March 18, 2017

Sor Rungvisai Shocks Chocolatito

By Eric Raskin

Late in the first round, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez hit the canvas. That simply doesn’t happen. You knew immediately that this fight was different. But you didn’t know just how different.

At the end of 12 sensational, brutal, bloody rounds, Thai underdog Srisaket Sor Rungvisai got his hand raised, taking away Gonzalez’s super flyweight title, knocking him off his number-one pound-for-pound perch, and ending a 46-fight, 12-year winning streak. It didn’t seem to most in the press section or in the pro-Chocolatito crowd at Madison Square Garden that Sor Rungvisai had done enough to win, but judges Julie Lederman and Glenn Feldman felt otherwise, both scoring 114-112 for the 30-year-old Thai fighter; the third judge, Waleska Roldan, had it 113-113. The crowd booed the decision and continued to boo Sor Rungvisai throughout his postfight interview, and while their reaction to the decision was understandable, the negativity was unfair. Both fighters showed extraordinary heart and resolve, and neither deserved to hear anything but cheers at fight’s end.

The southpaw Sor Rungvisai, now 42-4-1, 38 KOs, presented problems for Gonzalez from the start, and with about 30 seconds left on the clock in round one, a right hook to the body sent the Nicaraguan to the deck for what is believed to be the first time in his storied pro career. Nearing his 30th birthday and coming off a grueling war with Carlos Cuadras last September, Gonzalez didn’t look like himself in round two either. Sor Rungvisai was applying pressure, pivoting, and landing to the head and body, keeping Chocolatito on the defensive. And it got worse for Gonzalez in the third, when a head clash cut him over the right eye. But then the momentum began to change. Gonzalez began finding a home for his straight right hand. He was outworking Sor Rungvisai, and hurt him to the body in round six. Just before the bell to end the sixth, the fighters clashed heads again, and this time referee Steve Willis took a point away from the Thai warrior. It seemed the pound-for-pound king was set to pull away.

Instead Sor Rungvisai kept it close at every turn as brutal two-way action continued in the second half of the Fight of the Year candidate. Blood poured from above Chocolatito’s right eye, and doctors examined both fighters before round nine. The last few rounds were a blur or literal blood and figurative guts, but when Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KOs), showing heart to match his remarkable skill, hurt Sor Rungvisai with bombs in the 12th round, it seemed he’d secured a points win. The CompuBox stats clearly favored the Nicaraguan: He landed 441 of 1,013 total punches, compared to 284 of 940 for Sor Rungvisai. But the numbers that mattered in the end favored Sor Rungvisai by a couple of points.

The new titleholder from Thailand said afterward that he would welcome a rematch. So would any fight fan who witnessed this violent brawl.

And that leaves Carlos Cuadras very much out in the cold. He won a lackluster 10-round decision over fellow Mexican David Carmona in the previous bout on the card by scores of 97-93, 97-93, and 96-94. The idea, in principle, was for both Gonzalez and Cuadras to win their bouts and engage in a rematch next. Obviously, that’s off the table with Chocolatito going down controversially. But even before that, Cuadras failed to create any sentimental mandate. He was sloppy and perhaps a bit unfocused against Carmona (20-4-5, 8 KOs), but did enough to pull out the decision and advance his record to 36-1-1, 27 KOs.

In the opening bout on the HBO Pay-Per-View card, lightweight prospect Ryan Martin demonstrated that he is nicknamed “Blue Chip” for a reason. The 24-year-old from Cleveland advanced to 18-0, 11 KOs, with a one-sided pasting of game Bryant Cruz, forcing referee Harvey Dock to intervene 45 seconds into the eighth round, with Cruz (17-2, 8 KOs) still on his feet but trapped and nearly defenseless in the corner. Martin doesn’t seem to have especially heavy hands, but he flashed nearly every other tool you want to see in a young fighter, boxing effectively at distance and inside, throwing a variety of smooth, textbook punches, and forcing the action in a fast-paced, fan-friendly manner.