GLENDALE, Arizona – There still remains little separation between Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez after 36 rounds.
The overall scorecard, however, has Estrada ahead by one.
A strong start and a late surge saw Estrada earn a repeat win over Gonzalez, claiming a twelve-round, majority decision in their anticipated rubber match. Judge Chris Tellez (114-114) had it dead even through twelve rounds, while judges Dennis O’Connell (115-113) and Tim Cheatham (116-112) ruled in favor of Estrada, who defended his lineal junior bantamweight championship and regain the vacant WBC title in their DAZN-aired main event Saturday evening at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Estrada took advantage of Gonzalez’s traditionally slow start. The defending lineal champ worked behind the jab, occasionally landing a left hook behind but comfortable with settling the openings provided by Gonzalez.
Gonzalez—a legendary former four-division champion—opened round two well-intended but still unable to fully commit to a sustained attack. Estrada increased his punch output while also using constant lateral movement against a surprisingly flat version of Gonzalez in the early rounds. Time was called near round’s end, as referee Chris Flores briefly examined reddening over Estrada’s left eye following an accidental clash of heads.
Round three opened with Estrada constantly circling to Gonzalez’s right. Gonzalez timed his longtime friendly rival for the first time in the bout, throwing in combination to modest success. The legendary Nicaraguan intensified his attack as the round progressed, forcing Estrada to back up and play defense.
Another headbutt occurred late round three, this time with Gonzalez left dizzy and pawing his right eye. It somehow brought the fight to the level of ferociousness that the sport was privileged to witness in their previous 24 rounds.
Estrada refused to allow Gonzalez to get comfortable with taking the lead. The 32-year-old from Hermosillo, Mexico connected with a right uppercut and a straight right hand behind it. Gonzalez shook off the blows, charging forward and landing in combination. Estrada landed a one-two down the middle and then a left hook to the body. The pair of future Hall of Famers both had their say in the closing seconds of the round, throwing until the bell.
Chants of ‘Gallo’ filled the arena as Estrada took the lead in round five. Gonzalez was a little slower to the draw, finding success in counterpunching opportunities but consistently beaten to the punch by the younger and sharper Estrada.
Gonzalez turned things around to a degree in round six, where he found a home for his right hand after either falling short or not getting the shot off at all in the preceding rounds. Estrada took the shots well, often met with a jab or a left hook before circling out of harm’s way.
The second half of the fight opened with Estrada touching Gonzalez with left hooks to the body and then coming back up top. Gonzalez was still being outworked but also landed the better singular punches, largely his straight right hand.
Estrada dropped a right hand over the top of Gonzalez’s otherwise tight guard within the first 15 seconds of round eight. Gonzalez pinned down Estrada long enough to connect with a double left hook at the midway point. Estrada circled the ring, only to be met with a right hand and left uppercut by Gonzalez. Estrada landed a double left hook, one to the body and then up top before immediately darting to his right before Gonzalez could reset before the bell.
Several momentum shifts came of a hectic ninth round. Gonzalez hurt Estrada to the body but couldn’t follow through quick enough to make him pay. Estrada fired off combinations when he was able to get Gonzalez to follow him. Not all landed, though he managed a left hook that caught Gonzalez’s attention. Gonzalez closed the round strong—and seemingly closed the gap on the scorecards after the fight threatened to get away from him the first half.
Time was called near the end of the first minute of round ten, after Gonzalez slipped in Estrada’s corner while in pursuit. The wet canvas was maintained upon order of referee Chris Flores, with action resuming but Estrada showing signs of fatigue for the first time on the night. Gonzalez landed an overhand right, drawing blood from Estrada’s nose.
Gonzalez dug deep to open the twelfth and final round—the 36th between them, spanning more than ten years—while Estrada effectively boxed off the ropes. Gonzalez pushed a left hook, followed by a right hand and a left. Estrada shook off the blows and ripped off a combination. The cheers grew louder as the clock counted down, as both fighters picked up their attack. Estrada was quicker to the draw, finishing the fight as he began to seal his first clear-cut victory of the series and second overall.
The win marks the second in the series for Estrada, who advanced to 44-3 (28KOs). It comes 21 months after claiming a disputed split decision win over Gonzalez (51-4, 41KOs) last March 13 in Dallas. With the win, Estrada enters his third overall title reign spanning two weights, along with the fifth defense of the lineal 115-pound championship he claimed in April 2019.
Gonzalez’ lone win in the series came at the start of the rivalry back in November 2012, when he outlasted Estrada to claim a twelve-round, unanimous decision in the final defense of his WBA junior flyweight title reign.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox