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Ringside Seat: Estrada, 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez in Friday night fights with unification on their minds

Juan Francisco Estrada, left, defends his world title against Carlos Cuadras, right, on Friday. Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

The boxing world is still buzzing over Teofimo Lopez Jr.'s defeat of Vasiliy Lomachenko last Saturday night. In an era when many big fights take too long to make or never happen at all, and young fighters are judiciously matched and protected from stern challengers, Lopez was more than willing to put himself on the fast track. In his past two fights, he stopped the normally durable Richard Commey, and then outboxed Lomachenko.

Phase one of "The Takeover" is complete.

But now we turn the page. The fall boxing schedule rolls on with a pair of cards featuring the two best junior bantamweights, each hoping to win their respective fights to set up a showdown against each other. There's also a solid welterweight matchup for the interim IBF welterweight title.

On Friday, Juan Francisco Estrada defends his WBC junior bantamweight belt in a rematch with Carlos Cuadras in Mexico (DAZN, 7 p.m. ET). In the co-main event, Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez defends his WBA title against Israel Gonzalez. If both win, Estrada and Gonzalez could meet in a rematch of their junior flyweight title fight from 2012.

Then on Saturday, Sergey Lipinets meets Custio Clayton in a welterweight battle for a chance to become Errol Spence Jr.'s IBF mandatory challenger.

All eyes on the junior bantamweights division

It should be a solid night of entertainment on Friday at the TV Azteca studios in Mexico City, as a pair of well-known junior bantamweight champions engage in title defenses.

Estrada (40-3, 27 KOs) faces Cuadras (39-3-1, 27 KOs) in a rematch of a very memorable battle from 2017, when Estrada and Cuadras went tooth and nail for 12 rounds in a fight that was ultimately decided by a 10th-round knockdown scored by Estrada. All three judges scored the fight 114-113 for Estrada.

In that first fight, Cuadras jumped out to an early lead by simply being more active than Estrada, who didn't get going until the middle rounds. Eventually, Estrada's precision and superior power got him back into the fight.

While Estrada might feel the temptation to look ahead to a rematch with Gonzalez, who fights on the undercard, he would be advised not to look past Cuadras, who has been training with Rudy Hernandez for the fight.

"We're too dumb to understand we can't win," Hernandez, who spent the past few weeks in Mexico to oversee the preparations of Cuadras, told ESPN. "We are where we're supposed to be. No excuses."

"This is the fight I have been waiting for," Cuadras said in a news release. "I am better prepared this time. I'm throwing a lot of punches in training. I'm throwing 12 rounds of sparring with three different guys. I'm doing a lot of mitt sessions."

Looking back at his first encounter with Estrada, Cuadras says he understands that he can't spend all of his energy early in the fight.

"[Estrada] can be a slow starter, but once he is in a rhythm, he is harder to fight," Cuadras said. "He's good to the body and he has a good right hand -- that's the punch he put me down with in our first fight. I gave it my all in the first rounds, so I lost my energy for the second half, I went too hard from the start.

"He's not going to get the rematch with 'Chocolatito' -- I am going to get my rematch with him, because people saw that I won that fight."

Roman Gonzalez (49-2, 41 KOs), who won the WBA title by dominating Kal Yafai in a ninth-round TKO victory in February, faces Israel Gonzalez (25-3, 11 KOs) in the co-main event. Many had written off Roman Gonzalez after losing back-to-back fights to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2017, including a fourth-round KO in the rematch. But the 33-year-old champion has a renewed focus and the guidance of trainer Marcos Caballero.

If he gets past Israel Gonzalez, as expected, the plan is for him to face Estrada for the second time. In 2012, the two engaged in an all-action bout for the WBA junior flyweight world title at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles.

Should Estrada and Roman Gonzalez notch victories Friday, then one of the most anticipated fights of 2021 can be penciled onto the calendar.

Rounding out that card is WBC flyweight world titlist Julio Cesar Martinez (16-1, 12 KOs) taking on Marcos Calleros (33-9-1, 17 KOs). Martinez is a fighter who sets a quick tempo and doesn't let up. On Feb. 29, Martinez defeated Jay Harris by unanimous decision.


Late replacement leads to a more intriguing fight for Lipinets

Boxing returns to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut on Saturday with a welterweight contest between Lipinets (16-1, 12 KOs) and Clayton (18-0, 12 KOs) for the IBF interim title (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET).

Clayton is stepping in for Kudratillo Abdukakhorov who was originally slated to face Lipinets on Oct. 10. The fight was rescheduled for Saturday to allow Abdukakhorov, of Uzbekistan, to work out issues securing a visa to travel to the U.S., but when those problems were not resolved, Clayton was called upon.

This might actually be a tougher matchup for Lipinets, a former IBF junior welterweight titleholder whose only loss came in a unanimous decision against Mikey Garcia in March 2018. Clayton is an athletic fighter with good hand speed and power. This isn't your garden variety late replacement.

"We never missed a beat in preparation, even with the opponent change," Lipinets said in a news release. "My fight with Kudratillo Abdukakhorov was on and off for so long that I already had an idea that he was going to be forced to back out, so I wasn't shocked. I don't really care, though. Whoever I have to fight I'm ready to fight, so I didn't consider backing out of fighting for even one second."

Lipinets, who is under the guidance of trainer Joe Goossen remains confident in the lead-up to the fight.

"I know that Clayton has a great amateur background," Lipinets said. "I've checked out his style, and the main difference is that Abdukakhorov is more active and Clayton is more accurate. Abdukakhorov is also a little more aggressive and Clayton is more patient.

"I don't think one is tougher or easier than the other. I think that anyone fighting at this level is a difficult opponent. Abdukakhorov moves around more and can be more awkward with the different styles he uses. Both are very tough guys, but I'm ready for Clayton and focused only on him at this point."

With a victory, Lipinets is in line to face the winner of the Dec. 5 bout between Spence (who has both the WBC and IBF welterweight titles) and Danny Garcia.

Also on the card, junior lightweight Xavier Martinez (15-0, 11 KOs) faces Claudio Marrero (24-4, 17 KOs) in a 12-round battle, and Malik Hawkins (18-0, 11 KOs) goes against Subriel Matias (15-1, 15 KOs) in a 10-round junior welterweight bout.