2017 has been an incredible year for boxing. Knockout, big matchups, mainstream fights – it’s been everything the previous couple of years wasn’t. Let’s take a look at this past weekend, starting with the much-hyped HBO ‘SuperFly’ card, which lived up to all of the excitement it promised.
HBO’s card featured three fights in the super flyweight division, and included five of the division’s top fighters. It was an impressive card that promised action, and boy, did it deliver.
Carson, California (HBO)
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1 40 KO) KO4 Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (46-2 38 KO)
Boxing is truly a cruel sport. Nicaragua’s Chocolatito, one of the few fighters in the smaller weight divisions to truly break through in the U.S. thanks to the backing of HBO, was a mainstay on the pound-for-pound rankings in the past couple of years. He had risen from a minimumweight fighter in the mid 2000s to take titles in four weight classes, coming as high up as 112 pounds. That said, he been showing potential signs of aging throughout the past couple of years as his power stopped carrying up in weight. He went from stopping tough opponents like Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria as he started fighting on HBO to struggling a bit with McWilliams Arroyo to pulling out a close, contested decision against Carlos Cuadras. These were all good fighters and tough opponents, but Gonzelaz didn’t look the dynamo that had people putting him at #1 in the sport.
Last March, Gonzelz defended his title against Thai challenger Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and he found himself in unfamiliar territory. Sor Rungvisai was bigger than him, tough, and walked through most of his punches. Gonzalez went down in the first round, suffered head clashes that made him bleed profusely, and he ultimately lost a close but disputed decision (I scored their first fight a draw, for what it’s worth).
Heading into the immediate rematch on Saturday night, Chocolatito was the favorite, even though the Thai fighter had the belt. In a stunning turn of events, Sor Rugvisai blew out Chocolatito from the opening bell. Gonzalez had strange body language from the get go, looking depressed in the corners between rounds, even though he was competitive through three rounds as the fighters met in the middle of the ring and traded punches.
It all went to shit for Chocolatito in Round 4. Sor Rungvisai caught him with a nasty combo in the first minute of the round, which folded the Nicaraguan champion and sent him down to the canvas hard. This was no flash knockdown – Chocolatito peeled himself off the ground but his body language told the whole story. He was badly hurt.
To his credit, he went out like a warrior. When he got up, he went straight to his Thai opponent and tried to trade his way back into it. Results were predictable – Sor Rungvisai hit him with a right hand that was so full power that every vein in his arm was bulging out as he threw it – and with that, Gonzalez was done, his eyes looking like they were fighting back tears of disappointment as he lay sprawled on the cavs looking straight up in the air. He didn’t rise for a couple of minutes as the doctor checked him out, a truly brutal way for the champion to go.
Let’s give Sor Rungvisai his due – he’s the rightful champion, and looked strong, confident and powerful in there. He dominated Chocolatito from the opening bell. But let’s pour one out for a great career in Chocolatito.
Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12 KO) TKO6 Antonio Nieves (17-2-2, 9 KO)
Japan’s Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue is a titleholder who has made waves overseas by steamrolling through quality opposition. At just 24 years old, he’s already on some people’s pound-for-pound list, and has put together a string of dominant performances in recent years. The only recent fight of his to go the distance was his May 2016 unanimous decision win over the tough David Carmona in a fight where Inoue injured his right hand and fought multiple rounds basically one handed. Saturday night was his U.S. and HBO debut, the first time American boxing fans had a chance to see him on a non-YouTube stream with yelling Japanese commentators.
Inoue didn’t disappoint, as he looked absolutely dominant beating up his limited opponent, to the point the Nieves spent the 5th and 6th rounds just running and trying to survive. You could tell that Nieves didn’t want to be there and though he was tough, the fight probably went a couple rounds too long. I don’t think we learned much about Inoue – he’s already beaten better competition than this – but it was a nice introduction to a guy I hope we get a chance to see more of.
Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25 KO) UD12 Carlos Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KO)
STW Scorecard: Cuadras 114-113 Estrada
In the opener of the SuperFly card, the two Mexican fighters fought an entertaining, fun and close battle that may have been the fight of the night. Though I scored it by a point to Cuadras, all three judges gave the fight to Estrada by that same slimmest of margins (114-113) and I have no problem at all with the decision, as multiple rounds were very hard to score. The two fighters, both of whom gave Chocolatito hell in previous fights and walked into the night looking for a rematch with the Nicaraguan star, proved to be a great style matchup. Cuadras, the bigger and more solid of the two, started off strong and really dominated the first few rounds of the fight with his activity and volume punching. Estrada stayed patient and began sneaking in hard, snapping shots in between Cuadras’ combinations, and started turning the tide and having success in the middle rounds of the fight. After a back and forth couple of rounds, Estrada dropped Cuadras HARD in the 10th as Cuadras got caught napping leaving an exchange. That knockdown proved to be the difference in the cards and I can’t argue with that giving Estrada the win.
I will say – I had the fight even going into the 12th round, with all of the momentum favoring Estrada. I fully expected him to continue his dominance but he seemed to get tentative in the round and didn’t close as strongly on a clearly weary Cuadras as I’d have liked to see, and Cuadras snuck in some decent shots in the final minute of the round. I wobbled between scoring it even (and thus, scoring the fight a draw) but guilt in doing that got the best of me so I nicked it to Cuadras.
The winner of this fight in theory gets a shot at Sor Rungvisai’s belt. Regardless of who they fight, these guys are fun as hell to watch and I look forward to seeing more of either of them.
Berlin, Germany (World Boxing Super Series)
Oleksandr Usyk (13-0, 11 KO) TKO10 Marco Huck (40-5-1, 27 KO)
I am super excited about the World Boxing Super Series – which is staging two tournaments in two different divisions (super middleweight and cruiserweight) – in an elimination-style format. It has high-level, quality boxers participating, and the shame is that it doesn’t yet have a U.S. broadcast partner, so American boxing fans are forced to try to find online streams to see these fights. Here’s hoping they figure this out.
This was the first fight, a quarterfinal matchup between Ukraine’s Usyk and Germany’s Huck. Usyk may be the tournament favorite in the cruiserweight divison, a incredibly tall, skilled boxer who may not have thudding power but lands so precisely and sharply that he tends to stop guys on accumulation alone. Huck, a veteran and former champ in the division, came into the fight the obvious underdog and on the clear downslide of his career but still is a feisty veteran.
The fight played out about as expected – Usyk came out behind the jab, boxing and keeping Huck away from him using movement and that long jab. Huck was competitive in R3 until Usyk jumped all over him and did some damage. Huck got a nice shot in about halfway through R4 but Usyk came back with a nice combination that rocked Huck’s head back. Usyk was just too good and his arms are way longer – his size was making a big difference.
In the 8th, Usyk snaps Huck’s head back and hurts him badly, sending him reeling. Huck then wrestled the Ukranian to the ground and while there on his knees, he goes for a dirty chopping punch to the back of his head. The punch misses, but it was such a cheap shot that the ref took a point away immediately. The usually measured Usyk then starts fighting pissed off and starts really doing damage. In R10, Usyk knocks a clearly hurt Huck against the ropes and for about 30 seconds just nonstop throws punches as Huck merely tries to survive. Ref steps in and stops it – maybe a tad early, but Huck was so far down on the cards and really had no hope to win, so no problem here with the stoppage. Usyk moves on in the tournament and will fight the winner of Mairis Breidis and Mike Perez.
Las Vegas, Nevada (Showtime)
David Benavidez (19-0, 17 KO) SD12 Ronald Gavril (18-2, 14 KO)
STW Scorecard: Benavidez 114-113 Gavril
On Friday night in a special edition of Showtime Championship Boxing, we got another look at one of boxing’s growing prospects in Arizona’s Benavidez, a 20-year old super middleweight who hits like a truck. After an impressive showing in May where he knocked out veteran Rogelio ‘Porky’ Medina in an absolute firefight, Benavidez was riding the hype train all the way to this match, which was for the vacant WBC title.
His opponent was Romania’s Gavril, an unheralded boxer with a solid record fighting under Floyd Mayweather’s TMT banner, who was matched with Benavidez after original opponent Anthony Dirrell pulled out. Most commentators thought the young American would wipe the floor with Gavril, but that didn’t prove to be the case at all.
Benavidez got off to a strong start, as he entrenched himself in the middle of the ring with Gavril circling around him. Gavril had himself a nice second round, outlanding and scoring well. Then Benavidez took over for a few rounds with effective power shots. He really swings hard and hits with serious power. Gavril started bleeding pretty hard around R4 as Benavidez turned it up. I had Benavidez up through six though a lot of rounds were close and Gavril gave a good account of himself.
In round 8, Benavidez started looking very tired and started fading. His punch form started deteriorating and his punches didn’t look like they were as powerful as earlier in the fight. He seemed to be wading through deep waters for the first time in his young career, as he had found an opponent who he couldn’t put away early. R10 was fun and close with Gavril edging it until Benavidez hurt him at the end, and in R11 Benavidez started summoning some more energy and hurting Gavril, who was gassing and trying to hold for the first time in the fight.
In the final round, Benavidez was winning with effective combos on an exhausted Gavril and then with 45 seconds left he got caught lazily coming in and chasing a combination with a counter shot he walked right into and he dramatically went down. Super, super dramatic end to the fight. It was a close one, and a tough test for the young prospect, but I do think he deserved the decision.
J’Leon Love (23-1-1, 13 KO) TD Abraham Han (26-3-1, 16 KO)
STW Scorecard: Han 77-76 Love
J’Leon Love, once a relatively highly touted TMT ‘prospect’, is a shitty fighter who’s best trait is that he looks kind of like Tupac Shakur. In his first fight in over a year he fought journeyman Han and got outfought for much of the fight as he just wasn’t active enough or good enough to look any kind of good. In the 8th round, the two came together for one of the worst head clashes I’ve ever seen, as a monstrous cut opened on Han’s head and he just started pouring and pumping out blood, and was really hurt. That ended the fight and it went to the scorecards. Two of the judges scored it a draw while one had one of the worst scorecards in recent memory, a washing in favor of Love. The TMT fighter was lucky to escape with a draw here, but showed nothing really to make him a watchable fighter.
On this note, boxing should consider their technical stoppage rules. Currently, if the fight has to be stopped due to an accidental headbutt like this one, judges are required to score the round. In this one, it happened in the first minute of R8, and nothing of note had happened yet. I scored the round 10-10 for this reason, but it looks like all judges did score the round, and that affected the outcome. Shitty way for a guy to take a draw like Han did. I’d be good never seeing Love again.
Caleb Plant (16-0, 10 KO) UD10 Andrew Hernandez (19-7-1, 9 KO)
STW Scorecard: Plant 100-90 Hernandez
Caleb Plant seems like a nice guy with a heartbreaking backstory, but he just isn’t an impressive prospect to me. He always seems to be in with subpar opposition and he doesn’t exactly blow the doors off the guys he’s in with – every Plant fight seems to be the same. Plant was levels better technically in this fight, fighting a dude who is both not good and who took the fight on a week’s notice. Hernandez just got blown out, and he toughed out some pain, but Plant never stepped on the gas pedal, showed crazy power, or really looked like he’s anything other than a good technical fighter with a low ceiling. Just not that impressed with him in general, and do not think he’s a world-level fighter.