Little giants: Srisaket vs Estrada preview

Graham Houston
23/02/2018 8:50am

The super flyweight division is suddenly red-hot and Graham Houston expects the title fight between Thailand’s defending champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Mexican challenger Juan Francisco Estrada on Saturday night to be a 115lbs classic...

The super flyweight division got a boost last September when American subscription TV giant HBO presented SuperFly, a triple-header that featured three fights in the 115lbs weight class. Now two of the fighters from that event are headlining the SuperFly 2 show at the Forum, in Inglewood, California, on 24 February with Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai defending his WBC title against the mandatory challenger, Juan Francisco Estrada, of Mexico.

These fighters could be called Little Giants. They are small in stature but huge when it comes to providing skill and excitement. Srisaket vs Estrada has the potential to be one of the year’s best fights and we are only just getting into 2018.

First, though, why Srisaket and not Wisaksil Wangek, as BoxRec lists the Thai boxer? Here’s the thing. Last year BoxRec took to listing Thai boxers by their birth names. In Thailand, the fighters go by their “boxing” names, often with these names linked to a gymnasium or a sponsor.

Because the last names can change depending on the fighter’s current affiliation, we like the idea of identifying a Thai fighter by his first name - or “boxing” first name - which doesn’t change. HBO’s publicity material uses Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, as does the WBC website.

This sort of confusion is regrettable. We have the record-keeping website using one name and other sources preferring the boxer’s chosen ring name.

Whichever name you prefer, though, Srisaket or Wangek, one thing is crystal clear: the 31-year-old Thai can really fight.

Srisaket triumphed as a huge underdog when he won the title from unbeaten four-weight champion Chocolatito Gonzalez on a narrow decision last March and did even better in the rematch when, again as an underdog, he knocked out Chocolatito in the fourth round.

It’s said in boxing circles that Thai boxers don’t travel well and that they aren’t the same outside of their own country or south-east Asia in general. This isn’t entirely correct.

For instance, in world title bouts, Thai boxers have won in the UK, with Sot Chitalada outclassing Charlie Magri and Chartchai Chionoi stopping Walter McGowan due to a cut over the Scottish boxer’s eye, while Somsak stopped Mahyar Monshipour in a war in France, the great 140-pounder Saensak Muangsurin won twice by knockout in Spain and Saman Sorjaturong, behind on the scorecards and busted up, sensationally knocked out Chiquita Gonzalez in the seventh round at the same Forum arena where Srisaket meets Estrada.

Srisaket is the type who doesn’t seem particularly bothered where he fights. Before the two bouts with Chocolatito he put up a solid showing against Carlos Cuadras in Mexico. Although Cuadras won the fight on a technical decision he was under pressure throughout. Indeed, Srisaket clearly hurt the Mexican fighter with a left-hand shot to the body in the seventh, a round that the Thai won on all three judges’ cards.

Srisaket isn’t particularly stylish but he is very strong and tough, hard hitting and difficult to discourage. He’s fought his way out of poverty, and his desire for victory was evident in the two fights with Chocolatito. The oddsmaker wise guys made Chocolatito a sure thing but Srisaket’s self-belief shone through. He fought as if the great Chocolatito was just another fighter.

However, Chocolatito had come up in weight from 112lbs after starting out at 105. Srisaket was able to impose his physical strength. Estrada is younger and bigger than Chocolatito. Also, it’s possible that Chocolatito had plateaued by the time he met Srisaket. He didn’t seem the same offensive machine when boxing at super flyweight. Estrada, though, is probably just arriving at his peak at 27. He is the type of fighter who epitomises the heart and soul of Mexican boxing. He’s tough, technically competent, smart, courageous and well conditioned.

Estrada earned this chance with a very close though unanimous decision over Carlos Cuadras on the SuperFly show last September. Scoring a knockdown in the 10th round gave Estrada his slim margin of victory. That was Estrada’s 10th win in a row. He hasn’t lost since Chocolatito defeated him on a unanimous decision five years ago.

I believe Estrada is a more mature and improved fighter than when he lost to Chocolatito. He fought Chocolatito at 108lbs, having dropped down in weight from 112 for the world title opportunity. Estrada might have depleted himself a little making light-flyweight but even so he put up a spirited fight.

Since then, Estrada has been a world champion in the flyweight class and beaten world champions Brian Viloria, Milan Melindo, Hernan 'Tyson' Marquez, Giovani Segura and Cuadras. (He knocked out fellow-Mexicans Marquez and Segura in thrilling fights.) Estrada vacated the title to move up to 115lbs.

Srisaket is probably the heavier handed of the two fighters (40 KOs in a 44-4-1 record) but Estrada (36-2, 25 KOs) has boxed at a higher level. The Forum site favours Estrada, who will have the Mexican and Mexican-American fans right behind him, with their nationalistic chants of 'May-hee-co!' spurring him on. Yet Srisaket is capable of taking the crowd out of the fight if he can hurt Estrada early and stay on top of him. Also, Srisaket really does seem to have a “fight anyone, anywhere” attitude - and having knocked out Chocolatito in Carson, California, he has had the experience of fighting in suburban Los Angeles.

Estrada looks the better technician, a bit more polished, maybe a little quicker with his hands, but Srisaket brings power, pressure and an indomitable will.

This looks an even-money fight (at time of writing betting lines had not been offered, the oddsmakers perhaps wary after getting burned twice by Srisaket). The lean here, by the slightest of margins, is to Estrada. I think he has the boxing acumen to score points and the physical and mental toughness to stay with Srisaket in the exchanges, but it seems safe to say that whoever wins will know he’s been in a fight.