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Berto/Soto Karass Ringsider Notebook

Kelsey McCarson

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DSC 0627Jesus Soto Karass was as happy as any fighter I’d ever seen at the post fight press conference last Saturday night after he defeated former titlist Andre Berto. He told those in attendance he was ready for whatever fight Golden Boy Promotions had for him next, and we should probably believe him. Why? Because the hard puncher from Los Mochis, Mexico has now won two bouts in a row against men he was a clear underdog against. First, he outpointed Selcuck Aydin in January. Next, he put a sheer beat- down on a talented fighter in Andre Berto who absolutely had to win in order to stay in the title hunt.

The scores were way closer than they should have been, but Soto Karass (pictured above, in photo courtesy of Rachel McCarson) didn’t leave it up to the three blind mice at ringside so it did not matter. (At the time of the stoppage, Cathy Leonard had it 105-103 for Berto, Hubert Minn scored it at 104-104, and Michael Mitchell had Soto Karass just two points ahead at 105-103.) In the final round, after his corner told him to box from the outside and play it safe, the angry warrior told them to take a hike. He went right after Berto because he felt he had been hit with a low blow that put him to the canvas in the previous round.

Soto Karass clocked Berto with a left hook straight to the mug, and though the brave hitter got to his feet, his starry eyes and wobbly legs told the truth of the matter to referee Jon Schorle: he was out on his feet. The fight was stopped.

Soto Karass grabbed the career defining win by TKO in the final round in impressive fashion. In fact, to these eyes it deserved the ten thousand dollar knockout bonus of night Golden Boy instead gave to Keith Thurman, but Karass didn’t seem to mind too much. He laughed it off at the podium when Golden Boy V.P. Eric Gomez told him he didn’t win it, likely knowing he had much bigger things in store for him after his tremendously exciting win over Berto.

And he absolutely deserves it.

The Demise of Andre Berto?

Former welterweight titleholder Andre Berto came into the fight Saturday looking to get back on track after a tough loss to Robert Guerrero in his previous bout. After all, Soto Karass was generally thought of as tough but otherwise unremarkable and ultimately beatable contender.

But Soto Karass was brilliant against Berto, who simply was beat down by a more aggressively-minded offensive fighter who just plain decided he’d take the fight right to the wannabe slickster.

Andre Berto is as tremendous athlete. He’s gritty, tough and fights with real determination. His performance, which essentially boiled down to him fighting with the full use of just one of his arms for over half the night, was admirable. The man has courage.

But his approach to the sweet science is just plain wrong. Berto wants to be a slick counterpuncher. He wants to use his athletic prowess to be hard to hit. The only problem, of course, is that Andre Berto is not hard to hit at all. In fact, his face seems a virtual magnet for almost any fist that comes near it. Ask Victor Ortiz. Ask Robert Guerrero. Ask Jesus Soto Karass.

Berto is at his best when he’s aggressive. When he lays back and tries to play defense, he ends up getting pummeled to the point of needing to respond. It’s true; he always does respond to his pummeling, and that’s good. To that end, he’s virtually incapable of being in a bad fight it seems. But by that time he’s taken far too many punches without inflicting any real damage of his own. That just won’t work in the long haul.

If Andre Berto wants to compete for an alphabet title again, he needs to accept what he is: a hard punching, athletic offensive fighter with grit and determination. His career might be shorter fighting this way, but its apex will be much higher and his earnings, too.

Let Them Fight!

Fight fans were treated to a brutally devout display of boxing by lightweights Omar Figueroa and Nihito Arakawa on Saturday night. It was the sweetest form of savagery the sport of boxing has to offer. Neither man relented, no matter how many punches were thrown and landed.

And there were many, many punches.

After the torrid, bloody affair had ended, one giddy ringsider from Showtime (who shall not be named) peered back to us on press row with an eerie sort of bloodlust in his eyes.

“They threw over 2100 punches combined,” he half-yelled at us.

Like our nameless ringsider, the rest of us in attendance that night were honored to be ringside to see such a display of courage and determination. Honored.

The undefeated Figueroa looked to be on his way to a quick win early. He punished Arakawa with hard hooks and uppercuts right down to the canvas in the second round. The Japanese fighter was clearly overmatched.

Or was he?

Soon, it was Arakawa standing toe-to-toe with Figueroa again right in the center of the ring. And that’s where he stayed. They were whirling dervishes trapped inside of a phone booth, except that they were bloody and mean to each other. It was a fight for the ages.

Figueroa landed the harder shots at a much higher percentage on the night. He was clearly winning the fight as it progressed. But Arakawa is as tough as they come, maybe even tougher. He would not relent, would not give in. There were times when even Figueroa seemed impressed with how gritty his opponent was.

“The first round was busy as hell,” Michael Woods aptly penned here for TSS.

And so was the second. And the third, the fourth, the fifth…the entire fight was busy as hell.

It was truly an amazing spectacle to witness firsthand. When the bell finally rang to end the madness in the twelfth, the entire row of press I was seated with stood up an applauded. As you know, it is uncouth for press members to do such a thing, especially if it is for one fighter or another. But this was not that. This was applause for two gallant warriors doing what they are supposed to do: fight brilliantly and without fear.

To that end, there are always those among us who seem to have a background in medicine or something. Or maybe they’re just experts at all things boxing? I don’t know, but I do know they come out of the woodworks on social media when men fight each other in this way. And they always beg for the fight to be stopped. They are sometimes right, these people. I’ll give them that.

But they were wrong on this night.

Look, I am all for protecting the fighters from themselves. That’s a very important part of boxing that should never, ever be overlooked. But here was a case of two men giving there all in a very competitive fight. Sure, Arakawa wasn’t winning on the scorecards, but he hurt Figueroa multiple times in the fight right up until the very end of the bout. This was no snuff film. The men were matched well together, and both had their chances to win.

The point of all this? Let them fight. It’s what they want to do, so let them. That’s what oft-maligned referee Laurence Cole did on Saturday night and it was the right call. At no time was Arakawa stumbling around the ring after the bell not knowing where to go. Was he bruised? Yes. Bloodied? Yes. Was his life in any more danger than any other prizefighter on fight night? No.

But if you believe you have the authority to tell the fighter, his corner, the referee and the ringside doctor to stop the fight because you just can’t stand seeing the guts and the gore, then maybe boxing just isn’t for you.

Because boxing is about hurting people.

Rise of the Thurman-ator

Perhaps lost in the shuffle Saturday night in San Antonio was the standout performance by undefeated welterweight prospect Keith Thurman. He was cool, calm and confident in his battle with the previously undefeated Diego Chaves.

Better yet, he displayed poise, power and the ability to adjust to what was in front of him on fight night, something all fighters must do if they are to become world champions. Through the first three rounds of the fracas, Chaves was taking it to Thurman with an aggressive approach that featured powerful combinations.

The Argentine had never lost before and it showed, and it was easy to see why he had knocked out 18 of his 22 opponents. But Thurman started looking to counter Chaves as he came inside, and he kept a jab in the Argentinean’s face while he figured out how to do it best. Soon, it was Thurman landing the meaningful blows. Soon, it was Thurman throwing powerful combinations.

He put Chaves down in the ninth round and cold cocked him in the tenth after he bent the brave challenger over with a devastating body blow. It was brutally effective, and it made a believer out of anyone on press row who had previously doubted Thurman as a serious contender.

The kid can fight.

Anthony Dirrell Wins Again

Undefeated light heavyweight Anthony Dirrell was back in action for the second time this year Saturday night. It was the fighter’s second bout since breaking his leg in a 2012 motorcycle accident. The 28-year-old prospect and younger brother of former Olympian Andre Dirrell has been resilient in his short but beleaguered career.

In early 2007, Dirrell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and forced to undergo chemotherapy. Dirrell was out of the ring for almost two years then, but returned in October of 2008 before being sidelined again by the accident.

Dirrell made quick work of former prospect Anthony Hanshaw, whose soft body couldn’t have been helpful against the hard punching Dirrell. After Dirrell delivered the knockout blow in the third, he literally did a standing back flip in the center of the ring in celebration.

So it seems the leg is fine.

Speaking of the untelevised portion of the evening, those bouts began at 4:30 PM local time. The timing was a bit askew, though, and there was more than an hour lull between the untelevised undercard and the start of the Showtime broadcast. Of course, fans and media members who were miffed by the hour of nothingness quickly forgave the promoters when one of the finest fight cards of the year took place right before their very eyes.

How good was it? Showtime’s Al Bernstein (who had the best seat in the house) said it was one of the best cards he’d ever announced.

“All six fighters did the sport proud,” he said.

Follow @KelseyMcCarson on Twitter.

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132,000-Plus….A Boxing Attendance Record Unlikely to Ever be Broken

Bernard Fernandez

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You always hear that records are meant to be broken, but, barring a stunning change in national policy by a Communist country unwelcoming to outsiders, the 132,000-plus that turned out to see Julio Cesar Chavez pummel Greg Haugen on Feb. 20 1993, at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca likely will forever stand first for live attendance for a boxing event.

Chavez’s intentionally cruel thrashing of the lippy Haugen enabled the Mexican national hero variously known as “JC Superstar” and El Gran Campeon to successfully defend his WBC super lightweight title for the 10th time. That fight was the capper to an incredibly deep card dubbed the “Grand Slam of Boxing” by promoter Don King, which also featured title retentions by such top-shelf attractions as Azumah Nelson, Terry Norris and Michael Nunn. But make no mistake, those outstanding fighters – Nelson and Norris, like Chavez, have been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame – merely served as fillers until the main event. The massive crowd might have been nearly as large and boisterous had the only scheduled bout been the white-hatted Chavez vs. Haugen, the presumptive American villain.

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The announced attendance of 132,247 for a showdown fast approaching its 27th anniversary shattered the previous high for a boxing event, the 120,470 that filled Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Stadium on Sept. 23, 1926, to see Gene Tunney lift Jack Dempsey’s heavyweight title on a 10-round unanimous decision. (A crowd estimated at 135,000 turned up in a public park in Milwaukee to see Tony Zale fight Billy Pryor on Aug. 16, 1941, but that doesn’t count as there was bleacher seating for only a few thousand and the event was free for everyone.)

The recent incidence of stadium bouts with impressively large gatherings – 90,000 jammed London’s Wembley Stadium on April 29, 2017, to watch Great Britain’s Anthony Joshua retain his WBA and IBF heavyweight titles on an 11th-round TKO of long-reigning previous champion Wladimir Klitschko – hints at more large throngs willing to leave the comfort of their living rooms to see live boxing, but no promoter can fit a gallon into a quart bottle. Live attendance at least partially hinges on how much space there is in a place, and there is only one stadium that presently has a seating capacity larger than that of Estadio Azteca in 1993. That would be Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, which has a capacity of 150,000. But that huge facility is used primarily as a means of the country’s populace dutifully assembling for the purpose of feeding the ego of dictator Kim Jong Un.

It’s a sharp drop from Rungrado 1st of May Stadium to the 110,000-seat capacity of Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in India, known mostly as a cricket venue, and the 107,601-seat Michigan Stadium, the “Big House” of college football in the United States. Sesquicentennial Stadium (later known as John F. Kennedy Stadium) was demolished in 1992, and even Estadio Azteca, which was erected to host the soccer matches at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, has been downsized, having undergone renovations in 1999, 2013 and 2016. It now lists a capacity of “only” 87,523.

All of which likely stamps Chavez-Haugen as a pugilistic equivalent to Woodstock as a you-had-to-be-there human magnet in the estimation of renowned ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr., whose memories of the literally biggest event he ever worked are as vivid now as they were then.

“I can’t remember if they had large projection screens like they do now, but I’m assuming they didn’t have them then,” recalled Lennon, who joined referee Joe Cortez in sharing their recollections for this story. “Here you had this vast sea of people.  I saw these little fires high up in the stands. People brought their own food and were cooking way up in the more distant seats. I remember thinking this was more of a mass celebration than just a sporting event. Whether or not a lot of people could really see much down in the ring, it certainly seemed that they were enjoying themselves. It was kind of like the huge crowd for Woodstock; just being there was a huge part of it.”

Cortez, now 76 and retired from refereeing, said he also was amazed by the gargantuan crowd.

“Walking into the stadium that day was like walking into a different world,” he said. “You had to be there to believe it, an event with that many fans, almost all of them rooting for Chavez.

“When Chavez was making his walk to the ring, the cheers were so incredibly loud I almost had to cover my ears, and the boos for Haugen when he was making his walk to the ring were just about as loud. It was an intense feeling, I think, for everybody. I knew it was for me. I never had been in a situation like that. I remember thinking, `What the hell can the people in the seats farthest away from the ring see, unless they have binoculars? The fighters must have seemed like two little ants, with me the third ant, in a tiny box. I knew then it was going to be an experience I would remember the rest of my life, and I still feel that way.”

Even though Chavez was and is the most popular Mexican fighter ever, the scene might not have been so incredibly jam-packed or emotional were not for the opponent. The ill will Chavez harbored toward Haugen, a onetime “Tough Man” contestant who had risen above those humble circumstances to win titles at both lightweight and super lightweight, was palpable, and had been simmering for three years. Each new affront by Haugen only served to harden JCC’s determination to someday make him pay.

The feud began behind closed doors, when Haugen showed up at a Chavez sparring session. As Chavez left the ring, Haugen approached him and sneeringly said that his sparring partners were “nothing but young little girls with dresses on.”

“I hated him from that moment on,” Chavez would later say, with Haugen seemingly enjoying any occasion by which he could verbally torment a fighter who the trash-talking antagonist knew would represent his biggest payday.

The stakes were raised on Dec. 13, 1992, moments after Chavez had scored a sixth-round TKO of Marty Jakubowski at The Mirage in Las Vegas. Haugen entered the ring and again confronted Chavez, telling him that his 84-0, with 72 wins inside the distance, had been crafted against “Tijuana taxi drivers that my mom could whip.” But this insult was heard on television, a flung gauntlet that Chavez was only too glad to pick up. He would make Haugen, who came in 32-4-1 with 16 KO victories, regret such impudence.

“I will not have mercy on you,” Chavez told Haugen. “I will rip your head off.”

King immediately realized that this fight called for the biggest possible setting, and what could be bigger than Estadio Azteca? His Hairness played up the revenge angle to the hilt, which was to be expected, except that it wasn’t standard pre-fight hype this time. Chavez, who was known to inflict as much pain as possible on any opponent who did not pay him his due as a great fighter, was on a mission to hurt and humiliate Haugen more so than anyone he had faced. There is little doubt that Chavez’s making the bout personal imbued his many supporters with the determination to be there so they could someday regale their children and grandchildren with the tale of how they witnessed their glorious knight slay the impudent dragon.

“I arrived very early at the stadium, maybe 1 p.m. or 1:30,” Lennon recalled. “I was in my tuxedo and practicing my announcements, but even then, maybe nine hours before the main event went on, there had to be 15,000 people in the stands. They were cheering as I practiced my introduction of Chavez. It’s always kind of awkward to practice your introductions in an empty arena, but it sure wasn’t empty then. Of course, all 132,000 hadn’t shown up either.”

Cortez, as was the case with almost everyone there except the few hardy souls who had come to support Haugen, figured Chavez to win. But what if the brash underdog from Washington state pulled off the upset that could spoil the festive mood of all those JCC supporters?

“The security was unbelievable,” Cortez said. “There were so many police officers and military people with their plastic shields, and a lot of them had German Shepherds on leashes. If a riot broke out, which nobody wanted, the security people were ready, but how ready could they have been with a crowd that big?”

Fortunately for all concerned, maybe even Haugen, the hordes of Chavez fans who had come anticipating another sterling performance by their hero got it, which enabled all of them to go home happy. Chavez dropped Haugen with an overhand right just 25 seconds into the first round, the first time the challenger had been decked as a pro, and he might have finished him off shortly thereafter had he pressed the issue. But Chavez eased his foot off the gas pedal, the better to do what he had vowed to do, which was to prolong the pain he was so intent on dishing out. That plan must have been obvious to everyone, even to the folks in the nosebleed section who paid only 5,000 pesos for their bargain tickets, then the equivalent of about $1.65 U.S.

“He has no way to keep Julio Cesar Chavez off, except mercy on the part of Chavez, and he has none,” TV commentator Ferdie Pacheco said of the systematic disassembly of a fighter who had no chance of winning but was too proud and determined to quit.

“I remember the way Chavez punished Haugen to the body instead of getting him out of there quickly,” Lennon said. “But that was the way Chavez was. You had the sense he was controlling every moment of the fight and could have ended it whenever he wanted to.”

Finally, after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 2 seconds in the fifth, Chavez decided Haugen had had enough. Or maybe it was the compassionate Cortez who chose to intervene, wrapping his arms around the valiant but thoroughly beaten-up American.

Asked what he thought about all those “Tijuana taxi drivers” who he had characterized as Chavez victims, Haugen said, “They must have been very tough taxi drivers.”

No fight is made memorable solely by the number of butts occupying the seats. Upon reflection, Chavez vs. Haugen was utter domination of a good fighter by a clearly superior one. There have been many of those in the annals of the sport. But still …

“That is definitely one fight I won’t forget,” Lennon said. “When people ask me about the most memorable fights I’ve done, that one is right up there. If it isn’t No. 1, it’s pretty close, if only for the size of the crowd.”

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Ryan Garcia’s Thunderous KO Tops This Week’s Installment of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Ryan Garcia’s Thunderous KO Tops This Week’s Installment of HITS and MISSES

There was plenty to love about boxing over Valentine’s Day weekend. Heck, there were even a few reasons to feel jilted over what might have been. But the biggest story was that boxing absolutely delivered the goods just before the world was turning its full attention toward this weekend’s huge rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.

Yep, Cupid slung plenty of arrows at boxing fans over the past couple of days. Here are his biggest HITS and MISSES.

HIT – Ryan Garcia’s Thunderous Valentine’s Day KO 

Heartthrob lightweight contender Ryan Garcia has over 5 million followers on Instagram, hangs around with other social media influencers/invaders like Logan and Jake Paul, and seems to be the biggest hit with the ladies in boxing since his promoter Oscar De La Hoya cut a musical album back in 2000.

But Garcia sure can fight, and that’s something that cannot be denied after seeing him shockingly knock out Francisco Fonseca in the first round of the main event of a Valentine’s Day special card showcased on DAZN Friday night in Anaheim, Calif. Garcia looked sensational, and the 21-year-old should only keep getting better under the tutelage of Canelo Alvarez’s trainer Eddy Reynoso. What a win it was for Garcia, and what huge statement the fighter made as he seeks to become boxing’s next big thing.

MISS – IBF’s Silly Super Middleweight Rankings 

German super middleweight Vincent Feigenbutz found himself with the opportunity of a lifetime on Saturday night in his main event battle against IBF titleholder Caleb Plant in Nashville, Tenn. The 24-year-old had only competed in fights on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean during his nine-year professional boxing career, and most of those were in his home country. But thanks to the IBF’s 168-pound rankings, which amazingly rated the one-loss fighter with no notable wins in the division at No. 3, Feigenbutz found himself with a huge chance to become the first German fighter to win a world title in the U.S. since Max Schmeling defeated Jack Sharkey in 1930.

The problem, of course, was the Feigenbutz was nowhere near ready for such a huge leap up in competition. That could easily be seen just from the 10 seconds of mitt work Fox showed the fighter doing before he headed into the ring on fight night. Look, it makes sense for the PBC, Fox and everyone else involved to operate within boxing’s current system, even if it’s an incredibly flawed one. But Plant vs. Feigenbutz was a silly mismatch that couldn’t possibly do anything for anyone beyond getting Plant paid for one easy night of work.

HIT – Abel Ramos’ Fantastic Final Round Effort Lands Fighter Epic Comeback KO

Welterweight Bryant Perrella was in control of the fight and on his way to scoring the unanimous decision victory over Abel Ramos on Saturday night on Fox’s Plant-Feigenbutz card. Perrella was ahead on all three scorecards entering the 10th round for good reason. According to CompuBox, for example, Perrella had the 200-79 edge in total connected punches.

But Ramos wasn’t prepared to let those last three minutes run off the clock without doing his best to nab the unlikely victory. He knocked Perrella down midway through the last round, then finished him off during the final seconds of the fight. It was an incredible display of fortitude.

Much was made afterward about referee Jack Reiss stopping the contest with just one second left on the clock. But I’d rather give credit here to Ramos for throwing the kitchen sink at his opponent when he had to know the odds were completely stacked against him.

MISS – Fighters Not Listening to Their Corners

Fighters aren’t really capable of judging fights while they participate in them, but 24-year-old lightweight Austin Dulay had the hometown gig against 33-year-old veteran Diego Magdaleno in Tennessee and absolutely should have been listening to his corner on fight night. Had he done that, Dulay would at least not have offered such a quizzical look on his face after judges turned in their scorecards in favor of Magdaleno. The elder had been busier, better and more active for most of the fight. Dulay can act as shocked as he wants over the scores after the fact, but what should really shock him is his own lack of attention to the simple act of listening to his corner’s instructions during the fight.

Magdaleno was winning the fight. Dulay’s corner told him that. Dulay didn’t change a thing to his approach.

HIT – Immediate Promotion of Ryan Garcia vs. Jorge Linares Summer Showdown

Former lightweight champion Jorge Linares returned to American soil on the undercard of Garcia-Fonseca, and the idea put forth by the DAZN crew was that if both Garcia and Linares won their fights, the two would meet in May. So, the apparent promotion of each man’s next fight started well before they even won on Friday night and kept going after each fighter delivered the goods.

Garcia appears to be a runaway train type of talent that could become a huge crossover star. But Linares has the talent, experience and punching power to stop that train in its tracks. Well done by DAZN, Golden Boy Promotions and the two fighters for getting the hype on the proposed Garcia-Linares going so early. It’s a big fight made even bigger by that smart approach.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan, Hogan Photos / Golden Boy Promotions

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Three Punch Combo: Two Intriguing Prelims on the Wilder-Fury Card and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Wilder-Fury II fight week is upon us and there will certainly be plenty of stories written about the remarkable comeback of Tyson Fury. But Fury is not the only comeback story this week. On the undercard as part of the televised pre-show leading up to the PPV event, Amir Imam (22-2, 19 KO’s) will look for his second straight win following a lengthy layoff after losing to Jose Ramirez in their 140-pound title fight in March of 2018.

Comeback stories in boxing come in many forms. Some, like Fury’s, derive from battling personal demons outside the ring. Some come from fighters suddenly figuring the game out after being seemingly vanquished to permanent journeyman status. Think of Orlando Salido and Tevin Farmer. And finally, some come from once promising fighters rebounding from setbacks that turned them into an afterthought in the sport. This is where Amir Imam falls.

Imam (pictured) is an afterthought at the moment. But as I have harped about on several occasions, just because a fighter suffers a setback or even multiple setbacks, that does not necessarily mean they should be seen as afterthoughts. Sometimes setbacks actually become a blessing in disguise.

Let’s not forget that Imam was a highly decorated amateur. He nearly qualified for the 2012 Olympics but was in the unfortunate position of fighting in the same weight class as Errol Spence Jr.

Early in his pro career, Imam showcased a telephone pole-like jab that was mindful of the jab of former welterweight champion Ike Quartey. Often freezing opponents in their footsteps, Imam often worked thunderous pinpoint combinations behind this jab. He had skill, power and speed. It is easy to see why so many, myself included, thought Imam could not only win a world title one day but become a superstar.

Remember just two-and-a-half years into his pro career Imam easily out boxed Yordenis Ugas in winning a wide eight-round unanimous decision. Fast-forward six years later and Ugas has turned into one of the best welterweights in the sport. That win by Imam showed just how good a fighter he can be.

In November of 2015, Imam was one step away from a title fight when he was upset by Adrian Granados in what was supposed to be a tune-up fight. Granados was a vastly underrated fighter at that time and Imam looked somewhat unprepared for the storm that he encountered that night.

Two-and-a-half years later, Imam held his own while losing a unanimous decision to Jose Ramirez. After this bout, a legal battle ensued with his then promoter Don King that caused an extended ring absence. Imam is now aligned with Top Rank.

Many in boxing have all but given up on Imam. But the talent that we saw when he was coming up the ladder is still there. And that was evident last November when in his first fight back from the Ramirez loss, he impressively knocked out Marcos Mojica.

On Saturday, Imam will be in the ring with Javier Molina (21-2, 9 KO’s) who is coming off an upset first- round knockout of Hiroki Okada. The fight is at a catch-weight of 142 pounds. Molina is a solid pro and an impressive win by Imam would put him back on the map. Not only do I expect an impressive performance by Imam here but I think he will one day soon complete his own comeback bid and become a world champion.

Who is Jeo Santisima?

On the pay-per-view portion of the Wilder-Fury II undercard, boxing’s busiest champion Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26 KO’s) will defend his WBO 122-pound title against the organization’s number five ranked contender in Jeo Santisima (19-2, 16 KO’s) of the Philippines. So, who is Santisima and does he pose any threat to Navarrete?

Santisima, 23, turned pro when he was 16 and has had all 21 of his fights in the Philippines. He began his career 2-2 but since then has reeled off 17 straight wins.

To put it mildly, Santisima has been in with soft competition. Even the most hardcore boxing fan would be hard-pressed to recognize any names on his resume. His best win on paper was a first- round knockout in 2017 of Goodluck Mrema who was then 16-0. Mrema has lost four more fights since then, including three by knockout.

There is actually quite a bit of footage available of Santisima on YouTube. He is an orthodox fighter who is a boxer-puncher by trade. He has a decent left jab and will look to work combinations behind that punch. Santisima also will sit back and look to counter. Again, against limited opposition, he has shown an ability to bait his opposition into throwing by using subtle feints to set up counter opportunities.

Santisima is fairly athletic. His hand speed is average, but he appears to possess heavy-handed power in both fists. I’d say his best punch is his left hook. It is often delivered short, quick and compact. He has hurt opponents to both the head and body with that punch.

One major flaw in Santisima’s game is that when he jabs, he often gets lazy when bringing it back. He has been clipped a few times when doing this and will need to correct this flaw to stand any chance against Navarrete.

I initially dismissed Santisima’s chances in this fight, but after watching him on YouTube, I suspect he may surprise some people. We all know Navarrete is a punching machine. But by throwing so many punches, Navarrete is somewhat susceptible to counter shots. With Santisima being a decent counterpuncher with heavy hands, I can see him landing some damaging punches. And that left hook, in my opinion, is for real.

Everything considered, I think Santisima will, at the least, make the fight with Navarrete entertaining for the fans. Yes, there is a good chance he may get overwhelmed but as long as he is standing, he will be dangerous and make things fun.

An Interesting Option for Diego Magdaleno

Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KO’s) put a spark in his career when he won a clear 10-round unanimous decision over Austin Dulay (13-2, 10 KO’s) in a lightweight contest this past Saturday. Coming on national television, the win will certainly get Magdaleno another opportunity. And putting my matchmaker hat on for a second, I see one very interesting option out there for him.

Back in January, I was ringside at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY to watch one time can’t-miss prospect Felix Verdejo in action against journeyman Manuel Rey Rojas. The prevailing thought at ringside was “don’t blink” with the expectation that Verdejo would dispatch Rojas quickly and in a spectacular fashion.

Instead, Verdejo looked sluggish in coasting to a wide unanimous decision victory. The fight looked like a glorified sparring session and the explosiveness we once saw in the early portion of Verdejo’s career was once again non-existent. Despite the win, Verdejo’s stock continued to plummet.

Top Rank, Verdejo’s promoter, needs to find out what they have in Verdejo once and for all. There is no need to match him anymore with the Manuel Rey Rojas’ of the world. Verdejo needs a step-up and Magdaleno fits the bill.

Could Verdejo lose to Magdaleno? The answer is a resounding yes. But could Magdaleno with his aggressive style bring out the best in Verdejo? The answer is also a resounding yes.

Verdejo vs. Magdaleno would be a perfect co-feature to the big title unification fight that Top Rank is planning in the spring.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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