Carlos Cuadras entered a banquet room occupied by four of the other top-five 115-pound fighters in the world and declared, “I’m the best one in here.”
Whether he’s right will be decided, in part, Saturday night at StubHub Center, when two world champions in the super-flyweight division, two others who previously wore belts and an ex-flyweight champion square off in bouts televised by HBO (7:15 p.m.).
“There’s so much talent on this show, I could see these guys fighting two to three shows down the road,” promoter Tom Loeffler said.
Former super-flyweight champion Cuadras (36-1-1, 27 knockouts) will fight in the first of three bouts on the broadcast.
He meets fellow Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada, a former flyweight champion who has a record of 35-2, with 25 knockouts. The winner becomes the mandatory challenger to the winner of the main event, a rematch between World Boxing Council super-flyweight champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39 KOs) of Thailand and Nicaragua’s Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KOs).
Gonzalez, 30, already defeated Cuadras and Estrada by unanimous decisions in compelling bouts, but he was dealt his first defeat March 18 at Madison Square Garden by Rungvisai.
Gonzalez, who was four months removed from the stroke-related death of his longtime trainer, Arnulfo Obando, was knocked down in the first round by Rungvisai. Even though he landed more punches by a 441-284 margin, Gonzalez was dealt a majority decision loss by two 114-112 scorecards.
Rungvisai began his combat sports career as a Muay Thai fighter and opened in boxing with a 1-3-1 record. He said the transition was difficult because he had built muscle memory to kick and throw elbows.
At a news conference this week, Rungvisai’s advisor said the fighter had been forced to eat meals from his work as a trash collector before beginning to post a string of boxing victories that culminated in the remarkable upset of Gonzalez, who was considered to be among the world’s best pound-for-pound fighters.
Repeating that triumph, now that four-division champion Gonzalez has aligned with a new trainer and prepared fervently in Japan, will be a chore.
“I’m sure ‘Chocolatito’ is better prepared this time … and it’s more difficult to defend the championship than win it in the first place, but I’m extremely confident I will win this fight. I’ve been training for four months,” Rungvisai said through an interpreter. “I’m very proud I’ve made it to this point in my life. I’m proud that I’ve brought Thailand to the world’s attention. I will bring the belt back to Thailand.”
Loeffler said he expected the entertainment value and international appeal of the card to result in a sellout.
The card has been nicknamed “SuperFly” for several reasons. Another is the U.S. debut of Japan’s Naoya Inoue (13-0, 11 KOs), who will be defending his World Boxing Organization super-flyweight title against Antonio Nieves (17-1-2, nine KOs), a bank employee from Cleveland who said he has studied his opponent for several years.
“Not a lot of people want to fight Inoue right now … his nickname is ‘the Monster,’” Loeffler noted.
Inoue, 24, is a destructive puncher who targets the body. His dedication to fighting in peak condition was evident when he placed a medical mask over his mouth and nose following the news conference, not taking any risk at catching a cold.
“I just want to put on a performance with a good knockout finish,” Inoue said through an interpreter. “I’m progressing well. I have the will to win and the ability to perform what I practiced in the gym.”
His plan is to fight frequently in the U.S., in bouts against Saturday’s other winners in a division that is emerging as one of the strongest in the sport.
‘SUPER FLY’ BOXING
Main Event: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (43-4-1, 39 KOs) vs. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KOs) for Rungvisai’s World Boxing Council super-flyweight title.
When: Saturday, first undercard bout at 4:15 p.m. PDT; first television bout at 7:15 p.m.
Where: StubHub Center
Tickets: $60, $100, $150 at axs.com
Undercard: Naoya Inoue (13-0, 11 KOs) vs. Antonio Nieves (17-1-2, nine KOs), for Inoue’s World Boxing Organization super-flyweight belt; Carlos Cuadras (36-1-1, 27 KOs) vs. Juan Francisco Estrada (35-2, 25 KOs), super-flyweights.