Sep 8, 2017
Dan RafaelESPN Senior Writer
- 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
- ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
- Five years at USA Today
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When Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez faced Srisaket Sor Rungvisai on March 18 at New York's Madison Square Garden on the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs undercard, he walked to the ring as the undefeated pound-for-pound king ready to defend his junior bantamweight world title.
When the wildly exciting slugfest -- a leading fight of the year candidate -- was over, Gonzalez had lost everything. His perfect record. His pound-for-pound status. His 115-pound belt.
His face was a bloody mess from cuts caused by head-butts, but, even though he got knocked down in the first round and lost a majority decision (114-112, 114-112 and 113-113), most at ringside thought he deserved the victory, even if he had not looked like the dominant force seen in recent years.
He punished Sor Rungvisai with vicious punches throughout the fight as clearly the bigger hitter and dominated CompuBox statistics. He landed more punches than Sor Rungvisai in 10 of the 12 rounds and set the junior bantamweight record by landing 372 power shots. The consensus was that it was a great fight but a poor decision.
Gonzalez, Nicaragua's only four-division world champion, petitioned the WBC for an immediate rematch, and it was granted.
"I think it was a really tough fight. He put a lot of pressure on Roman, and Roman couldn't back him up like normal," said Carlos Blandon, Gonzalez's manager. "We knew he was a very strong fighter, and, as you go up in weight, it's a lot harder to make fighters go back. We were ready for him, but we never expected so many head-butts. But Roman never stopped connecting punches or showing who was in charge of the fight. Unfortunately the judges didn't see it that way. No point in dwelling on it now. We got the rematch, and we're ready to regain that title."
So boxing's best little men take center stage in the rematch Saturday night (HBO, 10:15 ET/PT) at the StubHub Center, with Gonzalez out to prove he is still a dominant pound-for-pound talent worthy of reclaiming the title and Thailand's Sor Rungvisai, a two-time titleholder, aiming to prove the first result was no fluke.
This is your ESPN.com Ringside Seat for the fight:
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (42-4-1, 38 KOs) vs. Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KOs)
What's at stake?
The title is at stake, of course, but so is Gonzalez's reputation after what many viewed as a bad decision.
"It was a very difficult decision to accept because I felt I won the fight," Gonzalez said through Blandon, who translated. "I want to win this fight by an ample margin and be able to once again be able to get my title back. It was a difficult loss, but I am focused on the rematch now."
Blandon was as stunned by the result as anyone.
"I was very shocked by the decision in the first fight," he said. "I was shocked by the tie score when it was announced and then even more shocked when the other two had him over Roman. They weren't seeing the fight we were seeing. It was very unjust, but it made us stronger as a team, it made Roman stronger. We lost everything in just one fight -- the undefeated record, the pound-for-pound [recognition], the title. It was definitely very hard for the team to take."
A clear victory in the rematch would go a long way toward erasing that March night for Gonzalez. A loss might indicate that, after several grueling fights in recent years, Gonzalez has seen better days.
But Gonzalez, who trained in Japan, where he has fought often, believes he is still a force and was adamant about getting a second chance as soon as the first fight ended.
"I'm very glad to have the rematch. As soon as the last fight was over, I wanted the chance to regain my title," said Gonzalez, who is 30. "We had a great camp in Japan. It was very peaceful, and we were able to work on a very good strategy to win on Saturday night.
"After fighting him once, I know what he does well and I know how to combat that."
Sor Rungvisai, also 30, will be fighting in the United States for the second time. He had no problem giving Gonzalez a rematch.
"I'm very excited to fight Roman again," he said through an interpreter. "Many people did not believe I won, but I know that I was victorious and will prove again that I am better on Saturday night.
"This fight will eliminate all the doubts that people might have because I want to make it very clear that I am the best super flyweight in the world. I will win even more convincingly this time."
Watch the heads
As outstanding as the fight was in March, it was marred by debilitating head-butts that inflicted damage on Gonzalez. A head-butt in the third round opened a terrible gash over Gonzalez's right eye and caused blood to pour down his face. There was another bad head-butt in the sixth round, and the referee warned Sor Rungvisai.
When Gonzalez was having a huge seventh round, Sor Rungvisai head-butted him again and was docked a point as blood streamed down Gonzalez's face from a cut that opened over his right eye. After the fight, Gonzalez needed four stitches to close the cut over his right eye and six more to close the cut closer to his scalp.
When Sor Rungvisai dropped Gonzalez with a body shot in the first round -- the first time he had been down since a 2006 win against Robert Meza -- Gonzalez said that was also precipitated by a head-butt.
"I felt a little bit bad because the judges didn't see that I got head-butted in the cheek right before the knockdown," Gonzalez said. "I felt OK after the knockdown. I was more hurt by the head-butt."
Head-butts could again be an issue because that is often what happens when a right-handed fighter (Gonzalez) faces a southpaw (Sor Rungvisai).
Gonzalez declined to call Sor Rungvisai a dirty fighter despite some of the head clashes appearing to be intentional.
"I'm not the person to consider if he's a dirty fighter, but he used a lot of head-butt," Gonzalez said. "When head-butts are used, they might be disqualified, but that is not for me to rule. He definitely uses his head a lot, but I'm not the one to call him a dirty fighter. But I will be a lot more aware of his head this time."
Sor Rungvisai said the butts were not on purpose.
"The head-butts were not intentional at all," Sor Rungvisai said. "He was bending over also, and I'm a southpaw and he's orthodox. Sometimes that happens. I'm not a dirty fighter at all."
The card is loaded and is about much more than just an outstanding main event. The undercard features two other significant and interesting fights in the 115-pound division, which is why the card is titled "Superfly," as in super flyweights -- the other name for the junior bantamweight division.
In the co-feature, Japanese star Naoya "The Monster" Inoue (13-0, 11 KOs), 24, will make his American debut against Antonio Nieves (17-1-2, 9 KOs), 30, of Cleveland. Inoue won a junior flyweight world title in only his sixth fight, made one defense and then jumped up two weight classes to junior bantamweight and smoked longtime titleholder Omar Narvaez in two rounds in 2014. Inoue will be defending that title for the sixth time and positioning himself for a future unification fight with the main event winner.
"It's an honor to fight in America and on HBO. I've wanted to come here for that last couple of years," Inoue said through an interpreter. "Nieves is very tough, a strong fighter with nothing to lose and everything to gain; this is a very formidable foe. Right now my only thoughts are on Nieves, but of course I want to fight the best in the division."
Nieves is a huge underdog, but he was one of the few willing to take the fight.
"I don't pay attention to the odds or listen to the naysayers. If I didn't think I could win, I wouldn't have taken this fight," he said. "We'll see if he lives up to the hype."
And as they say in the commercials -- but wait, there's more! In the all-Mexican opening fight, former titlist Carlos Cuadras (36-1-1, 27 KOs), 29, and former unified flyweight world titleholder Juan Francisco Estrada (35-2, 25 KOs), 27, will square off in an expected action fight that serves as a world title elimination bout that will earn the winner a mandatory shot at the main event winner.
Both have already faced -- and lost close decisions to -- Gonzalez in action-packed fights. Cuadras owns a 2014 victory over Sor Rungvisai that ended his first title reign.
"I want my belt back," Cuadras said at this week's media workout, which Estrada blew off. "I beat 'Chocolatito' in Los Angeles [last September]. They take my belt, then he loses to Rungvisai, so now there's a rematch and I have to beat Estrada for an opportunity to fight for my belt. Estrada can't beat me; he can't even show up here to work out, a true chicken."
Rafael's prediction: Gonzalez by decision