LOS ANGELES — Five junior bantamweights (super flyweights) graced the same elongated table in a ballroom at the Westin LAX Saturday afternoon, formally announcing September 9th’s “Super Fly” card that will be held at the Stub Hub Center in Carson, California, and broadcast live on HBO Boxing After Dark (10:15 p.m. ET / 7:15 p.m. PT).
From left to right, Juan Francisco Estrada (rated No. 5 by THE RING), Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (No. 3), Carlos Cuadras (No. 4), Antonio Nieves, and Brian Viloria sat proudly beside their managers as they spoke about not only a tremendous night of boxing, but an unprecedented event for men of their stature. All three fights scheduled to show on HBO will be in the 115-pound division, a big accomplishment considering just having one fight featured on the network was unheard of no more than three years ago.
Gonzalez was introduced as a national hero by his manager, Carlos Blandon. Donning a red FSLN cap – the political party he supports and leader of the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution – “Chocalatito” may not have known it, but as the poster boy of this recent mini-revolution in boxing, he was creating a figurative parallel.
“It’s a great privilege to be here,” said Gonzalez. “I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to fight Rungvisai again.”
Gonzalez (46-1, 38 knockouts) will immediately get a chance to avenge his only defeat against Wisaksil Wangek (aka Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, rated No. 2) (43-4-1, 39 KOs), the rugged Thai fighter who upset Gonzalez last March to claim the WBC junior bantamweight title. Despite it being a controversial decision to many, the contest is a bona fide Fight of the Year candidate in 2017 and was a captivating performance from Gonzalez, whose face, thanks to multiple head-butts, was as red as the cap he was wearing at the Westin.
“I come here with a lot of hunger, a lot of hope to come back to Nicaragua with my championship. With my team, we’re going to work very hard and be ready to come back.”
A new trainer was introduced as well: Sendai Tanaka of the Teiken Gym in Tokyo, Japan. It was an inevitable change due to the passing of Gonzalez’s father/trainer just before his last fight, and along with a new strength and conditioning coach from the same gym, the 30-year-old has already started training in Indio, California for the time being.
“You’re going to see five of the best super flyweights in the world, and the fans are going to enjoy a great night of boxing,” said Gonzalez in closing. Training camp in Thailand kept Wangek from making this press conference, but he is scheduled to be at all the media events during fight week.
The same goes for Japanese phenom Naoya Inoue (13-0, 9 KOs), who will be making his debut on American soil and television looking to defend the WBO junior bantamweight title a sixth time in the HBO co-feature. Fighting out of the Ohashi Gym in Yokohama, “The Monster,” rated No. 1 by THE RING, has garnered interest in the United States thanks to Gonzalez’s exposure of the division, and while Gonzalez-Inoue is a matchup sought by many, it will have to wait as Inoue takes on Antonio Nieves (17-1-2, 9 KOs).
Fighting out of Cleveland, Ohio, Nieves, is the No.7-ranked junior bantamweight contender in the eyes of the WBO, but is coming off a close split-decision loss to Nikolai Potapov this past March. Sitting alongside his manager, Tim Van Newhouse, the 30-year-old expressed how he has the advantage of being unknown and not having to live up to high expectations like his counterpart.
“This is a great opportunity for me. He’s a great fighter and everyone is ready to see him,” said Nieves about Inoue. “But September 9th I’m going to shock the world and upset it. It’s a great time to be on this card with all these fighters, and one day hopefully I get to mix it up with everyone on this stage.”
The opening bout of the HBO tripleheader was the only matchup where both men were present on the dais, and they took advantage with some playful back-and-forth banter.
“I know it’s a tough fight, but I got his medicine right here with my right hand,” said Cuadras with a big smile and a flexed arm. “When I heard I was going to fight ‘El Gallo’ Estrada, I got very excited because everyone knows I like to fight the best. I’m very excited to fight the best fighters in the world, and without a doubt, Estrada is one of them.”
Cuadras (36-1-1, 27 KOs) expected to get a rematch with Gonzalez, the only man to beat him, but Wangek threw a wrench into those plans last March. That night, Cuadras got a decision win over David Carmona on the same card but it wasn’t exactly a dazzling display. “El Principe” will turn 29 by fight night, and the outspoken Mexico City native finds himself in a real fight this time around.
“El Gallo is not a little chick,” proclaimed Cuadras before jokingly saying, “I won’t say anymore because everyone gets upset with me.”
A longtime flyweight titleholder, Estrada (35-2, 25 KOs) has thrown his hat into the ring of the 115-pound class, looking to not only take over the division, but seek vengeance. Like Cuadras, he lost to “Chocolatito” back in 2014 (Interestingly, his only other fight in the U.S.), and admitted that he will be rooting for him once he takes care of Cuadras.
“I consider myself a real true warrior. A guy who comes to fight, a guy who can box, a guy that can do all things in the ring,” said Estrada. “I’m happy to be here because I know it’s the best super flyweights of the world. The show is going to be great just because of the quality of the fighters.”
Estrada, 27, is coming off an exciting knockout win over Anuar Salas in March, and will be making his HBO debut. Ranked third by the WBC behind Cuadras and Gonzalez, Estrada can get where he wants to be after after one evening, but he’ll have to get through Cuadras first.
“You always have to respect your opponents, no matter how good, no matter how bad. We know Carlos is one of the best,” said Estrada, who would later call him a princess. “I hope he trains himself, because he’s never faced someone like me.”
As for Viloria (37-5, 22 KOs), the Hawaiian won’t make the HBO telecast and doesn’t have an opponent set officially, but the 36-year-old wanted to acknowledge this unprecedented occasion.
“I just want to thank everyone for coming out and supporting our weight division and putting us on a stage where we all have the opportunity to showcase our talents and abilities to be great fighters,” said Viloria alongside longtime manager Gary Gittelsohn. “If you look at the table now, we all at one point faced each other, and to be on the same card as these guys on September 9th, I’m very honored.”
Tom Loeffler, the lead promoter of the show (K2 Promotions) and emcee of the presser, credited HBO’s Peter Nelson for making this show possible. After all, it was he who thought of exposing the smaller weight classes to the public through “Chocolatito” and, as Loeffler tells it, he also came up with the name of the show. Loeffler also took pride in saying that this card had numerous promoters working together in order to bring exciting matchups to the show. Teiken, Zanfer and Salita are involved along with K2, and it goes to show that there is some harmony in a boxing world that is still fractured. Promoters working together is often called for yet overlooked when it takes place — much like the the captivating fights these little big men present.
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