By Jake Donovan
The resurrection of Jesus Soto-Karass' once-fleeting career could have very well produced the end of Andre Berto's days as a relevant welterweight player.
Soto Karass put himself closer into title contention than at any other point in his lengthy career after scoring an upset 12th round stoppage of Berto in their Showtime-televised main event Saturday evening in front of a crowd of 8,811 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
The threat of a shocker came right from the opening bell, as Berto - now training with Virgil Hunter - had no clue how to slow down the bum rush presented by his determined foe. Power punches scored repeatedly for Soto Karass, who found Berto's leaky defense and poor execution of the shoulder roll technique all too inviting.
Berto is nothing if not a warrior, however. The former welterweight titlist saw his eyes puff up early in the fight, but sandwiched in between rough moments in rounds one and three was a fun power punching display in the second. It was enough to let Soto Karass know he'd have to step up his game if he were to live up to his pre-fight promise of fighting hard yet smarter.
He would do just that.
Berto managed to avoid a knockdown in round five, but the slip and fall to the canvas wound up badly damaging his left shoulder. The Floridian was forced to spend the rest of the night fighting with one arm, but at no point was willing to quit. His corner reminded him of who was in front of him - a hint that Soto-Karass, while brave for days, has a history of falling short at the top level.
The motivational speeches in between rounds wasn't enough to offset the early damage done, but worked in the latter stages of the bout - at least until the fight-ending sequence. The four rounds preceding the shocking ending saw Berto somehow turn a disastrous rout into a competitive fight.
A late rounds rally was punctuated by an 11th round body shot knockdown which Soto Karass claimed was the result of a low blow. Replays supported the call made by referee Jon Schorle, though its impact left a bitter taste in the mouths of many when the final scorecards were revealed.
The 10-8 sequence left Berto ahead on one card (105-103), even at 104-104 and down 105-103 on the third heading into the 12th and final round. In other words, the fight was still very much on the table despite the disastrous start and the mid-rounds energy.
Soto-Karass finished the fight as if he literally knew the score.
“In the 12th round, my corner asked me to box, but I wanted to finish Andre Berto,” Soto-Karass admitted after the fight.
Finish him, he did; a perfectly placed left hook put Berto on the canvas early in the 12th. The ex-champ was up well before the mandatory count reached eight, but was wobbly upon rising and his vision severely compromised from 11 rounds worth of impact. His body language prompted the third man to stop the contest.
The win advances Soto Karass to 27-9-3 (18KO), having now scored two straight victories following last year's brave showing in a knockout loss to Marcos Maidana.
Berto suffers the first knockout loss of his career, and his third overall defeat in his past four fights in dropping to 28-3 (22KO). The bout was his first since last November's points loss to Robert Guerrero, but quite possibly his last as a headlining act.
The opposite can be said of Soto-Karass, whose winning ways comes at a time when the welterweight division is wide awake with fresh young talent.
Included among the new batch of 147 lb. talent is Keith Thurman, who could very well wind up facing Soto Karass in a future Showtime headliner.
For now, the unbeaten Floridian can take comfort in having won the biggest fight of his career, a 10th round knockout of Diego Chaves. The feat also netted Thurman an interim welterweight belt and a cash bonus from promoter Golden Boy Promotions for what was voted as the Knockout of the Night.
Well before the fight-ending sequence, Thurman answered a lot of questions surrounding his young career. With the benefits of a surplus of TV dates that comes with being an Al Haymon-advised fighter comes defaulted criticism from fans and media for that very same association.
Thurman made his HBO-televised debut last summer, admittedly against an inferior opponent (Orlando Lara). He would come back on the network against former titlists Carlos Quintana and Jan Zaveck, winning both with ease in leading up to Saturday’s showdown with Chaves.
The opening round saw both fighters set the tone for what was on its way to being a terrific war between unbeaten welterweights. By round three, Thurman had a busted nose and absorbed an alarming number of right hands. The power shots answered questions about his chin, but his mid-fight adjustments showed why he belongs on the world stage.
Chaves slowly began to decline, an event Thurman banked on in carrying his strategy into the fight.
“I knew that he would die down late in the fight, at which point I’d catch him with beautiful body shots,” Thurman accurately predicted.
A body shot produced the first of two knockdowns on the night, as Chaves (20-1, 18KO) was forced to knee after taking a rib-roasting body shot. The visiting Argentine beat the count, but was sent to the canvas seconds into the 10th, this time taking the full ten count and then some as he was surrounded by on-site medical staff well after the fight was waved off.
Thurman improves to 21-0 (19KO), winning the belt after the fight and the KO bonus once the post-fight press conference rolled around.
“I would have walked away with an empty heart if I didn’t get the KO victory tonight,” Thurman confessed after the fight.
Omar Figueroa has grown accustomed to always leaving with a knockout victory. Such was in the cards early in his bout with Nihito Arakawa. Instead, he was forced to settle for a unanimous decision in a fight that will generate repeat discussion come year-end awards season.
The first two rounds saw Figueroa at his absolute best. Fighting for a vacant interim title, the Texas-based knockout artist (fighting four hours or so from his Welslaco hometown) unloaded a frightening amount of power punches on the visiting Japanese southpaw. Enough landed to force Arkawaa to barely touch the canvas in round two, but just enough for the sequence to be ruled a knockdown.
Arakawa (now 24-3-1, 16KO) refused to go quietly, enjoying his best round of the fight in the third. Figueroa was still swinging with knockout intentions, but didn’t count on his seemingly wounded foe rallying back hard in a third round that is already being hailed as the Round of the Year.
Momentum swung back and forth in the middle rounds, but Figueroa – who was fighting with a cut on the bridge of his nose and eventually two damaged hands – appeared to be in control. The fight was his to lose once a second knockdown was called, this time in round eight and under a questionable ruling from referee Laurence Cole.
A brutal enough attack took place in rounds eight, nine and ten, as many were calling for the fight to be stopped for the safety of Arakawa. Instead, the referee let them fight on, which in turn allowed Arakawa to enjoy one last rally. The fringe contender dominated round 11, after which point Figueroa revealed to his corner that both hands were damaged.
The final three rounds reminded fans why this one immediately generated positive praise throughout various social media outlets. The scorecards didn’t help matters any; Figuero was a landslide winner in the eyes of the judges, but viewed as a war of a fight afterward.
Figueroa advances to 22-0-1 (17KO) with the win, netting his first championship (albeit an interim version) in the process. Arakawa falls to 24-3-1 (16KO), having now lost twice in his last three bouts.
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