Was the problem Juan Francisco Estrada’s 18-month layoff? Did he underestimate relative unknown Argi Cortes? Or is Cortes simply much better than anyone realized?
Whatever the reason or reasons, fans received a surprisingly competitive fight between the junior bantamweights Saturday in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Estrada won what had been billed a tune-up fight but he had to dig deep to do so, putting Cortes down and winning a unanimous decision by scores of 115-112, 115-112 and 114-113.
However, the WBC “franchise champion” didn’t look like the dominating fighter we’ve come to know.
“I was really surprised,” Estrada said. “I didn’t expect him to come out so hard. I have double his fights. The experience obviously took over. I was surprised. He’s a great fighter. But, again, the champion is the champion.”
Estrada (43-3, 28 KOs) is now set to face rival Roman Gonzalez for a third time on Dec. 3, 21 months after Estrada defeated him by a disputed split decision.
Could the version of Estrada we saw on Saturday beat the great “Chocolatito”?
He gave a solid performance against Cortes, taking the fight to his younger opponent and landing clean, hard shots with consistency. The problem for him was that his inspired countryman matched him punch for punch and took everything Estrada threw at him, the only exception being a left to the body that put him down in Round 7.
Cortes, trained by Nacho Beristain, demonstrated that he’s a fine, durable boxer. He also wasn’t fazed one bit by the biggest moment of his career, which added to his effectiveness.
The difference in the fight was Estrada’s success in the championship rounds. He led on two of three cards after eight rounds but came out on top on all three by the end of the fight, a testament to his determination and experience.
However, if any fighter took a step forward in defeat, it was Cortes. He took five rounds on two cards and six on the third against one of the most-respected little fighters of his generation, which was eye-opening to those unfamiliar with him.
The 27-year-old Mexico City resident clearly stamped himself as a rising young contender.
Of course, in the end, the night belonged to Estrada. The future Hall of Famer survived his tune-up and can now focus on what arguably will be the biggest fight of his career, the rubber match against Gonzalez.
The tough fight with Cortes, he said, served its purpose.
“That’s why I was really looking for to getting this fight done,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I looked good, that I had no injuries. I’m a little bit bruised but I did what I had to do. The conditioning and work that I did for three months is exactly what I needed to do after 16 months of layoff.
“… I’ll be ready for that date (Dec. 3).”