Can American Super Flyweights Keep Up With Mexico and Asia at StubHub?

Super flies only date back to the days of VCRs in the 1980s.

But from the beginning, the 115-pound limit division has delivered pound for pound one of the most exciting divisions in prizefighting, though you probably didn’t notice.

On Saturday some of the most impressive array of super flyweights in decades gather at the StubHub Center when eight super flies led by Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez battle each other. HBO will televise three of the bouts.

Latinos and Asians dominate the divisions and always have. The names of those who lit up the prize ring are familiar to those who followed boxing since the 1980s — guys like Jiro Watanabe, Khaosai Galaxy, Julio Cesar Borboa, Harold Grey, and Hiroshi Kawashima.

Not until Americans Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero entered the division did people in this country take notice. The two New Mexicans were bitter rivals and were not shy about it. When they finally met in July 1997 all eyes turned to the super flies and the pair provided all the fans expected.

That was 20 years ago and now welcome to 2017.

This current batch of talented super flyweights began as light flyweights in November 2012 when Nicaragua’s “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada met at the now demolished L.A. Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles.

When Gonzalez met Estrada the Nicaraguan had previously cut down several Mexican challengers like a machete slices crops in the fields of Central America.

Mexico was looking for someone to uphold the dignity of its boxing lineage when Estrada accepted the gauntlet. The fighter from the sun blistered soil of Hermosillo was as hard as the land and was more than willing to try Gonzalez. Was that a fire fight?

It was the first time Gonzalez fought a boxer who was his near-equal. Estrada could take Gonzalez’s best punch and vice versa. These two hard men went to work on each other like competing jackhammers. It was ridiculous the punishment they both unleashed on each other. Gonzalez won by unanimous decision but many disputed the judgment.

That was five years ago and they have yet to meet again.

Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai or Wisaksil Wangek (whatever name he prefers) shook up things when he took away Gonzalez’s title last March at Madison Square Garden. Many felt Gonzalez had won but the mere fact it was razor close was a reason to stage a rematch, but this time in Los Angeles.

The Thai fighter was supposed to be a mere formality for Gonzalez to create interest in a rematch with Mexico’s Carlos Cuadras. They had clashed last September in a memorable fight at the Inglewood Forum that Gonzalez won by a close unanimous decision. But on the same card Rungvisai upset the Nicaraguan, Cuadras defeated David Carmona in a close fight and it was apparent that these super flyweights are all very talented at the top.

Leave it to K2 Promotion’s Tom Loeffler to immediately realize that a quasi-tournament of super flyweights would be an attraction.

Here’s the breakdown:

Gonzalez vs. Sor Rungvisai

Expect more of the same from these two. It was apparent that the current WBC champion has a chin of iron as he was able to absorb Gonzalez’s biggest blows. This will be a game of power chess.

“I’m very glad to have the rematch. As soon as the last fight was over I wanted the chance to regain my title,” says Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KOs). “After fighting him once I know what he does well and I know how to combat that.”

Rungvisai also knows what Chocolatito likes to do.

“Many people did not believe I won but I know that I was victorious and will prove again that I am better on Saturday night,” says Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39 KOs) who has already fought Cuadras but lost on points in a fight that ended in a technical decision.

Cuadras vs. Estrada

When Mexicans at this level collide you can bet blows will be landed and blood will be shed.

“Estrada can’t beat me, he can’t even show up here today to work out, a true chicken,” said Cuadras (36-1-1, 27 KOs) jokingly at the media workout in Norwalk on Wednesday.

Estrada has said he thinks Cuadras is a funny guy outside of the ring, but they’re not telling jokes on Saturday.

“Were happy to be here because I know these are the best super flyweights in the world,” said Estrada (35-2, 25 KOs). “I consider myself a real true warrior, a guy that comes to fight, and can box and can do a lot of things in the ring. But we know Carlos is one of the best and we have to respect him.”

Naoya Inouye vs. Antonio Nieves

The “Monster” has arrived from Japan and the 24-year-old is eager to see where he belongs among these super super flyweights even though he’s considered Japan’s best in a land with many quality champions.

“It’s an honor to fight in America and on HBO. I’ve wanted to come here for the last couple of years,” said Inouye (13-0, 11 KOs) who was in attendance when Gonzalez fought Cuadras at the Forum a year ago. “Nieves is very tough, a strong fighter with nothing to lose.”

Nieves, 30, represents one of three American super flyweights on the card. The Cleveland prizefighter is coming off a loss by split decision to Nikolai Potapov this past March. Despite the imposing challenge of facing “the Monster” he’s remained cool and calm.

“If I didn’t think I could win I wouldn’t have taken this fight,” Nieves (17-1-2, 9 KOs) said. “We’ll see if he lives up to the hype, he’s never faced anyone as good as me.”

Brian Viloria vs. Miguel Cartagena

The other American on the card is veteran Brian Viloria, 36, a former world champion in two weight divisions. Whenever experts have predicted his demise the Hawaiian boxer has surprised.

“I’ve been in this game a long time and I know what I need to do,” said Viloria (37-5, 22 KOs) a former light flyweight and flyweight world titlist. “This could be my last chance to win a world title.”

Cartagena, 25, who fights out of Philadelphia, held Japan’s Toshiyuki Igarashi to a draw in Tokyo. That’s not easy to do. With 15 wins, three losses and one draw he has another chance to see if he belongs.

Can any of these Americans revisit the days of Tapia and Romero and win a world title? Or will it be business as usual with Japan and Latin America keeping the belts?

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