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Azad Championship Report - Fight Card of the Year

Karass lands on Berto.

All Photos © Tom Casino / SHOWTIME
 By Steve Kim

The Showtime tripleheader from San Antonio, Texas on Saturday night was largely overlooked coming into this past weekend. More than taking place in the midst of a summer slumber from the boxing business (when promoters and networks would rather save their good stuff for the fall months), it had a relative dearth of marquee names or pound-for-pound entrants, which oftentimes are required for the masses to get excited about these cards.

But as the action wrapped up from the AT&T Center, this group of fights was the best threesome in this arena this side of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
In short, it was the best fight card of the year and it will take a whole lot to surpass it.
Thurman lands on Chaves
Thurman wins
The telecast kicked off with Keith Thurman facing Diego Chaves for the latter’s interim WBA welterweight title. Like Thurman, Chaves was a heavy-handed and undefeated fighter but the Argentinean was the decided B-side. He was brought into this contest to test the mettle of “One Time,” who has mowed down a carefully chosen lot of opponents in building a record of 20-0 (18) coming into this fight.
Early on, Chaves troubled Thurman and like his more acclaimed countrymen, Lucas Matthysse and Marcos Maidana, he may not be the most technically sound prizefighter but what he lacks in pure precision or grace, he more than makes up for with aggression and guts. And for the first time in his professional career, we saw Thurman in a defensive posture and backing up. This was a litmus test of sorts for Thurman, who is being groomed for stardom (first on HBO and now on Showtime) and seemingly headed for lucrative match-ups at 147, sooner rather than later.
To his credit, Thurman made some adjustments, used some movement to offset the hard-charging Chaves and then started landing his own leather and consistently beat Chaves to the punch. Soon, Chaves had run out of ideas and a beholden Thurman resumed his customary role as the predator. He floored his foe in the ninth and then finished him with a hard left to Chaves’ gut in the 10th.
It was the type of test every young contender needs. He was pushed hard and yet still came out on top. On this particular night, Thurman showed that perhaps he’s not just a one-trick pony with his power and has the extra dimensions to have some real staying power in this business.
He ended his night by telling the crowd that he truly enjoyed his time in San Diego before being quickly corrected by his handlers that he was, in fact, in San Antonio (now, if there was ever a “Wanna get away?” moment, this was it. It would be an injustice if Thurman doesn’t land an endorsement deal with Southwest Airlines).
Regardless of where he is, Thurman showed he could go places.
Omar Figueroa lands on Nihito Arakawa
Omar Figueroa shows of bloody nose
For all intents and purposes, the second fight of this broadcast was the main event given the large majority of this announced crowd (near 9,000) came to see Omar Figueroa (who hails from Weslaco, Texas, approximately a five-hour jaunt from San Antonio) face an unknown Japanese fighter by the name of Nihito Arakawa.
And while Arakawa was an anonymous figure before this fight, his heart and courage won’t soon be forgotten. Versus the power-hitting Figueroa (whose first two appearances of 2013 didn’t even go into the second round) he took a frightful beating over 12 rounds. Not only was Arakawa knocked down in the second and sixth innings but he was battered throughout all 36 minutes of this contest. The violence and bloodshed was not only exhilarating but downright frightful. We expect a lot out of our modern-day gladiators and watching Arakawa, whose never-say-die spirit was reminiscent of the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II, you wondered if we were all enjoying this spectacle a bit too much. We like to think of ourselves as a civilized society but sometimes, our very base instincts take over. For better or worse, our bloodthirst on this night would be satisfied.
Perhaps it’s a bit macabre to say that, like those airmen who fought for Hideki Tojo, for Arakawa, there would be death before dishonor. But there was simply going to be no capitulation from Arakawa or his corner, who kept sending their man out there round after round in a fight he was falling hopelessly behind in. That’s not to say this incredibly brave Japanese warrior didn’t have his moments (looking at the bloody visage of Figueroa, you know he was in a vicious brawl) but he was simply outgunned by his younger, stronger foe.
There was some talk of Figueroa perhaps participating on the Saul Alvarez-Floyd Mayweather undercard on September 14th but those plans probably went by the wayside around the middle-to-late rounds of this fight as Arakawa simply refused to go away gently into the summer night. Figueroa is a hit-and-be-hit fighter. Fights like the one he just partook in aren’t great for his long-term future as a fighter. But y’ know what? That’s a huge part of his appeal. In an era when too many fighters and their handlers are more concerned about staying undefeated and playing it safe, there is something refreshing about a young pugilist so willing to give something of himself each and every time he goes out there.
Could this young man - who’s just 23 - be the Arturo Gatti of the “Lone Star State”?
I can’t wait to find out.
And finally, while it seemed Andre Berto and Jesus Soto Karass had the unenviable task of following Figueroa-Arakawa (which will certainly be a part of “Fight of the Year” discussions), it didn’t have problems carrying the momentum built by the first two featured bouts on Showtime.
To many observers, Berto is what is wrong with today’s boxing business. He’s the pampered prizefighter, who, by benefit of being on the Al Haymon Scholarship, collected exorbitant paydays on HBO (where he earned high-six-figure paydays for facing the likes of Freddie Hernandez, among other forgettables). Once again, by virtue of his contacts, he found himself as the featured performer on Showtime against a hard-working Mexican, brought in to provide a decent test but ultimately lose. It would then provide Berto with a bounce-back victory as he went onto more lucrative opportunities.
But nobody told Soto Karass about this master plan and from the very beginning, he just simply outfought and outboxed Berto. Starting in the first round, he hit Berto (who still seems to have a bit of an identity crisis in the ring) with overhand rights and was persistent on the inside in banging downstairs to the Berto’s chiseled physique, then mixing in accurate uppercuts that snapped his head back. The Showtime announcing crew was all too willing to bring up Berto’s shoulder injury but it has to be pointed out, Soto Karass was consistently hitting and hurting Berto long before the former welterweight titleholder started complaining about it.
Soto Karass
Berto scored a knockdown halfway through round 11. While it may have looked like Berto was building a rally, it actually hastened Soto Karass to press the gas pedal in a fight where it looked like he was cruising to a wide decision (he wasn’t). He buzzed Berto a couple of times before the end of the 11th frame and then started the final inning quickly, landing a left hook that floored Berto, who got up early but wobbled on his unsteady pins. Referee Jon Schorle quickly decided to wave off the fight.
It’s clear that, other than Lindsay Lohan, nobody has had more failed rehabilitation stints than Berto, who took the measure of dumping his longtime trainer, Tony Morgan, for the services of Virgil Hunter. Now Hunter is finding out it’s much more difficult to be profound in the corner without an Andre Ward to send out.
All at once, Berto was a beneficiary and victim of having Haymon on his side. Yes, he was fast-tracked to premium cable and its hefty license fees but in return, he was allowed to bypass many of the same hard steps that forge fighters with any real staying power at the world-class level. Lessons against the likes of Luis Collazo were his exception and not the rule. Now Berto finds himself as an incomplete fighter who has failed to resonate with the public (which is perhaps the legacy of the Ross Greenburg-Kery Davis regime, as they recklessly funded such careers during their leadership at HBO).
He is now relegated to being a fighter who’s on the short side of fun fights, where he takes rather horrific beatings. Berto’s 29 but it’s an old 29. In comparison, he’s kind of like an automobile that’s only five years old but has 200,000 miles on it. He has now lost three of his last four (his lone winning coming against the rather ordinary Jan Zaveck) and even Haymon’s influence can only carry him so far.
In his defense, when Berto fights again, I’ll be there to watch it. Hey, the guy has been in some entertaining scraps but his limitations put him in harm’s way. Question is, while we can certainly take it, how many more can Berto stand?
But what a night, huh? It was a night that featured fights before fighters. Perhaps a lesson is there to be learned. While there are larger, higher-profile fights on the horizon in what has been a very good year for boxing, it says here that it will take a lot to surpass what took place on July 27th, 2013 in San Antonio.
At the time of the stoppage, somehow the Soto Karass-Berto fight was a split draw with Cathy Leonard having Berto on top by a score of 105-103, Hubert Munn scoring it 104-104 and Michael Mitchell seeing it 105-103 for Soto Karass.
Personally, going into the 12th, I had Soto Karass up by five points. I think most unbiased observers probably had it around the same neighborhood. It’s a good thing that Soto Karass decided to take things into his own hands.
Just remember the names of Leonard and Munn moving forward. Keep your eyes on them and their scorecards.
So Andre Ward and his reps want HBO to green-light the likes of Dimitri Sartison or Caleb Truax for his return to the network, huh? Geez, they really are trying to replicate Roy Jones here; aren’t they?
I’m told the network is resisting (thankfully) but it’s very simple; if Ward and his people feel they need to fight somebody such as Sartison and Truax, there is nothing keeping them from financing a smaller pay-per-view by themselves. Other promoters have been forced to do this in the past and if Ward and his people think he is the star they swear he is, well, let’s see his true market value.
But financing this on HBO’s dime? 
As an HBO subscriber, I hope they pass.
As Showtime just proved, it’s fights over fighters.
To anyone thinking of going to the Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios fight in Macao on November 23rd, here’s the information you’ll need (from a Top Rank press release):
Tickets, priced from $1,275 to $115, and various ticket-hotel packages at Sands China’s Cotai Strip Resorts Macao, go on sale this Monday! July 29, at 10:00 a.m. local time (Sunday, July 28, at 10:00 p.m. ET).  Boxing fans can purchase tickets online and get complete information at
In Macao, Juan Francisco Estrada and Evgeny Gradovich proved they will consistently make for pretty good fights...Zou Shiming looked improved in his second outing but I still don’t think he has that high of a professional ceiling...Funny how the guy from Japan, Arakawa, thanked the right U.S. city but Thurman didn’t...Folks, don’t mess with Johnny Manziel on Twitter. He will torch you like he did the ‘Bama defense...So Greg Jennings is no longer BFFs with Aaron Rodgers?...Speaking of Twitter, did anyone see the hashtag started by @Pacman453323, #ThingsMorePopularThanWard? Funny stuff...Big injury for the Ravens with tight end Dennis Pitta. This is a huge loss for “Cool” Joe Flacco...

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