IBHOF inductee and boxing betting expert Graham Houston weighs up Saturday night’s intriguing super-flyweight showdown between WBC king Juan Francisco Estrada and WBA ‘Super’ champion Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez.
Eight years on, and Juan Francisco Estrada meets Chocolatito Gonzalez in a rematch on Saturday night (early Sunday morning in UK). Each man holds a 115-pound title and this battle of champions in Dallas looks virtually even money, with Estrada slightly favoured, in part because he is the younger man and is now a more seasoned fighter than he was going into the initial meeting. But he is meeting a truly great fighter, one whose iconic status is underscored by his one-name billing on the fight posters. We have Pele, Maradona, Canelo — and Chocolatito.
Estrada is the betting favourite (8/13 at Betfred) but one feels that few will be making a confident pick on the bout’s outcome.
Chocolatito won the first fight, beating Estrada on a unanimous decision in Los Angeles in 2012. That fight was in the 108-pound division. Chocolatito was just too strong, too accomplished and hit too hard for Estrada, who was 22 years old at the time. Estrada had his moments when he fired off bursts of punches and he was always making a fight of it, first bell till last, even winning the 12th round on two judges’ cards.
Since then Chocolatito has lost his undefeated record and even seemed to be on his way out of boxing. But, after consecutive losses to the Thai southpaw, Srisaket, the second defeat coming by devastating KO, Chocolatito has looked seemingly as good as he has ever done in his last few fights. He broke down and stopped Britain’s Kal Yafai in nine rounds to win the WBA 115-pound title and then made a successful defence by winning a unanimous 12-round decision over the spirited Israel Gonzalez.
Chocolatito was a revelation in the fight with Yafai. He crowded forward and kept the punches flowing, body and head. It was the Chocolatito of old, the fighter we doubted we’d see again after the way Srisaket knocked him out in their rematch. But Yafai was to an extent the architect of his own downfall, going head-to-head with Chocolatito and trying to back him up and wear him down. Those were the wrong tactics. Yafai, with only one stoppage win in his last six fights going into the bout with Chocolatito, didn’t have the firepower to stay with the great Nicaraguan fighter when it came to inside fighting.
Mexico’s Estrada is 30 years old and he is now a battle-hardened, highly competent fighter, more mature and stronger than when he first met Chocolatito. He’s lost only once in the last eight years, a very close defeat by decision against Srisaket in 2018. Estrada won the rematch a year later, helped by the fact that the sturdy Thai chose to box out of an orthodox stance for the first eight rounds. By the time Srisaket reverted to his usual southpaw style he was a long way behind on the scorecards but he did come on strongly, sweeping the last four rounds on one judge’s card.
Estrada showed movement and ring intelligence in the Srisaket fight. In his last fight, the 11th-round TKO win over Carlos Cuadras, we saw pressure and body punching from Estrada, who overcame a slow start — including getting knocked down — to grind down his fast-moving fellow-Mexican.
So, Estrada can box and move and he can also press forwards and bang to the body. He is a high-level boxer-fighter. But in Chocolatito he is meeting a very special fighter, a boxer who has won world titles at 105, 108, 112 and 115 pounds.
Those losses against Srisaket now seem almost an aberration. Yet Chocolatito is 33 now, getting up there in age for a boxer in the lighter weight classes but, still, he’s only three years older than Estrada.
Chocolatito seemed to be showing signs of slowing down when he won a unanimous 12-round decision over Carlos Cuadras in a 2016 title fight. He didn’t seem to have quite the same firing power at 115 pounds that he did in the lighter weight classes.
That was a tough fight for Chocolatito. He was damaged around the eyes and it was Cuadras who finished stronger in the last two rounds. In the consensus scoring of the three judges (where two or all three judges agree on which boxer won the round), that fight came out at 115-113 in Chocolatito’s favour.
Then came the tough loss by decision against Srisaket and the fourth-round knockout loss in the rematch. But after a year’s layoff, a seemingly revitalised Chocolatito has won four fights in a row. It looks as if he is all the way back. But maybe he was flattered by the win over Yafai, who might not have been as good as his unbeaten record suggested.
When Chocolatito lost to Srisaket the first time it was a very close fight. So, the KO defeat Chocolatito suffered in the rematch was his only really bad defeat (actually only his second loss in a 54-bout career). And it wasn’t as if he barely beat Estrada in the first meeting. He won widely, something like 9-3 in rounds in the consensus scoring of the judges. I believe Chocolatito is a great fighter, and we’ve seen great fighters produce great performances after seemingly being at the end of the line.
We know that Chocolatito will be taking the fight to Estrada and firing off free-flowing combinations to head and body. Estrada will no doubt be looking to move and counter and I am expecting him to try to slow down Chocolatito with body punches. Estrada looked strong and muscled at the weigh-in. He had the “ready to fight” look. Chocolatito was all smiles, looking relaxed and confident.
No matter who wins this rematch, it is likely to develop into a gruelling, intense battle. It might come down to which of the fighters can dig the deeper. The impression I’m getting is that Estrada is willing to go through hell to win this fight. I slightly favour Estrada but the odds of around the -160 mark are more than I’d like to lay. The value here is with Chocolatito at 7/5 (+140) in what looks a 50-50 fight. But is there a better play? I think that “To go the distance — No” has value at around 2/1 (+200). This figures to be a high-contact fight. It seems to me that Estrada is naturally the bigger man and he is three years younger than Chocolatito. Either man can hurt the other. I think there are worse bets than a stab at the fight not going the distance. But whatever happens in the fight, it looks being an absolute classic.
Main image: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA.