Juan Francisco Estrada unified the super flyweight division on Saturday, earning redemption for a loss he suffered eight years ago with a thrilling split-decision victory over Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez in Dallas, Texas.
In the long-anticipated rematch of their 2012 fight, Mexico's Estrada went toe-to-toe for 12 rounds with the former pound-for-pound king and four-time division champ from Nicaragua.
"I did enough to win," said Estrada. "I knew it was a close fight. I didn't know if I was up or down.
"I needed to close out the fight in the last two rounds. If he threw two or three punches then I had to throw two or three punches as well.
"Chocolatito is a great fighter. He deserves a trilogy"
Estrada retained his World Boxing Council title and snatched Gonzalez's World Boxing Association belt by winning on two of the judges' scorecards, 117-111 and 115-113. One judge gave the fight to Gonzalez, 115-113.
When the decision was announced many in the crowd booed the result, especially the lopsided 117-111 score because they felt Gonzalez had done enough to win.
An emotional Gonzalez seemed to recognize the stature of this 115-pound fight in which the combatants threw more than 2,000 total punches making it fight of the year quality. Gonzalez thought he had won, but also seemed willing to accept the verdict.
"It was a better fight than the first one. I felt strong and I felt I won. In last round I gave it all. It was a great round," he said.
The 33-year-old Gonzalez was enjoying a resurgent return to boxing prominence and his performance Saturday underlined his ability to maintain a high level of skill well into his boxing career.
For the past decade, Gonzalez has been considered one of the top performers in the sport.
The slugfest would have even made proud Hall of Famer Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who passed away earlier Saturday at his home in New Hampshire.
There was a 10-count salute to Hagler just prior to the start of the main event with ring announcer Michael Buffer putting his stamp on the moment by telling the pandemic-limited crowd of 5,000: "This is the way Marvin Hagler would have wanted it. Let's get this party started!"
The 30-year-old Estrada improved to 42-3 with 28 knockouts as he not only beat Gonzalez for the first time but has now avenged all of three of his career defeats.
Gonzalez, who dropped to 50-3, 41 KOs, has won five world titles in four weight classes.
- Classic battle -
The opening round started conservatively with Estrada throwing most of the punches and Gonzalez content to feel out his opponent. There was a slight clash of heads in the middle of the round with Gonzalez appearing to get the worst of it.
Estrada continued to apply pressure and started to land some serious combinations in the second round. This just served to wake Gonzalez up, signalling the beginning of a classic title fight.
Gonzalez started to feed off the energy of the fight in the second round even using his right hand to wave at Estrada to come closer.
He didn't have to because that was Estrada's game plan from the outset. Gonzalez landed a straight right in the final 10 seconds of the third round but Estrada countered with one of his own just before the bell.
The fight went back and forth in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds as Gonzalez connected with the big right hand and Estrada countered with a flury of right-left combinations.
Estrada carried the fight through the middle rounds. But in between the ninth and 10th, the cameras captured his corner telling told him to go for the knockout because he is losing on the scorecards. Obviously, with one judge scoring it 117-111 that wasn't the case.
In the 10th, Estrada looked for a moment like he might have punched himself out as Gonzalez started landing those big shots that he failed to connect on in the middle rounds when Estrada was throwing bombs.
The fight was extremely close going into the final two rounds which were the best of the fight.
Gonzalez appeared to have Estrada on the back foot in the 12th but couldn't get either the knockout or convince the judges he had done enough to keep his title.
On the undercard, Japan's Hiroto Kyoguchi defended his WBA junior flyweight belt by earning a fourth-round stoppage after his Mexican challenger suffered a hand injury.
Axel Aragon Vega had to stop fighting after a right hook glanced off the top of Kyoguchi's head. The referee stopped the fight because Vega was in too much pain to continue.