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April 19, 2017

Sor Rungvisai W12 Gonzalez: Great Fight, Wrong Result

by Matt O'Brien

This article was published on TheFightCity.com on March 24th, 2017. Thanks to Michael Carbert and Zachary Alapi for their help in editing and publishing the final version: http://www.thefightcity.com/srisaket-sor-rungvisai-boxing-roman-gonzalez/

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai may well have the most deceptive record of any world champion currently in boxing. The story of where he came from in order to become a champion may also be one of the most remarkable in the sport.

Emerging from an impoverished background in Thailand’s rural northeast, Sor Rungvisai neatly fits the mold of the gutsy, tough-as-nails Asian boxer who fought his way to a better life. The typecast is perhaps overused to the point of being cliché, though in this case it is not without basis. After moving to Bangkok to find work, for a time Sor Rungvisai had reportedly been forced to live off food scavenged in garbage cans and walked 60 miles and back just to get to a job interview. He was set to earn $75,000 for his world title challenge on Saturday – a fraction of what the champion would make, but a fortune in his home province of Sisaket.

Going into his match with undefeated Nicaraguan great, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, several respected commentators had warned that Sor Rungvisai would be a tough customer. A natural 115-pounder, he was also the former WBC champion, only losing his title via a technical decision to the man whom Gonzalez dethroned – highly-rated Mexican Carlos Cuadras. He had also posted solid stoppage wins over the likes of Jose Salgado and Yota Sato, and carried a KO ratio of over 80% – huge for the lower weight classes. However, a closer look at his record reveals several anomalies.

The first thing you notice pouring over Sor Rungvisai’s résumé is the number of times the word “debut” crops up in the column displaying the opponents’ record. Sor Rungvisai has faced a total of fourteen fighters making their pro debut in his 47 contests, and a further thirteen with losing records. Of the debutants, only one went the distance, taking him to a draw in his third bout. Every one of the remaining thirteen was knocked out, with only a single one of them ever boxing again.

Incredibly, the list of debutants on Sor Rungvisai’s record also included the last three opponents he faced prior to meeting the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer, and another two he had faced while owner of the WBC’s world championship. In fact, as well as knocking out two boxers making their debut in the period between winning his WBC belt in May 2013 and losing it to Cuadras a year later, he also stopped fighters with records of 0-1-0 and 1-3-1 – though thankfully, none of these were defences of the title.

What on earth the boxing board in Thailand was thinking sanctioning these men to step into the ring against a bona fide world champion is a mystery. Boxing regulatory bodies are supposedly there to protect the health and safety of the fighters – but in Thailand, at least going by Sor Rungvisai’s record, this appears not to be the case.

Making matters worse, in the fourteen contests since losing to Cuadras in May 2014, the combined record of Sor Rungvisai’s opposition was 181-182-21. You would have been forgiven for thinking these stats suggested the Thai did not have the requisite pedigree to trouble the world’s finest pugilist. Compounding that feeling was the fact that every one of his defeats had come in the only four fights he had ever boxed outside of his home country.

It was quite a shock then when, with 41 seconds remaining in the opening stanza, Sor Rungvisai sent the reigning champion to the canvas from a solid body shot. Although not looking seriously hurt, Gonzalez was certainly showing signs of real discomfort. The Thai’s natural physical strength and powerful left hand from the southpaw stance was causing the great Nicaraguan trouble, and he took the round 10-8 on all three judges’ cards.

A close second round saw the Thai pour on pressure for the first minute and a half, pushing the champion back to the ropes and banging away to head and body. In a taste of what was to come over the remainder of the contest, Gonzalez fought back effectively over the final minute, landing a series of crisp, hurtful blows. One judge went with the late work of Gonzalez; the other two opted for the early volume punching of the challenger.

A minute into the third round, the boxers banged heads and a nasty cut was opened over Gonzalez’s right eye. The two men proceeded to trade leather, but after a rocky start the champion started to find his rhythm. Sor Rungvisai was game and still throwing hard shots, but Chocolatito was by far the more accurate puncher of the two. In the sixth, after landing a series of pinpoint body shots and visibly hurting Sor Rungvisai, the referee also deducted a point from the Thai as the fighters clashed heads yet again – effectively cancelling out the extra point he had gained in the first round.

Going into the second half of the contest then, the brilliant Nicaraguan had survived an early knockdown, a number of head clashes and a nasty cut to regain firm control of the bout. All three judges awarded him rounds 3, 4, 5 and 6 – with the exception of one judge, who gave Sor Rungvisai the 4th – and he took a 57-55 lead on all three cards.

CompuBox punch stats also reflected the champion’s dominance over these rounds: he out-landed the challenger in every one, with his average connect rate exceeding 40%. Interestingly though, in the 4th round that one judge elected to give to the challenger, Gonzalez had in fact out-landed him by 56-29 punches, connecting at an extraordinary rate of 50.5%.

In rounds 7-12, the fighters continued to trade at a furious pace. The ring mat was splattered with crimson as blood gushed from gashes on Gonzalez’ face and head, though incredibly the former straw weight stood right in the pocket with the naturally much bigger man, landing more shots and at a higher connects percentage in every one of the last six rounds, aside from the 11th. And yet, remarkably, with the exception of one judge who gave Gonzalez the 8th, the challenger swept rounds 7-11 on every single card.

Of course, determining the winner in a round of boxing involves much more than tabulating punch stats. However, when you have one fighter more than doubling the connect rate of his opponent (as Gonzalez did in the 8th and 10th rounds) you have to ask serious questions about why the judges were not rewarding him for his accuracy. If only one of the other two judges had given Gonzalez the 8th round – or indeed any single round between the 7th and 11th – he would have retained his title via majority draw.

Had Sor Rungvisai been landing the more effective, telling blows during these rounds, the judges’ divergence from the punch stats would have been more understandable – but the reverse seemed to be true. This was particularly evident in round 8, with Gonzalez catching the Thai repeatedly with clean, head snapping hooks and uppercuts. And though he was not visibly hurting the challenger, the punches were crisp, unmistakable scoring shots.

In the 12th and final round, the two fighters ended the contest as they had fought throughout: trading leather at a furious volume, blood now streaming down both of their faces and covering their bodies. At one point Gonzalez literally chased after his tiring foe, eager to close the show, but the marauding challenger kept coming back and was letting his hands go in the centre of the ring at the final bell. Both men embraced and the crowd roared what had been a fabulous contest. All three judges gave the champion the last round, but it was not enough: they had already given the Thai an unassailable lead, and he took the verdict by majority decision, with scores of 114-112, 114-112 and 113-113.

In such a competitive contest, it would be unfair to the judges to start throwing out the dreaded “R” word, though ultimately, I thought they got the decision wrong. On this occasion it was the stats that told the most reliable story, and after a rocky start, Chocolatito always seemed to be a step ahead. He was the more accurate, effective puncher in the majority of the rounds and possessed a much superior defence throughout the fight – out-landing Sor Rungvisai by 441-284 punches over the 12 completed rounds (43.5%-30.2%).

That being said, the challenger never stopped marching forward and made the champion work for every second of every round. Without his grit, physical strength and offensive style it would not have been such an enthralling contest. Together, both men threw an amazing combined total of 1,953 punches. One can only hope that the great Nicaraguan is granted the rematch he deserves, and though sadly his sublime undefeated record can never be regained, this needn’t detract from his outstanding legacy.

As for Sor Rungvisai, he returns to Thailand to the adulation of an entire nation. Whether or not he deserved the decision, he fought doggedly and with good grace, and played his part in an epic battle that demonstrated yet again just what a tremendous sport this can be. Any man capable of emerging successfully from the kind of arduous journey that he has endured is worthy of our respect; to do so versus one of the greatest fighters of the modern era is nothing short of incredible.

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