4,000 punches and counting: How we got to Chocolatito-Estrada 3

Boxing

Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada will someday enter the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, but before then, they have unfinished business.

Their epic rivalry, one that began in 2012, is tied at 1-1 after Estrada scored a controversial split decision win over Gonzalez last year. Following two postponements, they’ll finally meet — perhaps for the final time — in a trilogy battle for Estrada’s lineal and WBC franchise title at 115 pounds on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET).

“When you talk about great rivalries over the years, this is right up there,” promoter Eddie Hearn told ESPN. “Fight 1 was a classic and Fight 2 was probably the best I have ever seen live. The decider will be historic.”

In the inaugural meeting, Gonzalez (51-3, 41 KOs) scored a competitive unanimous decision to retain his 108-pound title. Nine years passed before the rematch, and during that time, Gonzalez and Estrada cemented themselves as generational fighters.

“Chocolatito” broke through in the U.S. at a time when boxers his size rarely fought on major cards and he transformed the pay structure for the lower weight classes. Eventually, the Nicaraguan was widely considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. More so, perhaps, Gonzalez was recognized as one of the sport’s most reliable action fighters.

But when he ran into Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in a 2017 rematch, it appeared Gonzalez’s incredible run had reached its end. He was brutally knocked out in the fourth round.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s Estrada (43-3, 28 KOs) continued to pile up impressive wins and landed himself on the pound-for-pound list as the top junior bantamweight in the world. He lost to Rungvisai, too, but avenged the defeat in a rematch. Both bouts were tremendous slugfests. Estrada also scored a pair of wins over former champion Carlos Cuadras.

Stunningly, “Chocolatito” Gonzalez added another layer to his legacy when he mounted a comeback. Not only did he regain a title at 115 pounds but appeared to defeat Estrada in the rematch.

Now Gonzalez, 35, can cap another banner year with a second victory over his rival. He was set to fight Estrada, 32, in March and instead dominated 112-pound champion Julio Cesar Martinez. That postponement due to Estrada contracting COVID, followed a planned fall fight that was scrapped when Gonzalez came down with the same illness.

Finally — 10 years and two weight classes after the first meeting — Gonzalez and Estrada will exchange punches once more following a 2021 rematch that featured a combined 2,529 shots. How did Gonzalez and Estrada reach the pinnacle of the sport and pave a new path for fighters their size? ESPN takes a look at the key moments that led to the long-awaited rubber match between “Chocolatito” and Estrada.


Nov. 17, 2012: When Gonzalez and Estrada met for the first time, there was little fanfare outside of die-hard fans of the sport. After all, this was a bout between 108-pounders. Gonzalez was regarded in boxing circles but had never competed on U.S. television. Few people saw this fight anyway: it was carried by Wealth TV, a little-known network centered around opulence. They fought in the main event at the Los Angeles Sports Arena before a sparse crowd and delivered an unforgettable matchup. Estrada, who was a 22-year-old prospect, displayed his strong, aggressive style in a losing effort, the first of his career.

Gonzalez, meanwhile, retained his 108-pound title in his fifth defense, but it would take some time before the greater boxing world caught on to his talent.

April 6, 2013: In a career-best performance, Estrada became a champion for the first time with a split-decision victory over Brian Viloria in China to capture the WBO and WBA 112-pound titles (117-111, 116-111 and 113-115). It was an upset victory for Estrada, who was fighting for the first time since the loss to Gonzalez, and for just the second time on the world-class level.

July 27, 2013: In the first defense of his unified 112-pound championship, Estrada beat top-10 contender Milan Melindo with a wide-points victory in China. Estrada floored Melindo in Round 11 of a third consecutive standout performance in his third-ever title fight.

Sept. 5, 2014: Gonzalez, following title reigns at 105 and 108 pounds, captured the lineal and WBC 112-pound title with a ninth-round TKO of Akira Yaegashi in Japan. “Chocolatito” lost only one round on two cards total and floored the champion twice. Slowly but surely, buzz was picking up for Gonzalez despite his diminutive size.

Sept. 6, 2014: The day after Gonzalez’s title victory at 112 pounds, Estrada made the third successful defense of his unified 112-pound championship with an 11th-round TKO of Giovani Segura in Mexico City. Segura was a former unified champion at 108 pounds, lending more valuable experience for Estrada ahead of a potential rematch with Gonzalez at 112.

Nov. 22, 2014: Gonzalez successfully made the first defense of his WBC flyweight title with a sixth-round TKO of contender Rocky Fuentes in Japan. Fuentes won just one round on all three cards.

May 16, 2015: At long last, the big break for not just Gonzalez, but smaller boxers everywhere. HBO, then the leader in boxing programming, had long shied away — for the most part — from televising fights featuring boxers under 126 pounds.

But Gonzalez was picked to fight Edgar Sosa in another 112-pound title defense in the HBO co-feature underneath Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin-Willie Monroe Jr. at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Gonzalez lived up to the hype with a blistering second-round TKO of the former titleholder. It was the first HBO-televised fight featuring fighters 112 pounds (and below) since 1997.

And afterward, Gonzalez knew whom he wanted to face next: Estrada.

“I believe it was a very close fight so I’d like the opportunity to be able to beat him by a larger margin,” Gonzalez said in Spanish in comments translated by his manager, Carlos Blandon. “I want to demonstrate that I’m able to knock him out.”

Sept. 26, 2015: In yet another lopsided victory over a former champion, Estrada scored a 10th-round KO of Hernan “Tyson” Marquez in Mexico. Estrada scored seven knockdowns of Marquez during the one-sided beatdown.

Oct. 17, 2015: “Chocolatito” is paired up with GGG once again, this time on HBO PPV for a bout with Viloria. Golovkin called himself “Big Drama Show” so Gonzalez earned the moniker “Little Drama Show.”

In another scintillating performance, Gonzalez knocked down Viloria in Round 3 en route to a ninth-round TKO victory at New York’s Madison Square Garden to retain his WBC flyweight world title.

April 23, 2016: Gonzalez continued to compete on GGG undercards on HBO with a return to The Forum against McWilliams Arroyo.

For the first time since the win over Estrada, “Chocolatito” was extended the 12-round distance with a dominant unanimous-decision victory in another title defense. Gonzalez scored the shutout on one card and lost only one round on the other two cards. He earned a career-high $300,000 and threw a dizzying 1,132 punches.

Sept. 10, 2016: In his 115-pound debut, “Chocolatito” captured the WBC title with a unanimous-decision victory over former champion Carlos Cuadras. And unlike the rest of his fights since the first Estrada bout, this one didn’t come easy.

Cuadras, who was the far bigger man, cut Gonzalez over — and under — the right eye with punches in a slugfest. Gonzalez prevailed via scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 and threw 985 punches.

The victory made Gonzalez a four-division champion and paved the way for bigger fights at 115 pounds, where Naoya Inoue campaigned. Meanwhile, Estrada, too, was eyeing the move to 115 pounds.

Sept. 20, 2016: Estrada announced the jump to 115 pounds after vacating both his WBA and WBO titles at 112 pounds.

March 18, 2017: At 46-0, Gonzalez suffers the first defeat of his career in a bloody slugfest against Rungvisai at New York’s Madison Square Garden, dropping his 115-pound title (and status as pound-for-pound best). Gonzalez, who was a 20-1 favorite, threw 1,013 punches — Rungvisai threw 940. The majority decision — 114-112, 114-112 and 113-113 — was highly controversial.

Gonzalez was floored in the opening round and suffered a nasty gash over his right eye in Round 3 from a clash of heads. Another cut over Gonzalez’s right eye was opened in Round 6, and this time, the referee ruled an intentional headbutt and deducted one point from Rungvisai.

“I’m a little dinged up,” Gonzalez said. “I thought I won the fight. I want an immediate rematch. I want to get my title back.”

Sept. 9, 2017: In his toughest outing since the loss to “Chocolatito,” Estrada grinded out a unanimous-decision victory over Cuadras on an HBO 115-pound tripleheader (Inoue opened the show while Gonzalez faced Rungvisai in the main-event rematch.)

Estrada dropped Cuadras in Round 10 to avoid the draw. All three judges had the fight 114-112.

With a Gonzalez victory over Rungvisai in the main event, the stage would be set for the long-awaited rematch between “Chocolatito” and Estrada. Instead, Rungvisai left no doubt with a spectacular fourth-round KO of Gonzalez, ESPN’s KO of the year.

Gonzalez, who earned $600,000 for the fight, was also knocked down moments earlier by another right hand.

The 30-year-old stayed on the canvas for several moments after the one-punch finish, and many were left to ponder if this was the end of the great “Chocolatito.”

“We were both trading punches, but his were harder, and they landed harder,” said Gonzalez. “I was very hurt the second time when I was knocked down, but I think I’ll be OK.”

Feb. 24, 2018: Estrada suffered his first loss since the defeat to “Chocolatito” with a majority-decision setback vs. Rungvisai at The Forum. The win gave the Thai fighter a third consecutive win over Gonzalez and Estrada. The scores: 114-114, 117-111 and 115-113.

Sept. 15, 2018: A year after he was left for dead, Gonzalez returned against former champion Moise Fuentes with a fifth-round TKO in Las Vegas. But plenty of questions remained considering the competition. Would Gonzalez ever return to that lofty perch?

April 26, 2019: In another tightly contested slugfest, Estrada exacted revenge on Rungvisai with a unanimous-decision victory (115-113, 116-112 and 115-113) at The Forum to capture the WBC title at 115 pounds and become a two-division champion. Estrada unleashed 1,019 punches while Rungvisa threw 971.

“If he wants a third fight, I will give it to him,” Estrada said. “I would prefer to fight some other champion first. That’s what I think is next.”

Gonzalez just needed to become a champion again.

Feb. 29, 2020: In stunning fashion, Gonzalez proved that he was better than ever with a tour de force performance against Kal Yafai to claim the WBA’s 115-pound title in Texas.

Gonzalez was a slight underdog entering the bout, but left no doubt he was still elite. He dropped Yafai in Rounds 8 and 9 en route to the TKO 9 victory. Once again, Gonzalez and Estrada were on a collision course.

Oct. 23, 2020: Rather than fight each other, Matchroom Boxing staged a doubleheader in Mexico City with “Chocolatito” in the main event against Israel Gonzalez and Estrada in a rematch versus Cuadras.

Both fighters came through with victories to finally set the stage for their long-awaited rematch. First, Estrada handled business with another victory over Cuadras, this time inside the distance, though it didn’t come easy again.

Cuadras knocked down Estrada in Round 3, but Estrada rallied to score two knockdowns in Round 11 for the stoppage to retain his title.

Later that night, “Chocolatito” pounded out a comfortable unanimous-decision victory for the first defense of yet another title reign.

March 13, 2021: They finally met again, and somehow, topped the lofty expectations with an even better fight than the first encounter. Gonzalez and Estrada combined for 2,529 punches, a record for the 115-pound division.

Gonzalez appeared to pull out the victory in a close fight in Dallas, but two judges favored Estrada, who unified the WBC and WBA titles with the split-decision victory. One judge scored it for Gonzalez, 115-113, but the other two judges turned in 117-111 and 115-113 tallies for Estrada.

The judge who scored it 117-111 was suspended by the WBA.

“I think I did enough to win,” Estrada said in translated remarks. “Chocolatito is a great fighter, and I think he deserves a trilogy. I knew it was a close fight. I didn’t know if I was up or down, but I knew I had to close out the fight in the last two rounds…. It was a better fight than the first one.”

Sept. 8, 2021: Promoter Eddie Hearn was planning a trilogy fight between Gonzalez and Estrada for Oct. 16, but the fight was postponed after “Chocolatito” contracted COVID.

Jan. 6, 2022: ESPN reported that Gonzalez and Estrada agreed to a deal for a fight on March 5, setting the stage for the rubber match once and for all.

Jan. 25, 2022: Estrada contracted COVID this time, postponing the matchup once again. Julio Cesar Martinez, an undefeated champion rated No. 1 by ESPN at 112 pounds, agreed to step in as a replacement.

March 5, 2022: Gonzalez dished out a two-fisted beating on Martinez in one of his best performances, a brilliant display of inside fighting from the legendary Nicaraguan. The scores: 118-110, 117-110 and 116-112. As usual, Gonzalez doled out more than 1,000 punches.

“My corner told me not to give him any rounds,” Gonzalez said in Spanish via a translator. “He was very courageous. He took a lot of punishment.”

Now, perhaps, the third battle with Estrada was finally on deck.

“Everyone knows that the last fight I had with ‘Gallo’ Estrada, I won,” Gonzalez said.

July 19, 2022: Rather than fight contender Joshua Franco and delay the fight with Gonzalez again, Estrada vacated his WBA title. He still held the WBC franchise title.

Sept. 3, 2022: In a surprisingly close fight, Estrada, an 18-1 favorite, dropped Argi Cortes in Round 7 and prevailed via unanimous decision. The knockdown was the difference on one card. The scores: 115-112, 114-113 and 115-112.

Afterward, the trilogy boxing fans have craved was announced. Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, one more time in the center of the ring trading fists. One more chance to settle the score between two legends.

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