Wisaksil Wangek makes history at a legend’s expense: Weekend Review
Wisaksil Wangek: The image of Roman Gonzalez lying flat on his back for several minutes after the fight ended was disturbing for those who have admired the little Nicaraguan for so many years. No one wants to see a once-great fighter in that position.
At the same time, Gonzalez’s fate was the result of a special, eye-opening performance by his opponent.
Wangek, also known as Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, obliterated a revered fighter with two monstrous rights – one that put him down and another that put him out in Round 4 – to retain his WBC junior bantamweight title on a dramatic Saturday night at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
It was more than a Knockout of the Year candidate, given the magnitude of the fight. It was a career-changing event, for both the winner and the loser. Gonzalez might be finished at 30. Wangek made his biggest statement at the same age, one that will have changed the way he’s perceived in the boxing world.
Wangek (44-4-1, 40 knockouts) got our attention when he narrowly outpointed Gonzalez in their first fight. On Saturday, he proved he belongs among the very best in the sport.
The Thai fighter almost certainly benefited from a size advantage, as most observers believe Gonzalez moved up too high on the divisional ladder. Make no mistake, though: Wangek is an impressive physical specimen by objective standards – strong, durable and an immensely powerful puncher. Gonzalez might as well have been run over by a truck.
And we should have opportunities to see how other elite 115-pounders will stand up to Wangek, as he is now mandated to defend his title against Juan Francisco Estrada, a slick, experienced technician who narrowly outpointed Carlos Cuadras on Saturday’s card. That would be a test for Wangek. As would Naoya Inoue, another 115-pound titleholder who made his debut on the Wangek-Gonzalez card.
If Wangek can do to them what he did to Gonzalez, he’ll become a legend. And don’t be shocked if he does it.
Roman Gonzalez: Even the great ones eventually decline. Sometimes it’s an issue of size. Sometimes it’s age. And sometimes it’s just the wrong opponent. In the case of Gonzalez, it might’ve been all three.
The onetime 105-pounder evidently moved up at least one division too many, as three difficult fights against Carlos Cuadras and Wangek at 115 pounds suggest. Gonzalez has had 48 fights, many against top-tier opposition. He might’ve been worn down. And, obviously, Wangek is a special fighter.
All that was too much for Gonzalez to overcome. Still, the knockout was shocking.
The Nicaraguan had accomplished so much over the past decade. He won major titles in four divisions, the first in 2008. He was 15-0 in title fights until he ran into Wangek. And he did all that against the best little men in the world, fighters such as Juan Francisco Estrada, Akira Yaegashi, Edgar Sosa, Brian Viloria and Carlos Cuadras.
He seemed to be unbeatable, at least until he moved up to 115 pounds.
That’s why he was able to make his remarkable climb to the top of most pound-for-pound lists, including THE RING’s. He was No. 1 as of March 18, the day of his first fight with Wangek. Six months later he might be facing the end of what will surely be a Hall of Fame career.
Such is the cruelty of boxing.
Gonzalez (46-2, 38 knockouts) won’t be remembered for this stunning loss, as some have suggested. In time, we’ll set that aside and focus on the accomplishments that made him one of the best fighters of his generation.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Juan Francisco Estrada: The Mexican doesn’t appear to be a special fighter at first glance. He’s not blazing fast, not a great athlete, not even a great puncher. One could easily overlook him – if it weren’t for his results.
Estrada is an excellent technical boxer — maybe the best from his country. He proved that once again against talented countryman Carlos Cuadras on the Wangek-Gonzalez card. Estrada had trouble with Cuadras’ early in-and-out movement, winging punches and elusiveness but he adjusted and took control of the fight by the middle rounds.
All three judges had the same score 114-113, meaning a 10th-round knockdown by Estrada prevented him from settling for a draw. I scored it 116-111 for Estrada (eight rounds to four). I could see 115-112 (seven to five). Six rounds apiece? That’s hard to swallow.
At any rate, the judges had the right man winning the fight – in spite of Michael Buffer’s failed attempt to announce the winner (see below) – and that means he is now the mandatory challenger for Wangek’s WBC 115-pound title, which is a golden opportunity to claim his own defining victory.
I give Estrada a good chance of winning that fight because of his polished skills, experience and durability. Cuadras, a good puncher, never hurt Estrada on Saturday night. And, remember, Estrada gave a prime Gonzalez hell in a losing effort in 2012.
Wangek. Naoya Inoue. Cuadras. Kal Yafai. Estrada could prove to be the best of a special 115-pound lot.
Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12 KOs) made his U.S. debut on the Wangek-Gonzalez card but it was more of a showcase than a fight. The young Japanese junior bantamweight overwhelmed Antonio Nieves, who settled into a survival mode after tasting Inoue’s power and retired on his stool after six rounds. That limited what Inoue was able to do. Still, the reviews were good. Inoue is physically imposing – strong, quick, athletic. He has a wonderful, punishing jab. And he can obviously punch, particularly to the body. Vicious body shots led to the demise of Nieves (17-2-2, 9 KOs). I look forward to seeing Inoue face another top 115-pounder, maybe Cuadras. … Michael Buffer had his Oscar moment after the Estrada-Cuadras fight. And not in a good way. Buffer, al la Warren Beatty’s Best Picture faux pas during this year’s Academy Awards, announced the winner as “CARLOS ESTRADA!” Cuadras and his handlers, who apparently heard only “CARLOS” celebrated, although that didn’t last long. Buffer quickly corrected the error and announced that Estrada had won. The mistake will live on, though. … Brian Viloria, 36, turned pro in 2001, meaning he has been getting paid to fight for 16-plus years. And he isn’t finished. One of the sport’s true nice guys remains unfriendly to his opponents, as Miguel Cartagena (15-4-1, 6 KOs) learned on the Wangek-Gonzalez card. Viloria (38-5, 23 KOs) stopped the Philadelphian in five rounds, which keeps him in the mix for at least one more big fight. The four-time, two-division titleholder has earned it. …
The thing about Oleksandr Usyk (13-0, 11 KOs) that stands out most to me is his athleticism, which I believe rivals that of Evander Holyfield when he was a cruiserweight. Marco Huck (40-5-1, 27 KOs) witnessed that first-hand on Saturday in Berlin, where they kicked off the World Boxing Super Series. Usyk boxed circles around the faded German with fiery determination before finally stopping him with a flurry of unanswered blows in the 10th round, a stirring beginning to the cruiserweight and super middleweight tournaments. The only thing Usyk might be missing is great punching power, although I think it’s too early to say that definitively. … David Benavidez (19-0, 17 KOs) wasn’t as dazzling against Ronald Gavril (18-2, 14 KOs) as he had been in previous fights – including a final-round knockdown – but he had a huge night nonetheless Friday in Las Vegas. One, the 20-year-old became the youngest titleholder by winning a split decision for the vacant WBC super middleweight belt, his first. And, two, he gained valuable experience in a difficult fight against a good opponent. The scores were widely disparate – 117-111 and 116-111 for Benavidez, 116-111 for Gavril. The right man was awarded the decision.