He was right to feel confident at the final bell last year; and if a little relief crept in, well, that was okay too. Super-flyweight Juan Francisco Estrada had just gone twelve rounds with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and had arguably gotten the better of him, enduring the Thai bruiser’s roughshod belligerence, exploiting its predictability enough to believe he’d won. But, alas, Sor Rungvisai had his hand raised when the cards were read. He had fought well, too, with a presence that even fighters twice his weight can’t match.
A rematch seemed inevitable, and Estrada had reason to pursue one. He is Mexico’s finest prizefighter regardless of how little he resembles the warring stereotype. It was easy to envision Estrada taming Sor Rungvisai if provided the opportunity to apply for twelve rounds what it took him as long to learn. Sor Rungvisai, of course, would do what he had always done: combine strength, toughness, power, and arrogance into a brutal gestalt, the efficacy of that strategy leaving a fair trail of bodies in his wake, warmest among them, Roman Gonzalez. But there was plenty Estrada might do to Sor Rungvisai, and good reason to believe that he, the fighter best equipped to apply the lessons of the first fight, would win the second. None of that was likely to reduce the outlay for Estrada’s success (wins against Sor Rungvisai do not come cheap) but that only added to the rematch’s appeal.
When the bell rang to start the opening round last Friday, and Estrada and Sor Rungvisai shared once more a ring in The Forum in Inglewood, California, a different fight played out, but not in a way anyone could predict. Thankfully, it was no less competitive than the first match, no less violent, no less entertaining. And while the winner was different, too, with Estrada awarded a unanimous decision by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 (twice) that outcome was as just as the one last February.
As for that difference? Surprisingly, it was not in Estrada’s adjustments but those of Sor Rungvisai. In a perplexing, almost self-sabotaging move, the Thai southpaw opened the fight in an orthodox stance. Why? Because “Estrada prepared to fight a southpaw,” Sor Rungvisai explained afterward, “and I can fight in both stances.” This strategic adjustment may have been well-intentioned but more than that it was confirmation of Estrada’s brilliance and the problems that brilliance presented. You cannot beat a world-class fighter like “El Gallo” without your best. Yet somewhere in the thirty-six minutes they shared Sor Rungvisai found a reason to mistrust the assault that delivered him to the world stage.
Perhaps this change did not come from a place of weakness, and in preparing for Estrada a second time Sor Rungvisai deduced that he could better expedite victory with an element of surprise. That is entirely possible, and in keeping the image of unwavering self-belief he’s earned. But Terence Crawford switching southpaw to take away an opponent’s strength or emphasize his own this was not: Sor Rungvisai’s tactic was on an obvious mistake, and Estrada showed him as much in the opening round.
Why, then, persist with this blunder? Perhaps because Sor Rungvisai started slower in the rematch, and thus learned later in the fight how utterly he needed to abandon a bad strategy. His slow start might be attributable to his fighting unnaturally, too, compounding the mistake. And yet it was difficult to not read in his sputtering start a fracture in Sor Rungvisai’s self-belief. Estrada had prepared for a southpaw in the previous fight and lost—and yet Sor Rungvisai was deviating from a winning strategy? When Sor Rungvisai, 47-5-1 (41), finally warmed to the moment, he switched to southpaw and fought with a confidence as pronounced as his jab is absent. But in looking for an edge, he and his team made a mistake especially damaging for a fighter defined by physicality and a determination that forces opponents to do the changing. And so pronounced a change seems the product of more than simple ring geometry.
Imagine Estrada’s delight when Sor Rungvisai began the fight as just another of the jabbing orthodox fighters Estrada had tamed before. Taking the lead, Estrada’s crisper, sharper combinations, forced Sor Rungvisai to reset, at which point he had to trudge once more into the angled blades of the Mexican miter saw. When Sor Rungvisai finally reverted to southpaw, Estrada, practically handed the opening rounds, was brimming with confidence.
Yet there was Sor Rungvisai, smiling in the face of both the left hands that bounced off his head and those he sailed harmlessly wide of Estrada’s tucked and turning chin. And not without reason. Estrada, 39-3 (26), appeared in control, yes, and his head-snapping excellence shone in stark contrast to Sor Rungvisai’s sluggish attack, but that attack was having an effect nonetheless. Sor Rungvisai may have squandered the first half of the fight, but he was his best for the second. He hurt Estrada in the tenth, and again in the eleventh, compounding that damage with a low blow that seemed to accelerate Estrada’s exhaustion. While the early rounds required that Estrada display his craft, the championship rounds—fittingly, considering the opponent—demanded that he prove his toughness. Looking increasingly disheveled, his legs leaving him, Estrada embraced the exchanges he could no longer avoid, giving Sor Rungvisai the fight he wanted without giving him the fight.
There should be a rubber match between the two because Sor Rungvisai has asked for it—for a chance to correct the ill-conceived corrections he made in the rematch—and because Estrada is man enough to reciprocate the opportunity for revenge, even if he wishes to unify the division first. And because a third fight should rival the quality of its predecessors, which, considering how aggressively Eddie Hearn plays with DAZN money, should ensure both men are paid accordingly. It needn’t be more complicated than that.