Gonzalez vs Srisaket preview: Tough Thai test for P4P king
Luke G. Williams
The consensus and Boxing Monthly pound-for-pound king Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez defends his WBC 115lb title on Saturday against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai as the co-feature to Gennady Golovkin's middleweight clash with Daniel Jacobs. Could the Thai dangerman pull off a major upset and turn the P4P rankings upside down? Luke G. Williams previews an intriguing clash...
It's not unusual for an accomplished 'little man' in boxing to be overlooked - just ask Ricardo Lopez - but it has definitely taken the wider boxing and sporting world too long to wake up to the wonderful talents of Roman Gonzalez, the Nicaraguan four-weight world-title sensation.
Ironically, now that the 29-year-old has finally started to receive the widespread recognition his abilities deserve, Gonzalez has simultaneously entered the most perilous stage of his career, with a host of dangerous contenders gathering menacingly and all eager to knock him off his perch in what is an extremely talent rich super-flyweight division.
Last time he fought - in September 2016 at the Forum in Inglewood, California - Gonzalez was given a stern test by accomplished Mexican Carlos Cuadras in what was - remarkably - the first occasion on which 'Chocolatito' had headlined a major American show. Gonzalez won by unanimous decision (115-113, 116-112 and 117-111), but didn't have things all his own way and at times shipped some significant punishment, ending the fight marked up, with a swollen eye and looking somewhat battered.
Although Cuadras is not as skilled or as technically gifted as Gonzalez, he did on occasion look like the bigger and stronger man that thrilling night in Inglewood, raising questions in some observers' minds about whether the Nicaraguan will be quite the same force at 115lbs that he was at 105, 108 and 112lbs. Although the increments in these weight divisions look minor, it is worth noting that Gonzalez is now fighting in a weight class which is nearly 15% heavier than where he started his career - by way of comparison, this is the equivalent of a boxer who started as a welterweight ending up at super middleweight.
With this in mind, Thai foe Srisaket Sor Rungvisai - the WBC's mandatory challenger and the former holder of this title - could pose an intriguing and stern test for Gonzalez this weekend, with the 15-2 odds being offered by some bookmakers for a Srisaket victory certainly looking over-generous and arguably worth a punt. (Gonzalez, by contrast, I have seen listed as a 20-1 on favourite).
Just six months older than Gonzalez, Srisaket is ranked ninth at super fly by Boxing Monthly and, although he has not fought in the United States before, he is highly experienced and boasts an outwardly impressive 41-4-1 record with 38 KOs.
A significant caveat should be added though with regards to Srisaket's CV in terms of some of the quality of opposition he has faced - 12 of his 38 KO victims have been debutants - including the last two men he has faced - while his five opponents prior to those two mismatches had a combined record of 76-93-7.
Having said that, the Thai is certainly more of a natural super flyweight than Gonzalez, having fought for the majority of his career at 115lbs, aside from a handful of contests at flyweight and bantamweight. In terms of height there is nothing between the two men though, and the Nicaraguan's reach is marginally the longer.
Srisaket, a tough character with a Muay Thai background and very high work-rate, is also durable, with only two inside-schedule losses on his record, one of them a TKO against Japan's accomplished Akira Yaegashi in his professional debut (Yaegashi is now the IBF light flyweight champion) and the other a technical decision loss against Gonzalez's old foe Carlos Cuadras in 2014.
The Cuadras defeat was, truth be told, somewhat unfortunate. The fight was halted in the eighth round on the advice of the ring doctor after an accidental clash of heads exacerbated a bad cut over Cuadras' left eye caused by an accidental head butt by Srisaket in round four (for which the Thai had a point deducted, as per WBC rules). Cuadras was ahead on all three judges' cards at the time of the stoppage and thus annexed Srisaket's title.
The Thai boxer's promoters subsequently lobbied the WBC hard for a rematch, but their pleas fell on deaf ears, with Srisaket having to wait until now - 14 straight stoppage victories later - for a mandated opportunity to regain the title that he first won in May 2013 courtesy of a TKO against Japanese pugilist Yota Sato.
An aggressive southpaw fond of throwing bombs with both fists, Srisaket certainly has the power to trouble 'Chocolatito', but the question is whether he will be able to land his shots with enough regularity to force a surprise stoppage. If the fight goes the distance then Gonzalez's superior speed, footwork and precision will surely win the day.
Close examination of Srisaket's showing against Cuadras in 2014 provides some interesting further insights into the Thai's chances of causing a monumental upset. That night in the Sala de Armas, Mexico the home fighter's footwork often made Srisaket look somewhat clumsy and one-dimensional, while the Thai's fondness for the big left hand often enabled Cuadras to anticipate this shot successfully and move out of range or harm's way.
Using such tactics, and countering successfully with sharp shots of his own including a quick jab and the uppercut (which the Thai seems particularly vulnerable to), Cuadras certainly deserved to be up on the scorecards at the time of the stoppage, but Srisaket also demonstrated impressive perseverance and aggression and looked dangerous and competitive at all times.
In the seventh round, in particular, Srisaket discomforted Cuadras with some crunching body shots, one of which was arguably the most effective punch of the fight, being sufficiently vicious to make the Mexican wince and beat a hasty retreat.
Interestingly, Cuadras - who also fights on the Madison Square Garden bill on Saturday against countryman David Carmona and is line to fight Gonzalez again should both men triumph - gives the Thai a decent chance of springing a surprise, having commented this week during a media conference call: "He [Gonzalez] doesn't hit as hard as Rungvisai. 'Chocolatito' is going to have problems with him.
"Rungvisai is a very strong opponent. He hits hard. If ‘Chocolatito’ allows him to have his distance, he could very well knock him out. So he has to be very aware of that. He is a very tough and dangerous opponent, as I can attest to."
Srisaket himself has also been exuding great confidence in his pre-fight media engagements, declaring: "I respect Roman Gonzalez. He is a legend. He has done great things for boxing, especially by showing the world how talented and exciting smaller weight fighters can be ... However, super flyweight is my weight. And the WBC super flyweight world-title belt is my belt. I will do whatever it takes to win my belt back, and I am confident I can do it.
“I was able to hurt Carlos Cuadras in the way that Gonzalez could not. Cuadras did not hurt me when we fought but he hurt Gonzalez throughout their fight last year. I am confident I can beat Roman Gonzalez. And the fight will not go twelve rounds. This is history. I will fight for Thailand and my family. I will fight to bring back the WBC super-flyweight belt to Thailand where it belongs. Some fans in America might not know me well, but I have knockout power and I will go there to win."
As well as Srisaket's credentials, there is also another factor at play here which feeds into the perception that an upset is possible; Gonzalez's longtime trainer Arnulfo Obando tragically passed away last October, and it remains to be seen how this will affect him. Wilmer Hernandez is now Gonzalez's lead trainer, while his father is assistant trainer.
Nevertheless, even though his head trainer may have changed and Gonzalez may not appear to be quite the force at 115lbs that he was at the three lower weights he previously campaigned at, it would take a brave man to bet against him triumphing on Saturday and extending his incredible resume to 47-0, one closer to Floyd Mayweather and Rocky Marciano's mystical marker of 49-0.
Vitally, there seems to be no hint of complacency on the ever professional Gonzalez's part. "He is very strong and always moves forward with courage," he said this week of his opponent. "He is [also] a southpaw, which is also an extra challenge to this fight ... I expect a great fight and I want to put on a great fight for the fans and I realise what I have to do because at the end of the day I want to have my hand raised in victory."
With so much at stake, including potentially lucrative rematches with Cuadras and Juan Francisco Estrada as well as a possible mega-fight against Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue, my pick is for a precise, focused and possibly more cautious than usual Gonzalez to use his vastly superior footwork and smooth boxing skills to gradually pick a gutsy Srisaket apart, en route to forcing a late stoppage or securing a wide points victory.