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Soto Karass Meets Berto (Again)

(Photo © German Villasenor)
(Photo © German Villasenor)

On the night of June 8th at the StubHub Center in Carson, California a rather uneventful (to say the least) fight was taking place inside the ring between junior middleweights Jermell Charlo and Demetrius Hopkins. The boo-birds came out early for this one and it wasn’t difficult for the crowd’s attention to be diverted to the crossing of paths between Jesus Soto Karass and Andre Berto in the lower bowl of the tennis stadium.
Around the third or fourth round of the Charlo-Hopkins snoozer, Berto and his entourage was making their way to their ringside seats when they walked into Soto Karass and his crew. Quickly, this became much more heated than the fight that was being televised by Showtime.

“We were both in the same section; we were by each other and Berto told me, ‘I’ll see you on the 27th [of July]’ and that he was going to beat me. So I said to him in true Sinaloa style that I was going to f**k him up,” said the good-natured Mexican this past Friday afternoon at the Daniel Ponce de Leon Boxing Club in Montebello, California, through an interpreter, Cesar Garcia.
Soto Karass doesn’t speak much English. Berto, we can assume, doesn’t speak much Espanol. So could they understand each other?
“I don’t know but he looked mad and he got up in my face,” said Soto Karass with a chuckle. “So I told him I’m going to f**k him up.” The confrontation quickly gained the attention of the sold-out audience and pretty soon all the focus was on two guys who weren’t scheduled to face each other for another seven weeks at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. But Soto Karass makes it very clear; they weren’t going to throw punches at each other till this weekend (Showtime, 9 p.m., ET/PT). “There wasn’t going to be a fight because of all the people around us. It was just a matter of getting into each other’s faces and going at it verbally, not really fighting.”
Gilbert Valdez, who is part of Soto Karass’ training team, recalled, “Berto had walked by and out of respect, Soto backs up to the wall. We didn’t want to cause no ruckus, no problem and Berto started really talking crap to Soto, telling him he’s going to kick his ass, this and that.”
And soon, the predominantly Mexican crowd was getting roused. Yeah, Berto and his group were outnumbered. “All the Mexicans, all the people were saying, ‘Soto! Soto! Soto!’ They started throwing beers. They had to escort Berto outta there,” said Valdez, laughing.
Now, all that stuff is really just fun and games, great fodder for writers and something for fans to discuss before the actual fight but it’s probably not going to mean much as the touch ‘em-up on Saturday night. Berto is looking to stay relevant on the world-class level (as he’s coming off a loss to Robert Guerrero last November) and the resurgent Soto Karass is looking to be considered a world-class welterweight.
His record, 27-8-3 (17), speaks to the hard road he has traveled in the sport. Oftentimes Soto Karass is brought in as the B-side of the equation. For years, he held journeyman status and was best known for being a sparring mate of Antonio Margarito. Now, after a valiant defeat to the hard-punching Marcos Maidana last September and a surprisingly easy outing against Selcuk Aydin in January, he’s on the verge of actually making some real money.
Yeah, he could be a contenda.
So what changed?
“I give a lot of credit to my new mitt guy, Gilbert, who’s worked with me a lot as far as using more angles and using boxing a little bit more,” says Soto Karass, who is a happy-go-lucky guy, almost to a point of being goofy. He’s a fun guy - sometimes too fun. In the past, discipline - or lack thereof - was an issue. He says now, “I’m a lot more disciplined and a lot more mature. Not just in boxing but in my personal life as well.”
At age 30, Soto Karass knows he’s on the back nine of his career.
“I think he realizes this is it,” said Valdez. “He’s either going to be in this game to make money; become a world champion and stay there or you’re always going to be a space-taker and just be filling in for everybody. You don’t want to be an opponent. You want to be the champion making money.”
Valdez believes the rugged Mexican had settled into being a sparring partner and trial-horse.
“That’s my personal opinion on that,” he answered, “but I think since his last fight, he’s completely changed, his whole persona. He’s not the same person no more. He’s so disciplined now. I’m amazed by that. It’s weird. It’s hard to explain.”
With Soto Karass, your classic, tough, come-forward Mexican fighter, Valdez has worked on…well, “a little bit of everything. Because when I first came with him, he was chaotic. He was very crazy like he just didn’t care. I tried to discipline him, let him know the way he was when he first came into the game when I met him in 2008. He was a boxer, a pure boxer and then he went to banging. I said, ‘I gotta bring that back out of you.’ So he agrees with me.”
OK, Soto Karass is not Vernon Forrest; let’s get that clear but what Valdez wants is a fighter who utilizes his reach and height effectively which he did for much of the fight versus Aydin. He’ll have to employ some of the same mastery of distance and spacing against Berto, who, for all his flaws, has fast hands and power.
“This is the thing,” explained Valdez, “I told him, at the end of the day, he has to box more. He has to take [Berto] into the deep blue sea, which is the late rounds. We get him to the late rounds, I promise you we’re going to beat the hell out of him - guaranteed. Berto is dangerous for the first five, six rounds. We all know that. So the thing is you gotta use your legs a little more; you gotta be smart. You can’t just walk forward like a ‘tonto’ (“fool”); you’re going to get beat up all day.”
There are times when Soto Karass will mix it up with Berto; it’s almost inevitable. The key is to be intelligent about when and where he decides to attack and fight back.
“You gotta be disciplined. You get hit with a hard shot, that’s fine; go back to being smart. Don’t just try to be aggressive; then you run into big shots,” said Valdez.
This should be a fun fight. For all their flaws, both boxers have a history of making good fights and being entertaining. A lot is on the line here. The winner goes on to bigger and better things.
“It’s going to be a hard, tough fight,” said Soto Karass. “He’s a good fighter but it’s going to be hard, not only for me but for Andre Berto too.”
Tim Bradley, who is scheduled to face Juan Manuel Marquez on October 12th in Las Vegas, made it very clear in an interview with ( that if what was agreed to in terms of the drug testing for this fight is not adhered to, there will be no fight.
So without VADA or USADA, there will be nada.
I’m told that Bradley is dead serious about this. And do I think he’s crazy enough to go through with this threat? Well, yeah; I mean, this is a guy who sticks with his convictions. I mean, he still swears up and down he beat Manny Pacquiao last June.
But in all seriousness, if both fighters had agreed to do a certain type of testing and one essentially reneges on that, well, what else needs to be said? I think you have to give Bradley credit for sticking to his guns and perhaps putting a multimillion-dollar payday in jeopardy.
Here’s the latest edition of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly:
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