SAN ANTONIO – Former welterweight titleholder Andre Berto, whose struggles to attract a fan base have been well documented, showed a plethora of what courage enchants boxing aficionados, Saturday, fighting through a pair of arm injuries and numerous frightening moments in the main event’s first 11 rounds. For hardnosed Mexican veteran Jesus Soto Karass, conversely, the 12th round brought the defining victory of his career.
“Knockout Kings II,” an excellent seven-fight card at AT&T Center, presented by Golden Boy Promotions and Leija-Battah Promotions, ended on a crowd-intoxicating and emphatic note, with Soto-Karass (28-8-3, 18 knockouts) stopping Berto (28-3, 22 KOs) at 0:48 of round 12, in a fight that was a split draw on official scorecards after 11.
“I told everyone,” a jubilant Soto Karass said. “Even though Berto is a great fighter, I am going to knock him out.”
At the match’s open, when Berto’s superiority of reflex was quite apparent, Soto-Karass’ prediction looked unwise. Soto Karass, though, knockedout twice in the last 19 months, absorbed Berto’s clean punches in the opening rounds and appeared for the most part unaffected by them. Then in the fourth round, Soto Karass caught Berto with an overhand right, and Berto was out on his feet for many of the next 90 seconds, his legs wobbling, and his head snapping backwards repeatedly with help from Soto Karass’ right hands.
“I dedicated myself one hundred percent to boxing,” Soto-Karass said of his training camp. “Boxing is my life.”
After fighting back nobly in the final minute of the fifth, Berto appeared to finish the round unconsciously, having to be steered to his corner by coaches. But whatever Berto’s corner said to him before the sixth round worked magically. Berto began to jog out his corner, mouth open and cuts round both eyes, and won the large part of rounds seven, eight and nine, showing much fresher legs and a revitalized spirit, despite a right shoulder apparently separated in the third round.
“In the fourth round, my right shoulder, I couldn’t move it,” Berto said. “But I’m a warrior.”
Berto continued his swarming attack in round 10, hurling his left hook with the entirety of his body’s weight behind it, despite still-soft knees occasionally causing him to lose footing. He even dropped Soto Karass with a body shot in round 11, a punch that landed on the Mexican’s pink beltline but caused Soto Karass to react as if he were hit low.
“I was a little more mad than hurt,” Soto Karass said of his reaction. “I believed it was a low blow that hit me.”
In the first minute of the final round, both men started left hooks, and Soto Karass’, for being a bit shorter, got there a bit quicker. Berto dropped. He rose before the count of 10, but referee Jon Schorle, who’d watched Berto stagger about the ring during the match’s opening half, waived the fight off, sending Berto stumbling back to his stool, and Soto Karass leaping triumphantly on the far turnbuckle.
“Coming from where I come from, I don’t care,” Berto said of his courageous showing. “I tore my left bicep. I separated my right shoulder. Man, I don’t care. I put it all on the line.”
Asked for his future plans, Soto Karass, still glowing from his career’s greatest victory, showed graciousness to his host city, saying, “I want to fight whomever the people of San Antonio want me to fight.”
In the co-featured bout of the card, South Texas lightweight Omar Figueroa said that in preparing for a Japanese fighter like Nihito Arakawa, he would ready himself for someone who would fight exactly like a Mexican. Good call, Omar.
Their fight, as fine a display of endurance and valor as prizefighting will see in 2013, brought an ironic twist to the name of its card: The best fight of “Knockout Kings II” was the one that went the distance. Figueroa, the ticket-seller at AT&T Center, prevailed by unanimous-decision scores that were wide and perhaps inaccurate: 118-108, 118-108 and 119-107.
THE RING’s scorecard also had Figueroa winning, though by the considerably narrower tally of 115-111.
“This is what I looked forward to since the beginning,” Figueroa said. “It was incredible. We both took a beating. It was just a great fight.”
Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs), a lanky lightweight who admitted to struggling with weight early in his training camp and had to denude himself to make 135 pounds, Friday, may not have prepared for a 12-round battle of attrition, but that is exactly what he got from Arakawa (24-3-1, 17 KOs), a fighter of profound self-possession and belief.
When Figueroa dropped Arakawa for the first time, in the second round, swarming the Japanese southpaw with all the confidence of an undefeated 23 year old, the hometown crowd rose with certainty their guy was fated to win by another early knockout. But Arakawa never stopped marching forward, finding Figueroa with pestering, if not thudding, accurate punches, and generally staying close enough to Figueroa’s chest to lessen the South Texan’s blows.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to go long after that,” Figueroa said of his surprise, after the first knockdown, at Arakawa’s lasting another 10 rounds.
An accidental head-butt opened a cut on the bridge of Figueroa’s nose in the third round, causing the South Texan to spray blood on Arakawa’s back and shoulders, with both punches Figueroa threw and punches he caught. Figueroa dropped Arakawa again in the sixth round with a barrage of punches that began with a counter right cross, and made referee Laurence Cole appear ready to stop the match. But Arakawa righted himself and kept doggedly moving forward.
Arakawa, who landed perhaps more clean shots, though with not nearly the same powerful effect, showed incredible stamina, refusing to take a backwards step unless knocked to semi-consciousness.
Figueroa had Arakawa reeling once more in the eighth, as both men soldiered on, ignoring their collective and obvious fatigue. By the ninth round, Arakawa’s left eye was swelled entirely shut, making it impossible for him to pick-up Figueroa’s right hands except by sensing them. But sense them he did, working his way through the 10th and reducing Figueroa to throwing arm punches for the first time.
While the match was never in doubt on the official scorecards, both men fought ferociously and exhaustedly to the 12th round’s final bell, with Arakawa coming through his 36-minute bloodletting cogent enough to salute his many new fans, in English.
“Thank you very much,” Arakawa cried, “Thanks to San Antonio!”
Figueroa, for his part tired but elated, reiterated his pride at making such a match.
“I’ve looked forward to a fight like this,” he said.
At the kick-off press conference for “Knockout Kings II” in May, Florida welterweight Keith “One Time” Thurman promised if he didn’t win by first-round knockout, he’d personally refund the price of patrons’ tickets. He might owe some refunds on Sunday, but after the way eventually prevailed against Argentine Diego Chaves, he should be able to afford it.
Fighting for his career’s first interim world title, Thurman (21-0, 19 KOs) boxed, moved and eventually slugged his way to a knockout victory over Chaves (22-1, 18 KOs), stopping him at 0:28 of the 10th round with a left hook from which the Argentine could not rise.
“I wanted to punch him, I wanted to box him, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Thurman. “I had a feeling he was going to tire out, and I went to the body later on.”
Accustomed to blowing through opponents with outsized power and intimidation, Thurman appeared initially startled by finding himself across from a man entirely unafraid to wing right crosses his way. Thurman’s widening eyes told the tale by the third round of their match: Chaves was for real.
“He lasted a long time in there,” Thurman said of his opponent. “He fought like an Argentine. A lot of pride.”
Chaves fought fearlessly, willingly absorbing Thurman’s punches in the hopes of landing his own. Not until a counter left hook from Thurman landed in the fourth did the Argentine show Thurman’s power any respect at all.
After trading middle rounds and having Chaves land the cleaner, harder punches in the seventh and eighth, Thurman nodded respectfully as the fighters came together at round’s end. Two minutes later, Thurman found Chaves with a partially deflected left hook to the liver and dropped the Argentine to the blue mat.
The end came quickly thereafter, as Chaves, who likely never recovered from the liver shot, was softened-up for the finish, dropping early in the 10th and staying down.
Asked whom he wished to fight next, Thurman called-out a different Argentine welterweight.
“If I had my way, I would fight (Marcos) Maidana,” Thurman said. “He’s been ducking me for a year.”
Photos / Ronald Martinez-Golden Boy