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'Superfly' returns for its third edition with three notable fights

From left, Juan Francisco Estrada, Donnie Nietes, Tom Loeffler, Roman Gonzalez, Aston Palicte and Kazuto Ioka. Photo by Tom Hogan/360 Promotions

The breakout success of former pound-for-pound king and four-division world champion Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez a few years ago paved the way for some of boxing's smallest fighters to gain tremendous exposure.

It was Gonzalez, thanks to a series of exciting fights on Gennady Golovkin undercards, who led promoter Tom Loeffler and HBO to come up with the unconventional idea of a card loaded with fighters from the deep junior bantamweight division, also known as the super flyweight division. They dubbed the card simply "Superfly."

The first "Superfly" show, held last September at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, was a smash. In the main event, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who had outpointed Gonzalez six months earlier on a GGG undercard to win a 115-pound world title in an epic, bloody slugfest that was a strong 2017 fight of the year candidate, scored the 2017 ESPN.com knockout of the year when he put away Gonzalez in the fourth round of their rematch.

The rest of the card was also notable, as former unified flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada outpointed former 115-pound titlist Carlos Cuadras, and Japanese star Naoya Inoue made an impressive United States debut by knocking out Antonio Nieves in the sixth round to retain his 115-pound belt.

The success of the show led to the obvious sequel, "Superfly 2," which took place in February at The Forum in Inglewood, California, and featured another tripleheader of lower-weight warriors, with Sor Rungvisai edging Estrada by majority decision (and ending his 10-fight winning streak) in a fantastic action fight in the main event to retain his title. The card also included McWilliams Arroyo notching a competitive decision win against Cuadras and, dipping one weight class down to flyweight, Donnie Nietes retaining his belt in a dominant seventh-round knockout of former titlist Juan Carlos Reveco.

"The fighters in the lower weight class divisions relish the opportunity to be on HBO, and that's why they are willing to fight world-class opposition in tough matchups," Loeffler said. "That's what makes the 'Superfly' series so great for the fans and why each event has been so successful."

With two well-received cards in the books, you know what's next: "Superfly 3." The latest installment will take place on Saturday (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT) back at The Forum and will feature three more notable fights in the 115-pound division, though perhaps with a bit less star power than the first two editions, largely because Sor Rungvisai elected to make his next defense at home in Thailand rather than face Estrada in a rematch in the main event.

Nonetheless, the show will go on and most expect three more exciting battles. Here's a look at what's at stake in each:

Juan Francisco Estrada (36-3, 25 KOs) vs. Felipe Orucuta (36-4, 30 KOs)

Estrada wanted another shot at Sor Rungvisai but was denied because of his decision to stay home for his next fight. So Estrada, 28, of Mexico, will face countryman Orucuta, 32, who has won five fights in a row. The fight is an official world title eliminator, with the winner to become the mandatory challenger for Sor Rungvisai's belt.

If Sor Rungvisai successfully navigates his Oct. 6 defense against Iran Diaz, it would seem likely he'd face the Estrada-Orucuta winner on a probable "Superfly 4" card.

"I wanted the rematch with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai," Estrada said. "Hopefully, that can happen at 'Superfly 4.' I would also like to fight Chocolatito and avenge my loss from 2012. I would like to thank Chocolatito for opening the doors to our weight class, which enables us to fight on HBO and at The Forum on such big shows. ... I am very proud to headline a big card like this, and I hope to give the fans a great fight just like my other two 'Superfly' appearances.

"I know Orucuta very well. He's a tall, strong fighter that will make this fight very hard for me. I expect a war between two Mexican fighters who will bring their best on Saturday night."

Orucuta will be fighting in the U.S. for the second time but for the first time since a six-rounder in 2008. He is seeking to earn a third shot at a world title after losing close decisions to then-titlist Omar Narvaez on his turf in Argentina in 2013 and 2014.

"This is like a dream come true for me," Orucuta said. "I am on a fantastic card against one of the best fighters in the world in a legendary venue. It's the opportunity I have been seeking for a long time. I am very grateful to HBO and Tom Loeffler for making this happen."

Donnie Nietes (41-1-4, 23 KOs) vs. Aston Palicte (24-2, 20 KOs)

After "Superfly 2," Nietes vacated his flyweight title and moved up one division in search of a belt in a fourth weight class. He'll get that opportunity against the Roy Jones Jr.-promoted Palicte when they meet for a vacant title in a rare all-Filipino world title fight.

The fight will be only the third all-Filipino title fight in 93 years, though the second this year. In 1925, then-flyweight world champion Pancho Villa, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, retained his title by unanimous 15-round decision against countryman Clever Sencio in Manila. The second time was on May 26, in Fresno, California, where Jerwin Ancajas retained his 115-pound title by unanimous decision against mandatory challenger Jonas Sultan.

"This fight represents a lot to me, as I will be seeking my fourth world championship in a fourth different weight division," said Nietes, 36, who is unbeaten since 2004. "Winning the world title will put me at the level of [countrymen] Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire and will add worldwide recognition to my career. I believe my fight with Aston has a very real possibility of being the best fight of the night."

Nietes said he hopes to fight a unification fight with Estrada if they both win Saturday.

Palicte, 27, has won four fights in a row and is taking a big step up in competition, but youth is on his side.

"The fact that we are both Filipino doesn't matter," Palicte said. "We are both here to do a job, and no matter what happens we will still be friends after the fight. I have worked very hard to get here and I want to give the fans the best fight possible, and I also believe that our fight could be the best of night, as we both have a lot at stake.

"I am the stronger, faster fighter in this bout and I need to take advantage of my height and reach. I believe I can knock out Nietes and make a name for myself with this win."

Kazuto Ioka (22-1, 13 KOs) vs. McWilliams Arroyo (17-3, 14 KOs)

Japan's Ioka, 29, has won world titles in three divisions -- strawweight, junior flyweight and flyweight -- but he hasn't boxed since retaining his flyweight belt by unanimous decision over Noknoi Sitthiprasert in April 2017. Ioka vacated the belt in November and later retired.

Now he's back, moving up one weight division and set for his American debut against Puerto Rico's Arroyo, 32, in a 10-rounder that will open the telecast.

His return was inspired by attending "Superfly 2" while on vacation in Southern California following his retirement.

"While watching each of the three top fights, I know I could compete and be victorious against any of the fighters in the series that night," Ioka said. "I loved the atmosphere at The Forum and wanted very much to fight on 'Superfly 3.' I wanted another challenge like this.

"I have a lot of respect for Arroyo, but I have prepared very well in Las Vegas with [trainer] Ismael Salas to be victorious. It would mean a great deal to me if I can become the first four-time world champion from Japan but first I have to conquer Arroyo."

Arroyo, whose title-fight losses came by decision to Gonzalez in 2016 and to Amnat Ruenroeng in 2014, is seeking a second win in a row on a "Superfly" card.

"There's a lot of hype around Ioka, but I'm the best fighter he's faced," Arroyo said. "I had a great win against Carlos Cuadras. I was overlooked then and feel that I'm being overlooked now. None of that will matter on Saturday night, when I'll be victorious and ready to move onto bigger fights."