IF Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada can lay claim to being the sport’s top rivalry, it will be for reasons that have little to do with clarity.
For the third time in a decade, boxing’s most authentic pair of competitors traded punches with abandon over 12 heated rounds, mixing guts with guile, and reminding fortunate observers once more that their form of pugilism—and sportsmanship—is practically a bygone art.
In the end, in front of a largely pro-Mexican crowd at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, it was Mexico’s Estrada who got the nod on the scorecards, and with it, a piece of the 115-pound crown. The fight marked Estrada’s second straight victory over Gonzalez, but as was the case with their second encounter last March—the best out of the trilogy—the final verdict on Saturday night failed to produce a definitive, satisfactory conclusion.
One judge, Chris Tellez, could not make heads or tails of what he saw, turning in a tally of 114-114, but he was overruled by two others in Tim Cheatham and Dennis O’Connell, who turned in cards that read 116-112 and 115-113, respectively, both for Estrada. That the scores could have easily have swung in the favor of Gonzalez, the decorated Nicaraguan who has amassed titles across four divisions, makes for an incomplete coda. The simple remedy to such haziness is to make their trilogy a tetralogy, but who knows if that is a sure thing, given boxing’s ad hoc nature and its corporate politics.
If there is any sense of bitterness or frustration that remains from such a spirited tussle, it may be because the official loser has nothing to show for on his ledger as it pertains to the last 24 rounds of the rivalry. Many, indeed, believed that Gonzalez deserved the nod over Estrada, 32, in their blistering second fight; but the skilled Mexican squeaked by then with a majority decision. At 35, Gonzalez has seen better days, which makes his latest efforts doubly more impressive and which is why the the verdict of his last two fights with Estrada must be nothing less than disappointing for his admirers who are convinced that the trilogy should read 3-0 in his favor.
But you won’t find one iota of resentment from the fighter himself. When asked if he disagreed with the scorecards in a postfight interview, the ever charitable Gonzalez responded by pivoting to the people in the stands. “It was a nice fight for the public,” Gonzalez said. “I did what I could and that was the result.” Comments like this add credence to the notion that there is no one in the sport who fulfills the mandates of a prizefighter, who is more attuned to the needs of the fan, than Gonzalez.
It may end up haunting Gonzalez that he started off slow once again. As in the second fight, Estrada commanded the pace of the early rounds by being the busier fighter, circling the ring and tagging Gonzalez with lefts to the body and right crosses to the head. Gonzalez dutifully stalked after Estrada but threw relatively few punches. The two opened up in the third round, with both fighters firing off combinations. Estrada seemed to get the upper hand in those exchanges.
In a virtual repeat of their second fight, Gonzalez began to find his groove in the latter half of the bout. In the fifth round, Estrada’s work rate seemed to take a dip just as Gonzalez, who is always in forward motion, appeared to close the gap. A right right hand at the end of the round from Gonzalez signaled that the tide was shifting.
The combinations flowed for Gonzalez in the eighth round. But Estrada would have his moments, too, in the same period. Toward the end of the round, the Mexican landed a picturesque left-right uppercut that snapped Gonzalez’s head back, followed by a left to the body.
In the 10th round, Estrada, visibly fatigued, started to bleed from the nose. Gonzalez continued to torment Estrada by trapping him along the ropes and unleashing a fusillade of punches.
In the 11th round, Gonzalez had some of his best moments in the fight, including what seemed like an eight-punch sequence with Estrada’s back against the ropes.
Just as it seemed as if the fight might be getting slightly out of reach for him, Estrada responded valiantly in the 12th round. The two met in the middle of the ring and fired off flurries, but Estrada appeared to have a bit more juice on his punches.
Flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Martinez of Mexico could never bully the fleet-footed—and cagey—Samuel Carmona of Spain the way he normally does with his opponents. In the end, Martinez had to scrape by with a 12-round majority decision.
While Judge Kevin Scott scored the bout even,114-114 even, his colleagues Javier Camacho (117-111) and Chris Flores (116-112) ruled in favor of the Mexican, who had trouble throughout the fight with Carmona’s hit-and-run style of boxing.
Carmona did his best to play spoiler in the second half, neutralizing Martinez’s sparkplug offense but prompting the pro-Martinez crowd to respond with boos.
Top prospect Diego Pacheco continues to walk through his mostly softly-served opposition.
The 21-year-old native of Los Angeles scored three knockdowns en route to stopping Adrian Luna inside two rounds in their 168-pound bout. Referee Tony Zaino halted the contest at 2-08 of the second.
In a minor upset, veteran Cristofer Rosales of Nicaragua outpointed fast-rising prospect Joselito Velazquez of Mexico over 10 rounds.
Judges Dennis O’Connell (97-93), Tim Cheatham (97-93) and Chris Wilson (97-93) all scored the bout in favor of Rosales, a former flyweight titlist.
Velasquez started off fast but was unable to dominate Rosales the way many expected. Previously regarded as a hot commodity, Velasquez quickly found himself in a dog fight against a fighter who was not intimidated by the younger man’s speed and athleticism.