Fight Picks: Juan Francisco Estrada vs. Roman Gonzalez 3
On Saturday, Ring junior bantamweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada will face former pound-for-pound king and longtime rival Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez for the vacant WBC title at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
The eagerly anticipated showdown will be broadcast on DAZN, beginning at 10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT.
Estrada came up short but made a name for himself in a junior flyweight title bout against Gonzalez (UD 12) in November 2012. The Mexican rebounded to win WBA and WBO 112-pound titles at the expense of Brian Viloria (SD 12). After making five defenses, Estrada abdicated his throne for a move up to junior bantamweight.
“Round 25 starts!”
– Rudy Hernandez, trainer
After winning a unanimous decision over Carlos Cuadras at 115 pounds, Estrada lost to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai by majority decision. In a rematch three fights later, he outboxed the hard-punching Thai to capture the Ring and WBC belts. “El Gallo” made three defenses, including an 11th-round stoppage of Cuadras and a thrilling but controversial split decision over old rival Gonzalez (SD 12), who held the WBA title.
The WBA ordered Estrada to defend against Joshua Franco this summer, but he declined to go ahead with the bout and was stripped. The 32-year-old snapped an 18-month hiatus with a win over Argi Cortes (UD 12) in September to set up the rubber match with Gonzalez.
The legendary Gonzalez annexed titles at strawweight, junior flyweight and flyweight before moving north once more. In 2016, Chocolatito dared to be great when he stepped up to junior bantamweight in a bid to surpass his idol and mentor — the late, great Alexis Arguello — by becoming a four-weight world champion.
“‘El Gallo’ has more power, but Chocolatito has more rhythm to his punches.”
– Carlos Cuadras (fought both Estrada and Gonzalez)
Gonzalez edged the bigger Cuadras (UD 12) to claim the WBC title. Two shocking losses to Sor Rungvisai followed (MD 12 and KO 4), but Gonzalez rolled back the years to claim the WBA title with a ninth-round stoppage of Kal Yafai in 2020. Gonzalez made one defense before losing to Estrada in their rematch. The 35-year-old modern-day great again bounced back with a win over reigning WBC 112-pound titlist Julio Cesar Martinez (UD 12) in a catchweight bout.
Gonzalez (51-3, 41 KOs) was impressive when he turned back Martinez in March, while Estrada (43-3, 28 KOs) was less so against Cortes in September. However, at 35, is Gonzalez really the fresher fighter? Was it more a question of Estrada, 32, knocking off ring rust, meaning he’ll be able to find his old form against Gonzalez? Can the Nicaraguan maestro find his groove early, or can the multi-dimensional Estrada find something in his bag of tricks to change the pattern of the fight in his direction? Both men know each other very well, having shared 24 rounds together. Will one of them find something new that can give them a slight edge? With the series tied and bragging rights on the line, will that draw out the best in both men?
Online gambling group William Hill lists Gonzalez as an 1/2 (-200) favorite, while Estrada is priced at 6/4 (+150); the draw is 14/1 (+1400).
Here’s how the experts see it:
DOUG FISCHER: GONZALEZ UD
“The Gonzalez-Estrada matchup reminds me of the Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales rivalry (but without all the spite). When they share the ring, we can expect an elite-level WAR for 12 rounds. They are ALMOST evenly matched, but in my opinion, Gonzalez has just a little bit more to his game. With all of the battles he’s been in over the past 15 years and four weight classes, we never know when he’ll hit the wall, but Gonzalez looked sharp vs. JC Martinez in March. His legs, speed and reflexes were all there along with his usual high-volume attack. In fact, I think he had more zip on his punches vs. Martinez than he had for the 2021 rematch with Estrada (and I still think he won that fight). Word is that he’s had a good camp, so I’m riding with my man, the future first-ballot hall of famer and legit all-time great, Chocolatito. I know the best version of Estrada will show up. I understand that he fights to the level of his opposition, so I’m not making much of his struggle with Argi Cortes in September. But I still think Gonzalez has the superior punch selection and technique. I still think he blocks and counters better than anyone in the sport, and he still mixes body shots into his two-fisted attack like a prime JC Chavez. And it’s a fact that he throws more punches while being the aggressor in the majority of rounds vs. Estrada. So, I think he wins a close, hard-fought unanimous decision on Saturday.”
ANSON WAINWRIGHT: GONZALEZ UD
“These two have shared the ring for 24 rounds and now they’ll get the chance to win the trilogy. It may well be a late contender for Fight of the Year. I’m looking forward to seeing how much both men have left. That will be key. It’s pretty much 50/50 going in. However, I lean towards Chocolatito. He looked really good against Julio Cesar Martinez in March, while Estrada looked less so against Argi Cortes in September. That will have helped the Mexican, who hadn’t fought in 18 months, shed some ring rust. I think Chocolatito will make good use of his movement. Estrada will have his moments, but he’ll have to work hard to get them, which will mean Chocolatito can box at a pace he is happier with and win a close unanimous decision.”
LEE GROVES: GONZALEZ UD
“Gonzalez won the first fight decisively when ‘Chocolatito’ was at his peak and Estrada was still on the rise, and it can be argued that the Nicaraguan should have gotten the nod in their rematch in March 2021. Since then, Estrada struggled at times before defeating Argi Cortes (who subsequently eked out a split decision against the 16-6-2 Erick Omar Lopez) while Gonzalez looked terrific in beating reigning WBC flyweight champion Julio Cesar Martinez. In other words, Gonzalez has shown better form as of late against better opposition, and while both men can certainly dish it out, it appears that Gonzalez is better able to take it, which may well swing the fight his way. Once again, we will be treated to a scintillating war, a war that will cement Gonzalez vs. Estrada as one of the great three-fight series in boxing history.”
DIEGO MORILLO: GONZALEZ PTS
“One of the classic rivalries of the lower weight classes is coming to an end, and it should be a spectacular one. These two are made for each other, and if they fought 20 times, the result would almost always be as close and controversial as the first two times. We may get some painful answers to a few questions about how much gas they have left in the tank after so many brutal fights throughout their careers, but the one thing that I firmly believe in is that the reports of Gonzalez’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Does he still have enough to defeat his greatest foe ever? It may be hard to envision it right now, but the tools are definitely there, and if Chocolatito can summon all of his energy to make one final climb to his own personal Everest, he definitely has a chance.”
NORM FRAUENHEIM: GONZALEZ UD
“It’s been compelling and contentious. For nearly a decade, Chocolatito and Juan Francisco Estrada have been rivals. This time and probably for the last time, they’ll try to end it at junior bantamweight, which is more than just a weight class. It’s a legacy. Guess here: It’ll belong to Chocolatito, a giant among history’s little guys. Age, 35, might work against him. But Estrada isn’t exactly young. He’s 32. Expect Chocolatito to score with stubborn pursuit and punches thrown at a whirlwind rate, especially in the final rounds when Estrada tends to drop his hands.”
CARLOS CUADRAS (FORMER WBC JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHT TITLEHOLDER): GONZALEZ PTS
“I think it will be a great fight. ‘El Gallo’ has more power, but Chocolatito has more rhythm to his punches. He does not stop throwing punches throughout the fight and he is insistent. I think that this time Chocolatito can win, since Estrada did not look very good in his last fight with a not very experienced fighter. If Estrada arrives better prepared and fights better, he will be able to win. I don’t think the KO will come; they are both very strong. It will be Gonzalez on points.”
DUKE MCKENZIE (FORMER THREE-DIVISION TITLEHOLDER/TV ANALYST): GONZALEZ MD
“I’ve been waiting for this trilogy for so long — arguably two of the best pound-for-pound fighters, in my humble opinion, in this modern era. You will struggle to find any boxer alive today that’s better. No, really, these two have it all. Both veterans now, been there, seen it, done it, worn the t-shirt, with over 40 fights apiece. With [each having one win over the other], they know each other inside-out. I edge towards the magnificent Chocolatito. Not that Estrada isn’t a quite brilliant machine himself. I see the difference being Estrada is a good world champion, but Chocolatito is great. I’d put him right up there alongside legends like Alexis Arguello. He really is special, a master craftsman. I see Chocolatito squeezing home a tight points decision. My one regret is not being ringside, as it’s not every day you see two champions of such high quality go head-to-head. Majority decision for Chocolatito.”
KAZUTO IOKA (WBO JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHT TITLEHOLDER): GONZALEZ
“We have two legends fighting for the third time. Both fighters are great and both know how to win. Either way, I think it’s going to be very close and great fight. I think Roman Gonzalez will win this fight. My goal is to be in position to fight the winner of that big fight between two legends in our division to answer the question of who the undisputed champion of the junior bantamweight division is.”
MARC RAMSAY (TRAINER): ESTRADA UD
“Another good fight is to be expected. It is very likely to look like the first one. A hard and close fight, but the 54 fights and 35-years-old of Gonzalez is starting to look especially [significant] in a small weight division. Estrada by unanimous decision.”
TOM GRAY (FORMER MANAGING EDITOR FOR THE RING): GONZALEZ UD
“If you’re a fan of close-range combat – and actually know what you’re looking at – you’ll acknowledge that this pairing is something very special. The action in fights one and two was of the highest caliber and it’s a blessing that we’re seeing it again. With that said, I think [the current record] should be 2-0 to Chocolatito. He can’t quite master Estrada, but he’s just a half-step ahead. After suffering a debatable decision loss to the Mexican star last time, Gonzalez is the sentimental favorite in the decider. He wins this one on points.”
STEVE FARHOOD (TV ANALYST): GONZALEZ PTS
“Maybe I’m making a mistake picking Chocolatito at age 35, but don’t forget, Estrada is in his 30s as well. The history of these two seems the overwhelming factor in guaranteeing yet another close distance fight. Their styles figure to mesh perfectly again, with Chocolatito applying pressure and Estrada counterpunching. I’ll go with Gonzalez by close decision, though I wouldn’t want to bet on it.”
JOLENE MIZZONE (MANAGER): GONZALEZ UD
“I think that Gonzalez is going to make the proper adjustments and win a close decision. I think that Gonzalez is the better boxer and uses those skills more in this fight. Gonzalez by unanimous decision.”
SUNNY EDWARDS (IBF FLYWEIGHT TITLEHOLDER): GONZALEZ UD
“I think when these two square off, it’s always an interesting tear-up. I just feel like Chocolatito is finding a resurgence in this stage of his career and might just have that little something that separates the two. So, I’m gonna go with Chocolatito by unanimous decision, which keeps alive my fantasy fight in the next 12, 18 months.”
ALEX STEEDMAN (COMMENTATOR): ESTRADA PTS
“I made a personal pilgrimage to see Chocolatito from ringside at MSG in 2015 in what remains a career highlight. It’s extraordinary that he’s still performing at the highest level now and perhaps unlucky not to get the nod last time against Estrada. I thought the Mexican would outfight Gonzalez then, but it was wonderfully competitive and close. Unless age finally catches up with Gonzalez, it should be close again, but Estrada is slightly fresher and has the punch to sway things his way again. Estrada by decision.”
TONY TOLJ (MANAGER): GONZALEZ PTS
“This is a real boxing fan’s fight. These two are always in can’t-miss fights. I believe Chocolatito was hard done by in the last fight and should have won. I’m expecting a million punches to be thrown again, and this time Chocolatito will have his hand raised.”
ROBERT DIAZ (MATCHMAKER, GOLDEN BOY): GONZALEZ UD
“Tremendous fight and a fantastic way to end 2022. Two of the best talents in the smaller divisions in the past 20 years. After 24 close rounds, they both know and respect each other tremendously. The first two fights were close, and although I did not agree with the judges in the second fight, it was close and this one should not be any different. I think the difference will be in the change of speed, and although Roman is the older fighter, I feel he has the edge here. I feel he will outland Estrada and shine in this bout, making it clear he is the better of the two.”
ANDREW MOLONEY (JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHT CONTENDER): GONZALEZ UD
“I felt that Chocolatito won the second fight and was unlucky to not get the decision. I think Chocolatito will be the hungrier of the two in this fight and will feel he has a point to prove after losing their last fight. I think this will make for a more convincing win for Choc, and I expect him to win a unanimous decision. Most of all, I hope to face the winner in 2023.”
RUDY HERNANDEZ (TRAINER): GONZALEZ TKO
“Round 25 starts! Gonzalez and Estrada resume where they left off. Gonzalez looks to be the fresher of the two. Up to the fifth round, the fight is even. In Round 6, Gonzalez’s strength and pressure starts to get to Estrada. By the 10th, Estrada has no answer or is not as competitive as he once was. The pressure and the volume of punches are too much for Estrada in the later rounds. Gonzalez stops Estrada, who looks old in this fight. It’s not Gonzalez’s fault — or maybe it is. We shall enjoy, and this time the judges won’t get it wrong [like in the second fight.]”
ERIC BOTTJER (MATCHMAKER): ESTRADA PTS
“Two all-time greats. Chocolatito is Nicaragua’s greatest-ever fighter, which as we all know, is saying a lot (and there’s certainly an argument made that he’s No. 2 in his home country, all-time). When these two met 20 months ago in a rematch of a 2012 encounter won by Estrada, Chocolatito was 33 years old. Estrada was at his peak and Gonzlez should have been a competitive loser at that point. Chocolatito emerged from a time machine of his own making and won. He didn’t get the verdict, but he deserved it. Estrada knows this. Gonzalez, now 35, will perform as he always does. But sans magic this time. Estrada by decision.”
WAYNE MCCULLOUGH (FORMER WORLD CHAMPION/ TRAINER): GONZALEZ PTS
“This is their third time in the ring together and I think it could be the best one of all three. Neither will give away much ground, as they both tend to throw lots of punches. Gonzalez will need to be at his best for this fight and step on the gas pedal a little more to win any close rounds. It will be hard, though, as Estrada goes at a fast pace and can keep it going the entire fight. The rounds will be close, but I think Gonzalez will pull out a close win, maybe by two rounds, and get his hand raised.”
RAUL MARQUEZ (FORMER WORLD CHAMPION/COMMENTATOR): GONZALEZ PTS
“Hard fight to predict. Two of the best in the division. I felt Chocolatito edged it out last time. 50/50 fight, but going with Chocolatito by close decision.”
Final Tally: Gonzalez 18-3
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