Juan Francisco Estrada holds off Roman Gonzalez to majority decision victory, retains Ring 115-pound title

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Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez put on another classic in their rubbermatch, won by “El Gallo.” Photo: @MatchroomBoxing

GLENDALE, Arizona – If they fought a fourth fight, they could fill any arena in California, Texas or Arizona, because when Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonalez share the ring, fans are treated to an elite-level 12-round classic. Their rubbermatch on Saturday was no different, even though it took a few rounds to heat up.

However, the reality is that Estrada and Gonzalez should put their rivalry to rest. Estrada leads their three-bout series 2-1, having won their 2021 rematch with a somewhat controversial split decision and having legitimately outpointed Gonzalez in front of a pro-Mexican crowd at the Diamond Desert Arena.

Estrada (44-3, 28 KOs), the defending Ring Magazine junior bantamweight champion, won by scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 114-114, and picked up the vacant WBC title. More than a few ringside observers agreed with the draw verdict and some (this one included) scored it 115-113 for Gonzalez (51-4, 41 KOs), but there was no outrage at the official decision. Estrada, a 32-year-old master boxer from Sonora, Mexico, utilized a brilliant stick-and-move strategy that effectively neutralized Chocolatito’s vaunted pressure and volume punching during the first half of the bout.

However, taking nothing away from Estrada, who was clearly prepared for anything his rival could bring to the ring, Gonzalez didn’t look like his mind or spirit was truly dialed into the fight during the first two rounds. Even when he finally got his hands moving in Rounds 3 and 4, it seemed like he was just going through the motions, almost fighting on muscle memory.

The Nicaraguan legend didn’t get into his usual relentless rhythm until Rounds 5 and 6 when he was finally able to cut the ring off enough to land body-head combinations, but even when he was able to pin Estrada to the ropes, the Mexican champion was able to block and slip punches, and return fire with equal impact. Gonzalez also did an amazing job of catching and blocking shots on his gloves as he closed ground on the constantly moving Estrada, but the leverage on his punches wasn’t what it used to be. The intensity he had while dominating the best strawweights, junior flyweights and flyweights in the world from 2008 to 2016 was not there.

Junior bantamweight was always a reach for the now-35-year-old veteran, but he was able to outwork the best 115 pounders with the exception of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and now Estrada.

Setbacks to those two aside, Gonzalez is still considered to be a great fighter. Anyone who says otherwise needs to follow a different sport. They say all great fighters have that one last great effort to give, but it’s very possible that Gonzalez’s last elite performance was the rematch with Estrada, which took place last March, or maybe the masterclass against WBC flyweight titleholder Julio Cesar Martinez this March.

Gonzalez, one of the most humble fighters of this generation, had no problem saying he thought he won the rematch with Estrada. After their rubbermatch, he avoided expressing his opinion on who really won the fight.

“It was a nice fight for the public,” he said during his post-fight interview with Chris Mannix of DAZN. “I did what I could and that was the result.”

Gonzalez seems to have accepted that he’s hit his limit. He didn’t get into why he had such a slow start even when prodded by Mannix.

“I was seeing what he had,” he replied. “What’s important is that we came out in good health.

“This fight was the most difficult (of the three bouts with Estrada).”

Mannix brought up retirement and Gonzalez didn’t rule it out.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I’m going to talk about it with my family. My kids are the most important consideration.”

If he calls it a career, the boxing world will celebrate when he’s inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in three years.

If Gonzalez wants to continue, Estrada says he’ll proudly share the ring with him again.

“Some say he’s finished, but I don’t think he’s finished, I think he can continue if he wants to,” Estrada said of his arch rival. “If he wants the fourth fight, he deserves it and I will grant it, but if not I think unification fights is what should be next for me.”

Joshua Franco, who will challenge Kazuto Ioka in a WBA/WBO 115-pound title unification bout in Japan on New Year’s Eve, was ringside with his brother, Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, who is a top contender at flyweight and junior bantamweight (where he briefly held the WBC title that Estrada won).

Estrada said he would welcome challenges from the young guns, Franco and Rodriguez, but he’s got his eye on Ioka.

“The Japanese fighter is a four-division champion if I’m not mistaken, so he would be a special challenge, I’ve wanted to fight him since I was at flyweight,” Estrada said during the post-fight press conference.”

The great thing about these sub-bantamweight standouts is that they are serious about facing the best fighters in their divisions. Gonzalez and Estrada share many elite-level opponents, including Sor Rungvisai, Carlos Cuadras and Brian Viloria.

“I’m happy that I’m finally being recognized for all of those hard fights I had with those fighters,” Estrada said. “I trained very hard for all of those fights. Maybe this victory (against Gonzalez) is what gets me into the hall of fame. I’m very happy, but I still have a long road ahead of me.”

Estrada is DEFINITELY getting into the hall of fame. Given time he may prove to be an all-time great like Gonzalez.

“The fourth fight with Chocolatito is the biggest fight to be made, of course, but I think every division should have an undisputed champion,” Estrada’s co-promoter Eddie Hearn said during the post-fight press conference. “I’d like to see it (an undisputed champ) in the 115-pound division, so the winner of Ioka-Franco makes sense for Estrada.”

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