Preview/Bettors’ Guide — Berto-Soto-Karass and More

A certain author who shall remain nameless wrote an article for this website a few weeks ago which explained that boxing fans should watch a UFC Pay Per View featuring Chris Weidman’s knock out victory over Anderson Silva because the upcoming summer boxing calendar was sparse. Looking at the time period from Friday, July 19 until Saturday, July 27, one could say that writer is an idiot. Okay, I admit it, that writer was me and I may have been exaggerating the lack of boxing on the calendar.

This past Friday, both ESPN and Showtime televised boxing. Both cards were thought to be rather non-descript affairs. However, Hank Lundy turned in a strong performance in upsetting Ajose Olesegun and possibly put himself in line for a bigger fight in the loaded 140 pound division. Almost simultaneously, John Molina, Jr. showcased the power, glory and beauty of everything that is right with boxing and sports when, after losing practically every round against the undefeated Mickey Bey, Jr., he landed a monster left hook and followed it up to stop Bey with a minute left in the final round. Molina, who had lost two of his last three, one by 44 second knock out and the other an upset decision loss, didn’t just snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with his “ten run homerun” shot, he practically saved his career.

Saturday will feature somewhere around 8-10 televised bouts. In the afternoon, HBO2 will air a card from the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort Hotel in Macau, China. Note that the card will be on tape-delay so avoid the internet and social media if you do not want to know the results before viewing the card. In the “main event,” two-time Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming (1-0) will make his second professional appearance when he faces Jesus Ortega (3-1) in a six round flyweight bout. Quotations are used around main event because it is quite odd to see a one fight veteran top a bill that includes two title fights and a bout between unbeaten heavyweights. However, it is Zou who will draw the crowd in China and the economic muscle he provides has gotten these bouts on television in the US. The most interesting thing about Zou-Ortega will be if Zou can show improvement in adapting to the professional game. In his pro debut in April, Zou threw slapping type arm punches aimed at piling up points rather than inflicting any damage. He also moved quite a bit. His trainer, Freddie Roach, was specifically hired to make Zou an entertaining pro-style fighter but even the five-time trainer of the year has admitted that doing so with a fighter who was an amateur fighter through three sets of Olympic games is no easy feat. Otherwise, there is no reason to be interested in the bout… Ortega was picked out of obscurity to lose to a more talented and economically viable fighter… Zou is the pick.

On the undercard, unified WBA/WBO flyweight titlist Juan Estrada (23-2) makes a defense against Milan Melindo (28-0). Estrada’s last two fights have been thrilling affairs: a unanimous decision loss to Roman Gonzalez in a junior flyweight title bout and a split-decision victory over Brian Viloria to win the titles. In both bouts, Estrada showed a pressure style and the ability to take a good punch. In fact, taking such punishment may make you think that Estrada is prime for an upset here. Two facts contradict such thoughts: (1) Estrada came on late in the Viloria fight to wear down his more experienced opponent; and (2) he is only 23 years old. Melindo is two years older and a native of the Philippines. Other than that, he appears to have a good resume. That said, I was very impressed by Estrada and like him to win another barnburner of a fight… Estrada is the pick.

The telecast also features exciting IBF featherweight titlist, Evgeny Gradovich (16-0) defending his title for the first time against Mauricio Munoz (26-3). How exciting is the Robert Garcia-trained Gradovich? His nickname is “The Mexican Russian” because his style features relentless pressure and excellent body punching. Gradovich showed how exciting he could be in his title-winning upset victory over Billy Dib a fight that he went into on short notice. Despite a short training camp, Gradovich battered the more highly regarded Dib and really opened eyes. I anticipate that Gradovich will do the same against Munoz seeing as Munoz’ only notable victory is a split-decision over the 11 win Luis Franco and the one time he stepped up to the world class level, he was stopped by Toshiaki Nishioka. Gradovich is the pick.

Later that same evening, Showtime Championship Boxing will originate from San Antonio, Texas with a card headlined by Andre Berto (28-2) facing Jesus Soto-Karass (27-8-3) in a welterweight bout. Berto is returning to the ring following his unanimous decsion loss to Robert Guerrero in November. While Berto is certainly more skilled and athletic than, Soto-Karass, there are some red flags around Berto. One is that this is his first bout with reigning trainer of the year, Virgil Hunter in his corner after having been trained by Tony Morgan for his entire amateur and professional career. The second is that at the Maidana-Lopez bout last month, Berto appeared even more muscular than usual leading some to question if he could make 147 pounds for the Soto-Karass fight. The third is that this is Berto’s first fight in eight months and the combination of ring rust and his lack of development from when he first won a welterweight title five years ago. The last red flag is the most concerning especially given that Soto-Karass is the larger fighter and he has heavy hands. If Berto stands and trades with Soto-Karass, he could be in serious trouble. Conversely, Berto is not that big a puncher and Soto-Karass has only been stopped by larger opponents (Gabriel Rosado) or big punchers (Marcos Maidana). This is a fight I would really like to have seen some odds for but I could not find any. I think a big upset is in order here… Soto-Karass is the pick.

The other two Showtime televised bouts features up and coming young fighters getting their first opportunities to win major world titles. Omar Figueroa (21-0) faces Japan’s Nihito Arakawa (24-2-1) for the interim WBC lightweight title. Figueroa is a rising star who sells a great deal of tickets in Texas and Arakawa is a Japanese lightweight who has only fought outside of Japan once when he lost a technical decision to the lightly regarded Daniel Estrada. My only concern is that Figueroa has many early round knockouts on his ledger and he is not experienced going into the later rounds. It may not matter though… Figueroa is the pick. The other young fighter has a tougher road to his first title… Keith Thurman (22-0) challenges Diego Chaves (22-0) of Argentia for the interim WBA welterweight title. Neither fighter has faced world class opposition and both have a lot of knock outs on their records. It appears to be a fight where whoever lands first will win. Given that this is Chaves’ first time fighting outside of Argentina, I figure Thurman will land first… Thurman is the pick.

Author’s Record for the Year: 40-13-3 (My last set of picks, for the weekend of Gennady Golovkin-Matthew Macklin, were not published because of an error on my part. In any event, I got Golovkin-Macklin and Willie Nelson-Luciano Cuello [barely] right but lost when Sergio Mora upset Grzegorz Proksa and got saddled with a draw in Thomas Oosthuzien-Brandon Gonzalez [which I probably should have lost since Gonzalez deserved the decision]).