than I thought he would. And he will have learned a great deal in defeat. It will be interesting to see how he does going forward. … Joseph Diaz Jr. (26-0, 14 KOs) turned in another nice performance on Thursday in Indio, California, this time stopping veteran Victor Terrazas (38-5-2, 21 KOs) with a body shot in the third round. I wouldn’t read too much into it, though. Terrazas is 35 and well past it, having suffered early stoppages in two of his previous three fights. That means that Diaz still hasn’t faced a significant test. And, as mandatory challenger, he wants WBC featherweight champ Gary Russell Jr. next. I don’t see how Diaz wins that fight. He has a strong amateur background, can box, has some power and has impressive ring generalship. But I don’t think he is special enough in any one category to beat a guy like Russell, a fellow Olympian with blazing-quick hands. Diaz’s only advantage over Russell is that he’s been more active. I’m not sure that would be enough. All that said, Diaz is going to have to test himself against the best in the business sometime. Why not Russell? … Judge Steve Morrow’s 117-111 score for Sor Rungvisai was too wide. Nine rounds to three? I can’t see that.