The early 2000s saw the decline of boxing’s heavyweight division in North America, and with that, the shift in attention to the lower weight classes. For much of the past decade, something of a renaissance had been building in shadows among fighters between 112 and 122 pounds. But over the past two years, the Super Flyweight weight class, largely on the back of former four division champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzales, has become a meeting place for a slew of excellent fighters of all sorts of styles from all around the world.
Last October saw HBO present a gathering of the best of this weight class converge on suburban Los Angeles’s StubHub Center—a place known to many boxing fans simply as the War Grounds. The card was known simply as “Superfly.” Three fights, six fighters, all from the 115-pound weight class. The card saw Srisaket Sor Rungvisai of Thailand shock the boxing world when he knocked out Gonzales, who earlier in 2017 was considered by many to be the best fighter pound for pound in the world, with a single right hook in the fourth round. The card also saw Japanese knockout monster Naoya Inoue dominate Puerto Rican Antonio Nieves to retain the WBO 115-pound title and Juan Francisco Estrada narrowly defeat Carlos Cuadras in an excellent fight to become the number one contender to Sor Rungvisai.
Now comes Superfly 2, with HBO once again bringing six of the best fighters in (or around) the division to the LA Area, this time the Forum in Inglewood, this Saturday at 9:30 Eastern, building on what took place at StubHub in October and hoping for the kind of fireworks that could keep this series going for years to come…
Here are the fights.
Donnie Nietes (40-1-4, 22 KOs) vs. Juan Carlos Reveco (39-3, 19 KOs)—12 rounds for the IBF Flyweight Title
This fight will actually take place one weight class, three pounds, under the Super Flyweight class at Flyweight with two long time champions getting the international exposure they have been long been waiting.
Nietes of the Philippines is one of the undiscovered jewels of the sports-unbeaten for thirteen years, three world titles in three different weight classes with fourteen title defenses, including a ridiculous ten years as WBO junior flyweight champion. A lack of knockouts and being consistently in the shadow of that other Filipino guy (I think his name is Pacquaio) has probably held him back from getting the international acclaim he deserves. This is his chance.
Standing in his way in Reveco of Argentina, a former two division champion who reigned four years as WBA flyweight champion and whose only losses in the last ten years came at the hands of the excellent Japanese fighter Kazuta Ioka. These are two guys who have a ton of experience in title fights and have their best chance ever to be seen on a worldwide platform.
Reveco is a boxer who likes to move a lot and set things up with his jab, but he can also throw beautiful combinations. He has very fast hands but doesn’t have the punching power that a lot of the stars around his weight class do. That lack of power may be his downfall in this fight as Nietes knows how to cut off the ring and is an excellent body puncher. Indeed, he likes to grind and wear down in his opponents. He also is a little bigger than Reveco, who had so much trouble with bigger and stronger Ioka. This is a very winnable fight for Nietes in his HBO debut and it will be important for him to show he has the skills, power, and capability to move up to 115 and try to get some of this bigger money.
Carlos Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KOs) vs. McWilliams Arroyo (16-3, 14 KOs)—12 Rounds—Super Flyweights
Back before the likes of Gonzales, Inoue, and Estrada wandered into the 115-pound weight class, Mexico’s Cuadras was the King of the division. Indeed, Cuadras was the last person to defeat Sor Rungvisai, decisioning him in 2014 for the WBC Super Flyweight Title. He went on to defend the title six times before he gave up too many of the early rounds and his lost his title to Gonzales in September 2016. He bounced back for a win and faced Estrada in a number one contenders fight at the original Superfly. It was an awesome fight that could have went either way, but Estrada dropped him in Round 10 and that was the difference.
Now, Cuadras tries to bounce back against Arroyo, a former Puerto Rican Olympian who is moving up a weight after two failed attempts at a world title at flyweight, including being dominated by still prime Gonzales in April 2016. This is the weakest fight on the card, and is there in the hope that Cuadras, a stylish boxer who throws a lot of punches and a lot of different combinations will look good enough to fight the winner of the main event. Arroyo doesn’t haven’t the kind of power to bother Cuadras, and the Mexican should be the favorite here.
Srisket Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KOs) vs. Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25 KOs)—12 Rounds—WBC Super Flyweight Title
For many years, Mexico’s Estrada was the boxing version of indy darling, unknown to most boxing fans, but to the hardcores known as one of the best fighters in the world, a classic Mexican fighter with diverse skills and excellent combinations, the kind of fighter that would be a big star if he was twenty-five pounds bigger. He first came on the scene in 2012, when he gave Roman Gonzales a hell of a fight at the LA Sports Arena, at a time when no one was challenging Gonzales.
Estrada responded to the loss by getting better, beating the excellent Brian Viloria in his next fight to win two flyweight world titles, which he defended five times, while unsuccessfully challenging Gonzales for a rematch. When Gonzales moved up to 115 pounds, Estrada chased him determined to be the Juan Manuel Marquez to Gonzales’ Pacquiao.
But then Sor Rungvisai got to Gonzales first, beating him by narrow decision last March in Madison Square Garden. Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai, like many Thai fighters, started in Muay Thai before moving into pure boxing, and after going 1-3-1 in his first five fights, he went on a killer run, winning forty-one out of forty-two before upsetting Gonzales. Sor Rungvisai showed a big heart, a killer chin, and deceptive punching power (the dude has huge calves for a guy his size), all form a southpaw stance that is even trickier than usual. The deception went away last September, when a single right hook ended Gonzales run as one of the best in the world, and cemented Sor Rungvisai as the man to beat in this division.
This fight is a tough one to call. Some have discredited Sor Rungvisai’s wins over Gonzales, saying Chocolatito was fighting above his best weight and ready to be taken out. Others have said that Sor Rungvisai’s unique mix of southpaw style and power will be trouble for anyone. But here’s the thing—Sor Rungvisai’s defense isn’t the good. You can hit him. Gonzales hit him a TON in their first fight, and Estrada is bigger, fresher, and maybe faster than Gonzales. The question is does have Estrada have the power to shake Sor Rungvisai’s chin. Gonzales couldn’t do it? Can his former rival succeed where he could not?
When the little dudes were given center stage in September, they delivered big time. Now on a bigger stage, in a bigger arena (that is selling very well, btw), can they shine as brightly as they did in September, even without their biggest star? For the lovers of the lower weight classes, we can only hope the boys score big again—and we can start thinking about SuperFly 3.
image credit – HBOBoxing