By David Robinett
On an evening where the final chapter may have been written on the illustrious career of former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, two new faces announced themselves to boxing fans around the world. One, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, is a former trash collector from Thailand who left no doubt that he belongs among boxing’s elite and the other, Naoya Inoue, a Japanese prodigy vying to become the latest talent from Asia to develop into a bona fide attraction in the United States.
At the post-fight press conference following HBO Boxing After Dark’s “Superfly” tripleheader from StubHub Center in Carson, California, Peter Nelson, Executive Vice President of HBO Sports, commented on the evening’s results. “This was a wonderful night for fight fans,” said Nelson. “Anyone who wasn’t a boxing fan before watching these fights, I’m sure they became a boxing fan tonight. I’m jealous of that feeling, I remember when it happened to me.”
For Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KOs), who retained the WBC super flyweight belt with his fourth round knockout of Gonzalez, the evening was about more than just personal accomplishment, but also a declaration on behalf of his countrymen. “I am very proud of my performance, I hope I inspired all Thais that we are as good as any other people in the world,” explained Rungvisai.
Nevertheless, Rungvisai also found time to appreciate the impact of his victory on his own legacy. “I have showed the world that I am number one at 115 pounds,” stated Rungvisai. “I think the way I fought today should eliminate all doubt that anyone has [after his controversial first victory over Gonzalez].”
While Rungvisai asserted his supremacy at super flyweight, the other star of the evening, Naoya Inoue, had his eyes set on bigger things. “It was my American debut and I was able to complete seven rounds and have a successful finish and I’m grateful,” observed Inoue (14-0, 12 KOs). “I was pleasantly surprised that there are so many fans here and it motivates me to put on better performances.” But those better performances may not include a tussle with Rungvisai. “I’d like to keep performing well, but I plan to go up in weight in the future,” announced Inoue, without addressing whether or not his move out of the super flyweight division would occur before or after a matchup with the division’s new kingpin.
Not to be forgotten was the evening’s other winner on the televised portion of the card, Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25 KOs), whose win earned him a WBC-mandated shot at Rungvisai for the title and who also held court during the post-fight press conference.
“I hope everybody enjoyed the show between two Mexicans,” said Estrada. “I’m ready to fight the champion, who ended up being Rungvisai and I hope it’s as soon as possible.” Estrada also admitted he was doubly surprised this evening, both at Michael Buffer’s misreading of his fight result, as well as with the main event. “I was really thrown off [when Cuadras was initially announced as the winner],” acknowledged Estrada. “I thought I dominated the fight so I was very surprised.” With regard to the main event, Estrada stated, “It was definitely a surprising result. I thought that Chocolatito was going to win by knockout.” However Estrada quickly added, ‘I’m extremely confident I can beat Rungvisai and I’m sure that’s what will happen next.”
Ultimately, it was an heavily anticipated night of boxing that lived up to the hype, although the results may not have been exactly what fans were expecting. But with the talent on display tonight its clear that the lower weight divisions have the ability to keep punching above their weight in terms of star potential and entertainment value, as long as they continue to be afforded an opportunity by HBO and other platforms.