Since 2014 the WBC super-flyweight title has been one of the most hotly contested belts in world boxing. The sanctioning body’s president Mauricio Sulaiman spoke to Boxing Social about the astonishing quartet of fighters who have made the 115lbs division one of the hottest in boxing…
The four-way rivalry between Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Juan Francisco Estrada and Carlos Cuadras has provided boxing fans with some of most thrilling fights of the past decade.
With Estrada and Gonzalez set to square off for a second time on March 13, and the winner mandated to face Srisaket, this remarkable series of rivalries looks set to continue to provide boxing fans with unparalleled thrills and spills.
It’s no wonder that many have anointed these four fighters as the natural successors to the ‘Four Kings’ of Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler, whose exploits illuminated the 1980s boxing landscape.
Of the nine bouts thus far between Gonzalez, Srisaket, Estrada and Cuadras, seven have been fought with the WBC’s super-flyweight title at stake.
Unsurprisingly, the president of the WBC, Mauricio Sulaiman, is a firm admirer and advocate of all four fighters.
“We’ve seen a variety of great combinations from these fighters,” Sulaiman told Boxing Social by phone from Mexico earlier this week. “Cuadras beat Rungvisai to take the title several years ago. ‘Chocolatito’ then took the title from Cuadras. Rungvisai then beat ‘Chocolatito’ and knocked him out in the rematch.
“Estrada and Cuadras fought a final eliminator – a sensational dramatic 12 rounds. Rungvisai beat and then lost to Estrada. Estrada beat Cuadras again last year. Now ‘Chocolatito’ comes back and wins a [WBA] title and we’re building up to a highly anticipated rematch after eight years between him and Estrada with the winner to fight Rungvisai. It’s very exciting to see all these promotions and fights.”
Sulaiman is of the opinion that the excitement these four boxers have brought to the lower weight classes is unparalleled.
“Between them they’ve fought a good amount of times,” he said. “Fans love to see continuity. One fight that stands alone is good, but when you have a concept and a series of fighters that combine between them to fight many times it’s tremendous. It’s those combinations that create greatness.
“As well as the four ‘super kings’ [from the 1980s] we could also compare this era to the days of Humberto ‘Chiquita’ Gonzalez and Michael Carbajal, [who fought each other three times for the WBC and IBF light-flyweight titles in the 1990s], but the difference here is we have had more elements, more fighters, more combinations of fighters.”
Sulaiman particularly credits promoter Tom Loeffler with helping to significantly raise the profile of the 115lbs division, through his three ‘Superfly’ promotions, which took place in California in 2017 and 2018 and were televised on HBO.
“Tom Loeffler had a vision and really promoted it, like in the olden days. Bob Arum and Don King were always great at promoting not just fights but events, happenings, concepts. They gave fans things to get excited about.
“Tom came up with the idea of ‘Superfly’ – they put it on HBO, and he managed to get the best super-flys in the world into the ring. We saw a similar thing in the era of the super kings, the ‘Four Kings’. You could also add Wilfred Benitez to that same group. [Benitez fiought Leonard, Duran and Hearns, but not Hagler].
“The lightweight division right now has the potential to do the same sort of thing. But it’s up to the promoters to make it happen. They need to understand the need to give the fans the fights they want between the fighters who are out there in order to bring as much attention as possible to boxing.”
Sulaiman then gave Boxing Social his take on each of the four champions who have held the WBC super-fly title in recent years, beginning with Nicaragua’s four-weight world champion ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez.
“‘Chocolatito’ is a unique, humble man and a national hero in Nicaragua,” he said. “He has been in so many great fights in the ring but also he’s been a strong leader in his community. He leads by example. He leads a very humble life, he’s always helping his community.
“In the ring, he’s willing to fight whoever they put in front of him. He’s never ducked any fight. And to come back from adversity, as he has done, takes a lot of courage! That’s what defines a great fighter.
“He lost and then was dramatically knocked out and that could have been the end of his career. Instead he regrouped, he went back to basics, and now he’s a world champion again and he’s taking on one of the best fights of the year against Estrada. He’s one of a kind, without a doubt.”
Gonzalez’s first encounter with Estrada was for the WBA light-flyweight title in 2012. Sulaiman expressed his delight that since this fight – which Estrada lost but which introduced him in the world stage – the Mexican has gone on to enjoy the sort of attention and acclaim his rich talents deserve.
“Estrada is a kid with an unbelievable story behind him,” Sulaiman explained. “He lost his parents and grew up with another family member. He had a rough childhood and boxing saved his life.
“When he first fought ‘Chocolatito’ he was an unknown fighter really. ‘Chocolatito’ was a heavy favourite but Estrada really came to fight and fought well. Later he won the championship and moved up in weight and when he won the WBC title his life changed for good.
“He’s a great role model. He just got married, he’s got great motivation because he’s looking for revenge against ‘Chocolatito’. That loss has haunted him for eight years and has given him the inspiration to continue boxing. Now he’s looking to avenge that defeat and defend his title.”
The winner of the March 13 showdown between ‘El Gallo’ and ‘Chocolatito’ will be in line for a showdown with mandatory challenger Srisaket. Sulaiman is a huge admirer of the Thai sensation, and argues that his willingness to fight abroad has earned him a special place in Thai boxing history.
“That is something that separates Rungvisai from other Thai greats,” he said. “Many legendary champions from Thailand only defended their titles at home and never went outside. Veeraphol Sahaprom the bantamweight went to Japan several times and [light-flyweight] Saman Sorjaturong went to Los Angeles and knocked out ‘Chiquito’ Gonzalez which was a great accomplishment.
“But no one from Thailand has done what Rungvisai has done – he beat ‘Chocolatito’ in New York and then knocked him out in Los Angeles. He also beat Estrada in the United States. So he’s been very successful abroad which gives him a specific greatness.
“He is so tough. He really is a tough fighter and I know he’s looking forward to getting the opportunity to try and win the title back.”
Finally, Sulaiman also gave a personal and very moving perspective on the career and life of Carlos Cuadras – the Mexican who beat Rungvisai in 2014 and has since lost classic and close fights against Gonzalez and Estrada (twice).
“Carlos Cuadras has been a very dear friend of mine for so many years,” he said. “He was supposed to go to represent Mexico in the Olympics and the amateur federation did him wrong so he decided to turn pro. He was always very closely associated with the WBC, he won the youth championship, the Latino championship, the international belt, all these championships, which are stepping stones for the world stage.
“Then he became champion and with money and fame comes temptations and distractions. He fell ino the evil of drugs and alcohol.”
Cuadras’ personal problems became more widely known in 2018, at which point Sulaiman and the WBC stepped in to help him rebuild his life.
“We worked very closely with him to support him because he and his wife, they have a beautiful family, he’s a very sweet kid a very nice person, but when the effects of alcohol and drugs came that seemed to change him into a person who had no will. The complete opposite of what a boxer does, which is a life of perseverence and sacrifice and hard work. Drink and drugs work to the contrary,” he said.
“We put him into a rehab centre. He was there six or eight months, I think. But he’s been clean since then, thanks to the love and the dedication and the sacrifice of his wife.
“There were so many moments of darkness that were surrounding them but now they have turned back into a beautiful family with so many things to look forward to in the future.”
Despite Cuadras’ recent stoppage defeat against Estrada, Sulaiman believes he is still firmly in the mix for a further title shot in the future.
“Inside the ring he’s a great fighter. He lost to ‘Chocolatito’ in a very close fight, he lost to Estrada by a split decision and McWilliams Arroyo in a very close fight and then he fought Estrada again. Cuadras had him hurt, he knocked him down and he was so close to regaining the title but he fell short.
“But he’s one of those fighters who can beat anyone in the ring, he can win against any fighter. And he’s still in the mix.
“He can still get another shot to regain his championship. Overall, he’s a very nice kid who has thankfully recovered from the evils of addictions.”
Main image: Estrada-Cuadras II was a terrific war in the finest Mexican tradition. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA.