Showtime purchased the rematch between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto with the hopes that the young welterweight contenders would put on another fight-of-the-year caliber slugfest. The first fight, won by Ortiz, earned THE RING’s designation of the best fight of 2011.
However, the anticipated return bout – which was postponed to June 23 after Berto suffered a training injury and then scrapped altogether after the former titleholder tested positive for a banned substance – was nothing but a headache for the U.S. subscription cable network.
This doesn’t mean the good folks at Showtime have scrapped their wish of airing another fight-of-the-year candidate (they’ve already showcased one with the Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez rematch in March) in 2012. There’s a likely candidate on Saturday’s Showtime Championship Boxing doubleheader from Staples Center in Los Angeles, but it isn’t the new main event that was put together with Ortiz facing Josesito Lopez.
It’s the co-featured bout of the broadcast (9:00 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast) – the junior welterweight fight between RING-rated Lucas Matthysse and former two-division titleholder Humberto Soto – that has hardcore fans excited.
Even Stephen Espinoza, Showtime’s new executive VP & GM of sports, sounded a little giddy when he brought up Soto-Matthysse at the final press conference, whichwas held in front of Staples Center on Thursday afternoon.
“Do not get a drink; do not go to the bathroom during that fight. It will be a thriller all the way through,” said Espinoza, who described Soto and Matthysse as “two of the most underrated and underappreciated fighters in the sport.”
“For those of you who watch boxing, we had a great fight in March between Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez and it is a candidate for Fight of the Year. I actually think the Fight of the Year might be Matthysse vs. Soto. That’s how interested I am in this fight.”
Espinoza’s enthusiasm for Soto-Matthysse is in no way dismissive of Ortiz-Lopez, which he acknowledged as a good matchup – especially one made less than five weeks out from the fight date. The main event pits a dynamic boxer-puncher against an iron-chinned pressure fighter, which is bound to produce some action.
However, most fans believe the outcome of Ortiz-Lopez is a foregone conclusion. More than 86 percent of the readers who took part in a RingTV.com poll on the fight believe that Ortiz will win – 69 percent of the voters think the 25-year-old former WBC welterweight beltholder will be the first fighter to stop Lopez.
Fans aren’t as sure of the Soto-Matthysse fight, which matches a 32-year-old veteran of 68 pro bouts (Soto) against a 29-year-old contender whose only losses were disputed split-decisions to former titleholders Zab Judah and Devon Alexander. Both Soto and Matthysse are heavy handed, offense-minded technicians who possess underrated boxing ability and ring intelligence. It’s tough to pick the winner of this one.
In a recent RingTV.com poll a very slight majority (53 percent) of the voters picked Matthysse (30-2, 28 knockouts) to win – 38.5 percent think the Argentine will stop Soto, obviously respecting Matthysse’s high KO ratio. But a respectable 45.1 percent picked Soto to beat Matthysse; 28 percent of those voters think the Mexican veteran will use his experience and ring savvy to outpoint THE RING’s No. 6-rated junior welterweight.
Ironically, Matthysse told RingTV.com that he isn’t gunning for the KO.
“I don’t feel like I have to knock him out to win,” Matthysse said through bilingual boxing scribe Francisco Salazar. “I’m going to box him and if the knockout comes, it will come naturally.”
Matthysse obviously isn’t worried about getting jobbed by the official judges, as many fans believe he was in his losses to Alexander and Judah. He thinks Soto’s style, unlike the American southpaws, makes for a more definitive fight.
“Soto’s got a good style, a warrior’s style,” Matthysse said. “It’s a good style for me and it’s good for the fans.”
“I know the winner on Saturday will be the fans because Mathysse is a quality fighter and I am prepared for him,” he said during his turn at the podium at Thursday’s press conference. “Come to this fight. It’s going to be a great fight.”
Soto (58-7-2, 34 KOs), who has held WBC titles at featherweight (interim), junior lightweight and lightweight, says he feels strong fighting at 140 pounds but won’t rely on brute strength to see him through against Matthysse.
“I’m going to fight the way my corner wants me to fight, which intelligently,” Soto said through Salazar. “I’m going to box and counter punch when I seen openings.
“But if I see that I need to do more during the fight, if I need to stand my ground, I’ll do what I need to do.”
When Soto mixes boxing and slugging with a strong, determined young fighter, the results – as his close unanimous decision over Urbano Antillon in December of 2010 proved – are sensational. Soto thinks he can improve on that brilliant performance.
“If this fight goes the way I think it will,” he said. “I’m going to stop him.”
Photo / Esther Lin-SHOWTIME
Email Doug Fischer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dougiefischer