By Jake Donovan
Andre Berto and Jesus Soto-Karass both understand the importance in providing entertainment value for the fans. Neither fighter is the least bit apprehensive about standing and trading when the situation calls for it, as shown in their separate Fight of the Year candidates last year.
Berto did his best to overcome a miserable start in his war with Robert Guerrero, recovering from knockdowns in the first two rounds of the fight to produce a memorable 12-round slugfest. Soto-Karass seemed to be a punch away from stopping Marcos Maidana at several points in their toe-to-toe brawl last September.
The other common denominator in the aforementioned fights besides the entertainment value, is the fact that both came out on the losing end. Guerrero scored arguably the biggest win of his career in taking a well-earned decision over Berto, parlaying the win into a career-high payday against Floyd Mayweather earlier this year, albeit in a losing effort. Maidana’s win over Soto-Karass ignited his current three-fight win streak as he is now in line for a hefty payday against rising star Adrien Broner.
For Berto and Soto-Karass, their reward for delivering fan-friendly fights in losing efforts is the confidence placed in each by Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime to be brought back in a main event. The drawback is that they are brought back to face each other – a drawback in the sense that both are badly in need of a win.
It certainly raises the stakes for their July 27 showdown, which takes place at the AT&T Center in boxing-friendly San Antonio. The bout serves as the main leg of a Showtime-televised tripleheader, though preceded by two fights in which the winners are guaranteed future title fights.
The regional title at stake in the main event means the winner hovers somewhere in the alphabet rankings, but not necessarily next in line for a title shot. Wherever he lands, it will be a hell of a lot closer than for the loser for the fight. For this reason, both fighters saw the need to make changes in their respective careers, to where not even a chance to win a bonus for the best knockout of the night has them pondering throwing caution to the wind for the sake of winning.
Berto (28-2, 22KO) hasn’t fought since last November’s loss to Guerrero, and boasts just one win over a stretch of more than two years – a 5th round stoppage of Jan Zaveck in Sept. ’11, sandwiched in between the lone two losses of his career. The other defeat was also a Fight of the Year contender, trading knockdowns with Victor Ortiz before coming up short in their April ’11 thriller.
While seeing his name in year-end top fight lists carries some sense of pride, the lack of progress in his career set off an alarm that change was imminent. With that came the decision to leave behind longtime trainer Tony Morgan and enlist the services of Virgil Hunter, best known for his work with unbeaten super middleweight king Andre Ward.
With the fight still more than a week away, Berto is confident that the hardest part is already over.
"Definitely, this is a tough training camp,” Berto acknowledged of his time presently spent in the Bay Area, thousands of miles from his home in Winter Haven, Florida. “These guys are really precise on what they're doing and on the things that they want you to work on, and it's not just, you know, going into camp and just working on the same routine.
“Here, they definitely work on more strategy and a lot of repetition. They definitely pound that into you to make sure that you're getting the game plan right, so the training is definitely a little different. Here, the scheduling situation is kind of more up and down. Back home, in Florida, we always had the same routine and the same schedule every day.”
Soto-Karass (27-8-3, 17KO) is well-versed in the art of familiarity. It’s actually how he earned his nickname ‘El Renuente’, whose literal translation is ‘The Reluctant One.’ There’s nothing reluctant about the manner in which the 30-year old plies his trade in the ring.
In the gym, however, it was a different story.
“I got it from my old trainer, who would always call me lazy,” Soto-Karass comically recalls. “Whenever we worked out in the past, he would ask me if I wanted to do mitts or if I wanted to hit the (heavy) bag, I’d always tell him no. I just wanted to spar. It was an inside joke, they’d call me lazy.”
Such training habits earned the welterweight accolades as an action fighter, as well as the respect of former welterweight champ Antonio Margarito, with whom he used to regularly train and spar.
It’s also earned him far too many losses in recent years, including a three-year stretch where he registered a dismal record of 2-5 with one no contest. It was a dramatic turn from the 15-fight unbeaten streak he posted over four years, a dangerous plunge towards obscurity before scoring a surprise points win over Selcuk Aydin earlier this year.
The aforementioned opportunity came as a reward for his strong showing against Maidana last year, and also resulted in his biggest win in nearly five years. Not at all anxious to return to his previous role as a steppingstone, Soto-Karass comes into the July 27 bout with Berto echoing the sentiment of the late Vince Lombardi - winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.
He understands the popularity risk involved, that fans are expecting action whenever he steps into the ring. The plan isn’t to abandon that aspect of his game, but at the same time to offer a more cerebral performance if that’s what gives him the best shot at having his hand raised at fight’s end.
“It’s great that my fans and followers view me in that light,” Soto-Karass says of his status as an in-ring action hero. “But the bottom line is that I want to win. I will give a great performance like I always do. I’m ready to die in the ring, like every proud Mexican. But the important thing is to win.
“I have the mentality to win. It’s important for the future of my family, for the future of my trainers and all of their hard work. But I want to win. It’s fine to be in great fights, but my objective is to win. I will be a little smarter for this fight. It’s a tough, dangerous fight so I will fight smarter than I have in past fights.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox