Juan Francisco Estrada, looking to shake off the rust of an 18-month layoff, thought he was going into nothing more than a tune-up fight with Argi Cortes on Saturday night in order to get ready for a much-anticipated third fight with rival Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
Although Estrada retained the lineal junior bantamweight championship for the fourth time, winning a unanimous decision — 115-112, 115-112 and 114-113 — it was anything but an easy fight.
— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) September 4, 2022
Cortes, in his first bout against a recognizable opponent, gave Estrada an extremely difficult fight for 12 action-packed rounds in the main event of the Matchroom Boxing card on DAZN at the Multiple Use Center in Estrada’s hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico.
During Estrada’s post-fight interview, DAZN announced that the third fight with Gonzalez was set for Dec. 3 at a site to be determined.
Before facing Mexican countryman Cortes, Estrada, who was boxing at home for first time in three years, said he was injury-injury free going into a fight for the first time in six years. He needed every bit of help he could get.
“I was really surprised. I didn’t expect him to come out so hard,” Estrada said about Cortes through an interpreter. “I have (almost) double (the amount of) his fights, but the experience obviously took over. I was very surprised. He’s a great fighter but the champion is the champion.
“I trained in the altitude for the last three months, so that helped me and I’m gonna continue doing that. He’s a great fighter, but I took the win.”
Cortes (23-3-2, 10 KOs), 27, found a home often for his right hand and also absorbed some tremendous shots from Estrada (43-3, 28 KOs), 32, as they fought back and forth round after round.
Because open scoring was employed in the fight, which was also for Estrada’s Ring magazine title and the WBC’s “franchise” belt, the fighters knew the fight was a split draw after the fourth round.
As the all-out action continued, Estrada’s face began to swell and Cortes gave him a bloody nose in the sixth round. Cortes closed the round by landing a stiff left hook.
Estrada came back with a strong seventh round as he landed a hard left and a right and backed Cortes up. He had big round and with about 50 seconds left dropped Cortes to a knee with a left hook to the body that followed a stiff right.
Cortes, who is trained by Hall of Famer Nacho Beristain, beat the count and Estrada tried to finish him, but Cortes showed enormous resilience.
After the eighth round, the scores were announced again and Estrada was ahead 77-74 on two scorecards and Cortes was up 77-74 on one.
But Estrada, who was the fresher fighter down the stretch, continued to land the heavier shots with more consistency to close out the clear win but one in which he took far more punishment than anyone expected.
Now he will move on to the third fight with Gonzalez (51-3, 41 KOs), 35, the legendary four-division champion from Nicaragua and the former pound-for-pound king.
Before facing Cortes, Estrada’s last fight came in March 2021 in Dallas, where he edged Gonzalez by controversial split decision in a fight of the year candidate to unify his WBC title with Gonzalez’s WBA belt in their rematch that evened their series 1-1. Estrada later vacated the WBC belt and accepted the organization’s “franchise” title and last month he was stripped by the WBA for failing to make a mandatory defense against secondary titlist Joshua Franco.
Whatever belts or status is at stake, the Estrada-Gonzalez rubber match is the biggest fight in the division. In their first all-action fight in 2012, Gonzalez won a unanimous decision to retain the WBA junior flyweight title.
The third fight between these likely Hall of Famers was supposed to take place this past October but it was postponed when Gonzalez came down with Covid-19. Then it was scheduled for March 5 in San Diego but called off six weeks beforehand when Estrada pulled out after contracting Covid-19. Gonzalez easily outpointed replacement opponent and WBC flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Martinez. Estrada could have gone into the fight with Gonzalez but the wanted a tune-up bout.
“That’s why I was really looking forward to getting this fight done,” Estrada said. “I wanted to make sure I looked good and that I had no injuries. I’m a little bruised but I did what I had to do. The work and the conditioning I did for three months is exactly what I needed to do after the layoff and now I can announce the third fight with ‘Chocolatito’ the first week of December.
“We are looking forward to that fight. I’ll be ready for that date. We’re waiting for the trilogy.”