Much has changed since Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (50-3, 41 KOs) and Juan Francisco “El Gallo” Estrada (42-3, 28 KOs) first fought eight years ago. Going into their first fight, at 108 lbs, Gonzalez was on the way up.
In defending his second world title in as many weight classes, he was on a path towards becoming a Nicaraguan sports idol. Estrada, for his own part, was unproven. He had a solid record, but had yet to fight the 12 round distance.
After engaging in an unexpected classic on that November night in 2012, the two went on to stake their claims to being two of the best of this era at the lower weights. Each man, a peaking Estrada, and a newly resurgent Gonzalez, have won three belts since their first meeting.
With both men holding titles, and only Estrada’s Hall of Fame credentials potentially in doubt, the scene looked set for a classic. At the very least, Chocolatito’s WBA and Estrada’s WBC and Ring titles would be unified at the end of the night.
Estrada came into this fight promising a knockout, and his performance in round one reflected as much. He charged out to meet Gonzalez at the opening bell, strafing his man with power jabs and hard body shots. Chocolatito covered up and fought most of the round on the back foot. Despite not throwing much, Gonzalez flashed his underrated defense, riding with or blocking many of the shots coming at him.
The second saw Estrada start similarly. However, as is the case with many pressure fighters, Gonzalez began to wake up after taking a few shots. Opening up gradually as the round wore on, he was able to out-land Estrada, while subtly shifting his feet to avoid return fire.
In rounds three and four, Chocolatito continued his trend of increasing volume and aggression. Estrada was right there the entire way, but was getting out-thrown and out-landed by a punch or two in seemingly every exchange. That has a compounding effect as the fight wears on.
After four rounds, my card read 39-37 for Chocolatito.
The fifth stanza produced the most even action of the fight so far. Each man was able to back the other up towards the ropes in exchanges. With barely any breaks in the action, they just continually hammered away at each other, to body and head. Chocolatito appeared to edge it on volume, but only by a hair.
In the sixth, Estrada began to show his class and resolve. After taking a series of Gonzalez right hands, Estrada took advantage of a lull in the onslaught to land a few combinations of his own. One looked to visibly bother Chocolatito, as he was forced to step back while pawing at his lead eye. The Nicaraguan was able to finish the round well enough, but never quite seized the momentum back the way he wanted.
Round 7 was the best of the fight to that point. The two volume punchers had built their output level to a crescendo and were operating at maximum capacity. The ebbs and flows were breathtaking – such skill and accuracy is rarely seen at the extreme close range where most of this fight was contested. At the beginning of the eighth, both Gonzalez and Estrada came as close to visibly showing their fatigue as they would at any other point. In a quiet round, Estrada backed his man up with footwork. Not with volume and power punching. In such hellacious fights, finding a way to win the quiet moments is often key in eking out a close decision.
After eight rounds, the fight stood at 76-76 on my card.
The ninth saw a strong start from Estrada. He appeared confident after stealing the eighth with relatively little effort, and began to step back on the gas. Once again, Chocolatito showed that he, too, has another gear. Showing near inhuman reserves of energy, both resumed exchanges at close-to-mid range. Estrada’s authoritative opening looked to be enough to win the round.
In the 10th, Chocolatito looked comfortable. The round was largely contested at his preferred too-close-for-comfort distance, instead of Estrada’s mid-range. This is shaping into the Fight of the Year candidate that everyone hoped it would be. Chocolatito’s combinations look to be flowing more easily and landing cleaner through the round, which he takes on clean punching and ring generalship.
Between the 10th and 11th rounds, Estrada’s corner was telling him that he needed a knockout. His actions would say that he took those words to heart. He went right at Gonzalez, who answered in kind. The round in which the two surpassed 2,000 total punches thrown saw just as much action as the previous ten had, if not more. It’s still undeniably the fight Chocolatito would rather have, but it is near even action.
The 12th, fittingly, was more of the same. Neither Chocolatito nor Estrada were content to sit on a lead, and the crowd thanked them for it. It was impossible to tell whether their lack of defense was a product of fatigue or lack of care in the final three minutes.
Both threw with reckless abandon, landing heavily on the other. Once again, Chocolatito’s chopping right hands on the inside appeared to make the slightest difference in the action. Skilled violence of the highest order.
My scorecard read 115-113 for Chocolatito, with a couple close rounds factored in. At least two of the judges disagreed, however. The official cards read 115-113 Gonzalez, 115-113 Estrada, and 117-111 Estrada. Juan Francisco “El Gallo” Estrada is your new unified champion at 115 lbs.
There is no injustice in either man winning this fight. However, the margin by which one of the judges had Estrada winning is flat-out wrong. We may still take solace that we were treated to a potential Fight of the Year, and are all-but-guaranteed a trilogy fight between these two warriors.
Some may regret how we arrived at this juncture. But, we were promised a great fight, and it over-delivered. How often can we really say that?