Boxing: Boxing

Pondering a Ward-Golovkin fight

November, 17, 2013
Andre Ward returned from a 14-month layoff Saturday night in Ontario, Calif., showing that he remains a masterful pugilist, one who has a stranglehold on the intricacies of the sweet science.

Ward's jab was a most potent weapon against the overmatched but willing and sturdy-chinned Edwin Rodriguez. And Ward's left hook, although not a concussion inducer, sent note to Rodriguez that he would pay mightily whenever he let his left hand drop away from his cheek.

Ward (27-0, 14 KOs), the super middleweight champ, confirmed what hard-core fight fans already knew -- that there is nobody in his division who has more than a minute's chance to defeat him. So, we wonder, who could challenge Ward?

Some names that have popped up include KO cravers and titlists Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, both of whom are slated to fight on Nov. 30, against separate foes. One could surmise they would most likely meet each other in a light heavyweight showdown if both have their hands raised in two weeks.

Bernard Hopkins, the soon-to-be-49-year-old craftsman, could challenge Ward in the boxing knowledge department. But because he's aligned with promoter Golden Boy, which doesn't do work with HBO (the network has aired Ward's bouts), that matchup doesn't seem to be a viable coupling.

On social media, there seems to be a consistent call for middleweight star Gennady Golovkin, someone who can truly lay claim to the over-used nickname "Baby-Faced Assassin," if he chose to employ it, to jump from 160 to 168 to face Ward. With that in mind, I asked Golovkin's trainer, Abel Sanchez, what he thought of Ward's outing against Rodriguez.

"I would give Ward a 9.5 out of 10," said the trainer, who enjoyed Golovkin's last scrap, a TKO win over Curtis Stevens at the MSG Theater on Nov. 2. "He is who he is; he is not going to get any better. He didn't let Rodriguez bully him, and Edwin is limited, so he had no other tactics to try and get Ward. I was happy to see that Ward made more of a fight in some rounds, but he did so because he had a limited opponent in front of him."

So how would Golovkin deal with Ward if they tussled? "Gennady is a fighter with superior power, skills, strength," Sanchez said, adding with a chuckle, "and grappling ability." That crack was a reference to a knock on Ward -- that most of his bouts feature excessive wrestling, better suited to the octagon.

And, I wondered, could fans be treated to a Ward-Golovkin matchup in the near future?

"I hope so," Sanchez said. "Time will tell. Right now, they are both on top, and Andre must believe he is in a superior bargaining position, but not for long. The masses are catching on to GGG!"

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Bracero beats Salita in Brooklyn war

November, 10, 2013
NEW YORK -- Gabriel Bracero's left hook landed early, often and hard on Dmitriy Salita in the main event at the Aviator Complex in Marine Park, Brooklyn, on Saturday night. The judges got it right, bless them, and saw it 97-92, 99-90, 100-89, as Bracero picked up a regional welterweight belt.

Bracero also gets an extra bit of satisfaction, as this was an old-school-style turf war, with Sunset Park (Bracero-Town) gaining bragging rights over Flatbush (Salita-ville).

As solid as his showing was, Bracero's postfight chat with Steve Farhood, for airing on Lou DiBella's "Broadway Boxing" show, made perhaps an even greater impact.

"I changed my life around, and I deserve to have my story out there," said the 32-year-old Bracero, addressing the major-cable network suits, who would be in a position to OK a meaningful bout, maybe even a title shot, versus a big name at 140 or 147 pounds. "I have a story!" His trainer-mentor Tommy Gallagher looked on, beaming with pride.

And Bracero, indeed, has a story to tell. He went to prison for almost six years after getting pinched for attempted murder, getting out in 2009. "I have friends still in prison who are afraid to come out," Bracero said, indicating that many believe they won't be able to navigate a complicated and expensive world. "I'm their hope!"

Salita, age 31, entered at 35-1-1, while Bracero was 22-1. An unofficial decibel poll, by the way, told me that Bracero fans vastly outnumbered Salita fans in the hangar-style arena. Would that affect the contest at all, if and when someone needed a pick-me-up?

Bracero scored the best punch of the first round, a left hook, which buzzed Salita. "Tito!" chants, for Bracero, were heard, and a roar erupted when another stiff left hook landed clean on Salita. A leaping left hook in the third for Bracero had the crowd jazzed. Salita kept dropping his right and getting popped. He picked it up in spots, but his hands were slower all night, and his reflexes weren't as sharp as we've seen, as he got hit with leads many a time.

Bracero scored a knockdown in the eighth, off the left hook. Salita backed up Bracero some in the ninth, but he was cut under his left eye and then had another gash on his hairline by Round 10. We went to the cards and breathed heavily in relief when the judges got it right.

One wonders if we'll see Salita again; the fighter had told me that he would consider exiting the sport if he couldn't beat a Bracero-level boxer. Well, he couldn't. I'm assuming there will be some serious contemplation in Salita's mind in the days ahead.

Junior featherweight Heather Hardy (7-0) heard on the grapevine that foe Laura Gomez (4-4) was no pushover, no easy "W" ripe to be picked. The Gerritsen Beach native, fighting a stone's throw from her old digs -- she now lives in Williamsburg -- pressured Gomez and had the ringside doc stepping in and pulling the plug to save the green loser from excess punishment. The end came at 1:44 of Round 2.

Promoter DiBella, "Combustible Lou" as I refer to him fondly, came to the press table and ranted -- quite rightly, I thought -- about the scorecard that read 76-76 in the Charlie Ota-Mike Ruiz fight. "I don't know the name of the judge that scored that, but I never want her working on one of my shows again!" he said. "That fight could have been stopped." (The judge in question was Robin Taylor, for the record.)

Indeed, Japan-resident Ota is a 154-pounder on the rise. He served notice, with his aggression and discipline, that he is close to a title crack in the near-ish future. He landed hard and clean on Ruiz, a Freeport, N.Y., resident, and you wouldn't have blinked twice if around Round 6 the Ruiz corner had kept their man on his stool. Instead, it went eight, and Ota needed the two cards reading 78-74 and 77-75 to rise to 24-1-1.

After, DiBella said he can see a scenario where Ota gets one more win and then nails down a title crack. Demetrius Andrade, a new 154-pound belt holder, is a name DiBella mentioned for the Ota wish list.

Abdusalamov's plight a stark reminder

November, 4, 2013
Two days after taking heavy punishment over 10 rounds against Mike Perez at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov was in stable condition and intensive care at Roosevelt Hospital in New York on Monday, according to Nathan Lewkowicz, vice president of Sampson Boxing, the promotional company that promotes Abdusalamov.

Abdusalamov, 32, who entered the fight with Perez unbeaten at 18-0 (18 KOs), underwent brain surgery on Sunday after complaining of a headache. Physicians at Roosevelt Hospital decided to place him in a coma to attempt to minimize swelling in his brain and reduce the possibility of more brain damage.

The New York State Athletic Commission offered this statement about the Abdusalamov situation to NYFightblog on Monday:

"NYSAC's primary concern is the health and safety of its licensed athletes. As we do in all such cases, NYSAC is reviewing the circumstances surrounding Mr. Abdusalamov's injuries. We are hopeful he makes a complete and speedy recovery."

The Russian's plight, on the heels of Frankie Leal's death from injuries sustained in his Oct. 19 bout against Raul Hirales, are two stark reminders that boxing isn't merely a sport, but in fact a potentially life-and-death endeavor. Former 154-pound champion Sergio Mora, who fights for New York promoter Lou DiBella, told me he found himself caught up, like so many, in the violent ebb and flow between Perez and Abdusalamov.

"As I was watching this weekend's semi-main event on HBO, I was thinking, 'Wow, this fight is getting good between Mago and Perez,'" Mora said. "I was guilty just like everyone else in wanting to see two big, strong fighters put on a show of beautiful brutality. ... Mago's corner did what they were supposed to do for their fighter, and that is to remain calm, give proper instructions and relieve their boxer of worry and concern. Mago, being a tough fighter, did his job and continued fighting, trying to win. It was clear who was the polished boxer here and who was the fighter."

Mora is scheduled to step into the ring Nov. 16 against Milton Nunez.

"There is no one in particular at fault for the violent display of courage this [past] weekend. ... The problem is the aftermath that no one sees," he said. "The bruises and injuries that well up all over the boxer's head and body after the adrenaline wears down. But we signed up for this. ... We all wait for Mago's medical clearance and pray for his health and family. At the same time, this brutal and fickle sport will patiently await his return to the ring as well."

Gennady Golovkin knocked Brooklyn-born Curtis Stevens to the mat with a left hook in Round 2 on Saturday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Most expected the middleweight titleholder to close the show and finish off Stevens, but his opponent didn't cooperate. He hung tough, stayed smart and made it through Round 8.

Stevens landed scoring blows along the way -- more than Golovkin is used to absorbing -- but body shots in the eighth got to him. He was caught on the ropes, trying in vain to cover up, and went back to his stool nearly spent. His corner said "no more," seeking to keep him from being battered in the next round.

Golovkin, who needed to be patient as Stevens fought a tactically smart style, landed 293 of the 794 punches he threw, compared to 97-303 for Stevens, who spent the night trying to catch Golovkin after errant launches.
I left the IFC Center in Greenwich Village on Wednesday night pondering deep philosophical issues, and also what a badass Roberto Duran was in his prime and how skilled Sugar Ray Leonard was in his.

I'd just watched Eric Drath's documentary production "No Mas," which will run Tuesday on ESPN as part of the network's "30 for 30" series. The film examines the rivalry between Leonard, the 1976 Olympic golden boy who took the baton from Muhammad Ali and ran with it before Mike Tyson wrested it away; and Duran, the man with the Manson-esque eyes, whose extraordinary malevolence outside and inside the ring affected Leonard to the point that he admitted he felt fear.

Closure, and the ability to attain it, was the primary philosophical matter I chewed on after watching the doc. I cannot and will not give away too much of the film here. But suffice to say, Leonard has been affected since Nov. 25, 1980, when he clowned Duran and saw the Panamanian shame his nation by quitting during Round 8, by the way the bout ended and how it was perceived. Instead of being glorified for his supreme display of clever pugilism, Leonard found the press and fans obsessed with Duran, now age 62, and why he quit. It was not noted, to Leonard's satisfaction, how he had rebounded so robustly following the first fight, which took place five months earlier and saw Duran win a decision after 15 rounds.

[+] EnlargeRay Leonard and Roberto Duran
Focus On Sport/Getty ImagesRay Leonard found his footing and redemption in a rematch against Roberto Duran.
If Duran had since admitted that Leonard's skills and game plan and preparation were too much for him to handle, physically and mentally, and that is why he said -- or didn't; that's part of the story -- "No mas," then I suspect Leonard could have closed the book on what became a recurring torment.

During a post-screening Q&A, I asked Leonard, now 57, about his current degree of closure regarding the fight.

To be candid, I'm of the school that believes achieving total closure is a rarity in this life, and I'm an admitted cynic when anyone announces, "It's all good" -- that they have made total and complete amends with a wound that festered for decades. That isn't to say it's an impossible feat, but ... let me put it this way: Even Mother Teresa had doubts about the meaning of it all. Again, I will let you screen the film and decide how you perceive Leonard's viewpoint toward the "No mas" debacle, rather than give away plot points.

Striding out of the theater, I saw Leonard and addressed him: "Sugar Ray, I have to say, I think you schooled Duran. You outboxed him, masterfully. No matter if he can admit it or not, or you need to hear him admit that, or don't, that is what happened. I think that is why he quit. And I think true-blue boxing fans know this to be the case."

Leonard said nothing with his mouth, but his grin and smiling eyes told me something else.

I believe that more so than Duran's partying, or rapid weight loss, or cold water, or hot coffee, or too big a meal ingested prefight, or cramps, it was Leonard's in-ring wizardry that forced Duran to surrender.

Will we ever know the truth? You have to watch "No Mas" and decide for yourself.

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Cynics -- and I dare say that is most of the folks who have been covering boxing for any length of time -- took it with two grains of salt when Miguel Cotto and new trainer Freddie Roach both said that they were working on bringing back the "old" Cotto, a left hook-happy hitter who sought and got KOs.

Darned if the trainer and boxer weren't on message, and Cotto, who turns 33 on Oct. 29, on Saturday night looked like a 10-years-younger version of himself who hadn't absorbed back-to-back losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout.


Who would you most want to see Miguel Cotto face in his next fight?


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Granted, Cotto (38-4) took on just a solid journeyman in Delvin Rodriguez (28-7-3) at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. But he made Rodriguez look like a C-grade boxer as he imposed his will and skills, and a rib-battering left hook on the Connecticut-based brawler. In Round 3, two left hooks and a right sent Rodriguez to the mat, and the ref didn't even need to count, calling for a TKO.

The Puerto Rican boxer's stock jumped considerably, and social media buzz on whom he might face next percolated quickly. Maybe a jump to 160, from 154, to fight middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, in favorite old stomping ground Madison Square Garden next spring? Maybe a P.R.-versus-Mexico rumble against Canelo Alvarez, who looked worse against Mayweather on Sept. 14 than Cotto did when he met "Money" in May 2012?

So I'll throw the question to you, readers: Whom do you want to see Cotto fight next?

Ali, Browne ready for Barclays bouts

September, 26, 2013
Barclays Center will stage its fifth fight night on Monday, with a card unfolding in the Cushman & Wakefield Theater, topped by a Sadam Ali-Jay Krupp main event.

[+] EnlargeSadam Ali
AP Photo/Gregory PayanSadam Ali
Ali and others on the bill, including Staten Island's Marcus Browne, showed up at Gleason's in DUMBO on Thursday to hype the Golden Boy event.

Ali, a Brooklyn resident who had a place on the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad, has taken his time to get to this place. He staged his own cards and stayed independent until he and his father/manager, Mahmoud, who stood next to the 25-year-old hitter while he chatted with NYFightblog, found the right terms. I asked Sadam if he had ever gotten impatient, to the point of severe frustration, since turning pro in March 2010 and seeing some other folks who arguably might not be as skilled as he is get signed to promotional deals.

"No," he said, "not at all. I knew this day would come."

And what about the father?

"Of course I did," the father admitted with a tiny grin. "I'm just always wanting what's best for my son."

The 16-0 welterweight takes on the 17-5 Krupp, who features a Mike Tyson-style peek-a-boo look he honed under ex-Tyson trainer Kevin Rooney. Ali didn't seem phased by the Tyson talk. "He can't peek-a-boo me if he can't see me," Ali said.

The 22-year-old Browne finished skipping rope, and I approached him for a quick chat. What if, I said, you upstage your pal Sadam, I asked. Will you feel bad?

"Of course not," the 6-0 light heavy said. "That's what you're supposed to do! Boxing isn't a team sport." Browne takes on 5-1-1 Lamont Williams, who is a half-step up from anyone he has tangled with before as a pro.

All the fighters seemed to be on message, and Ali, for one, was tested. Thursday was his birthday, and publicist Kelly Swanson presented him with a cupcake.

"I can't eat it," Ali said. "I'll eat it after the fight."

Mayweather's legacy: What could have been

September, 13, 2013

For everything Floyd Mayweather Jr. has accomplished as both a fighter and a businessman, one might always wonder about what his legacy could have been.

Few, of course, question his abilities in the ring and his status as an all-time great. But since becoming the face of the sport, Mayweather’s control over his own matchmaking has made it difficult to compare him to past legends.

The gripe about Mayweather’s selection of opponents, specifically above 135 pounds, slowly loses steam the more often “Money” takes on dangerous opponents who many previously claimed he would avoid. The perfect illustration is Saturday’s junior middleweight title unification bout against fellow unbeaten Canelo Alvarez.

But the gripe is still there – not out of spite for Mayweather or out of doubt about his special talent in the ring. The timing of certain Mayweather opponents and the avoidance of others has made it problematic because the calling card of other all-time greats has been a deep-rooted desire to test themselves against the best -- that whole dare-to-be-great mentality.

So as we enter the stretch run of Mayweather’s equally marketable and remarkable path toward perfection, there remains a haunting feeling about whether the fighter left a little bit too much of his potential greatness on the table.

Most will point, almost involuntarily, to the Manny Pacquiao-sized hole on his resume. It’s frustrating when you consider how rare it is in history for the sport’s top two pound-for-pound fighters to find themselves in the same division. And it’s doubly frustrating when you consider the damage done to the sport when the fight, with unrivaled potential for breaking records financially, failed to come off during a three-year window of prime viability.

To a smaller degree, Mayweather never faced Kostya Tszyu, the recognized 140-pound champion at the time, after moving up to junior welterweight.

But the biggest void may be the timing of Mayweather’s absences from the ring during his prime at welterweight, when the division was loaded with difficult opponents. Mayweather, of course, stepped away from the ring with multiple retirements following his star-making 2007 victories over Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton.

After building his brand further with crossover appearances on “Dancing With The Stars” and even in the main event of “Wrestlemania,” Mayweather fought just two times over a stretch of nearly four years between the Hatton fight and his 2011 return against Victor Ortiz.

One could argue the time away from the ring kept Mayweather fresh physically, allowing him to stay closer to peak condition today at age 36. But you also have to wonder what would have happened if Mayweather had remained active during that 45-month window, when he fought just twice -- against an undersized Juan Manuel Marquez and a 38-year-old version of Shane Mosley, who was 16 months removed from his career-saving TKO of Antonio Margarito.

Had Mayweather fought and won five more times during that stretch, consistently fighting two times per year, how would we view him historically if he were entering the Alvarez fight on the verge of 50-0?

More importantly, had he cleared out the division with victories against an unbeaten Miguel Cotto, Margarito, Andre Berto, Paul Williams and, yes, Pacquiao, would Saturday’s fight be the biggest in history? Would a victory have vaulted Mayweather into the top five in history, pound-for-pound?

Such a grind could have led him closer to his first defeat. But the truth is, Mayweather likely would have won all of those fights, and things could have been different today had he maxed out his potential just a little bit more.

An alternate reality in which Mayweather is universally beloved and adored probably couldn’t exist because he doesn’t seem to care much about being liked. Instead, he appears to thrive off playing the villain and managing his career on his own terms. That might be a more fitting legacy than even his pursuit of perfection.

But when you watch Mayweather perform on the highest level, as he hopes to do again Saturday, it always leaves you wondering a bit of what might have been, even if it is splitting hairs.

Luis Collazo comes through in Texas

September, 3, 2013
Name recognition is quite a big deal in boxing. Someone like a Shane Mosley will get opportunity after opportunity, years after lesser lights would have been strongly encouraged to exit the stage and let fresher players have a turn.

[+] EnlargeLuis Collazo
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsLuis Collazo
Luis Collazo's name doesn't ring the same number of bells as Mosley, but as the former welterweight titlist -- he beat Jose Antonio Rivera in 2005 to snag the crown and had a defense against Miguel Angel Gonzalez before dropping the strap to Ricky Hatton in 2005 -- he is somebody who might be aided by his former exploits while being considered for a title crack.

But another title shot, maybe against interim welter titlist Keith Thurman or "regular" beltholder Adrien Broner, could only come soon if Collazo got past 22-year-old Alan Sanchez on Monday night. And that he did; Collazo looked like the consummate vet he is, using his superior ring generalship and superb stamina to stay fresh until the 10th and final round. After the duration of the welterweight tangle, the Brooklyn-bred Collazo, who lives in Queens, got the unanimous decision win -- scored 99-91, 98-92, 99-91 by the arbiters -- at Cowboys Dance Hall in San Antonio.

Collazo played the calm vet, working behind the jab, adeptly slipping Sanchez's shots in the first and second. A sharp left hand told Sanchez he needed to be aware of the off-stance boxer's backhand in the second frame. Sanchez's body work made Collazo drop his guard to protect the breadbasket some in the third. Collazo upped the aggression in the fifth, yet kept looking energized every minute of each round. A cut on Collazo's left eye didn't look too severe as he sat down after the sixth.

Three- and four-punch combos made Collazo look busy in the seventh. He kept his front foot outside Sanchez's lead foot, cutting the ring off on the kid, making him go where he wanted him to go. His experience was in effect all the way to the final round. Could Sanchez pull off a stunner turnaround KO, we wondered? Nope. Sanchez didn't have the gas left to take the bout to another place, to so much as try and overwhelm the vet with psychotic flurries.

I asked Collazo to assess his performance. "I give myself a B-minus," he said. "Sanchez was tall and long, I couldn't get my shots off the way I wanted. So I had to be smart and take whatever he gave me."

Fox Sports 1 analyst Paul Malignaggi, who has known the winner for many moons and is fond of him, as he admitted on the show, said afterward that Collazo "is on to bigger and better things." He said he "deserves a big fight; let's hope he gets it."
Barclays Center's commitment to boxing is reaching another level, with word that Golden Boy will be putting on a show at the Cushman and Wakefield Theater, a smaller venue within the building, on Sept. 30.

Sadam Ali, a new signee to Golden Boy, will make his promotional debut on the card.

A Carlos Molina-Michael Perez bout will also be featured, and Staten Island's Marcus Browne will return to the ring as well. Fox will televise portions of the Monday evening promotion.

The event is being promoted as an anniversary fete for the building. Jay Z kicked open the doors with a gig on Sept. 28, 2012.

"There's no place like home," said Ali (16-0, 10 KOs), who had been acting as his own promoter. "I've seen some great fights at Barclays Center and I have waited for my name to be called to fight here. Now that day has come and I couldn't be more excited. This is going to be a performance and a win you won't forget."

Welterweight Ali was a heralded amateur, a two-time N.Y. Golden Gloves champ, a two-time National Golden Gloves winner and a member of the 2008 US Olympics squad. He turned pro in January 2009. His foe on Sept. 30 will be Jay Krupp (17-5, 8 KOs), a Louisiana-born hitter who lives in Catskill, N.Y., and has been trained by ex-Mike Tyson trainer Kevin Rooney. "I'm part of the Cus D'Amato legacy," Krupp has said, speaking of the sage who molded young Tyson into "Kid Dynamite."

Perez (18-1-2, 10 KOs), a 23-year-old Jersey boy (Newark), will meet Molina (17-1-1, 7 KOs), the 27-year-old Californian who fought Amir Khan and was stopped in Round 10 of their Dec. 15, 2012 faceoff. A junior welter title will be up for grabs.

Could we see Jacobs vs. Quillin?

August, 13, 2013
Danny JacobsWill Hart/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy PromotionsDanny Jacobs has the opportunity to win a world title in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York

Danny Jacobs will headline an Aug. 19 show in New York, and if he gets a "W" in that one, chatter will accelerate about his next opponents. In the middleweight division, possible targets will include people near and dear to the Brownsville-born boxer. For starters, Peter Quillin, a fellow Golden Boy fighter, holds a middleweight title. Jacobs and Quillin are friendly -- would that preclude Jacobs from taking a fight with Quillin?

"I will fight anyone in the world if the opportunity presents itself," Jacobs told me. "This is a business. It's in the hands of my manager and the promoter. I'm not out to call anyone out or make a whole scene."

So is that a yes, you would fight Quillin? Jacobs chuckled.

"It doesn't matter what champion they put in there with me, I'm ready for anyone," he said.

Curtis Stevens, who also grew up in Brownsville, is enjoying a resurgence. His finisher's instinct was on display on Aug. 3 when the took out Saul Roman in the first round in Uncasville, Conn. Would Jacobs fight his fellow Brownsviller?

"Me and Curtis Stevens, we are kind of like family," Jacobs said. "My girlfriend is his cousin. We have a child together. Anyone else is a possibility. Sergio Martinez, Matthew Macklin, Quillin ... as long as [Jacobs advisor] Al Haymon says it makes sense."

Soto Karass trainer expects Berto's worst

July, 26, 2013

With two losses in his last three bouts, there are some who believe former welterweight titlist Andre Berto is already on the downside of his career.

In fact, you can count Ramon "Yuca" Morales, the trainer of Berto's opponent on Saturday night, Jesus Soto Karass, as one of the most vocal in this group.

"We are sure that Soto's best version will beat Berto's worst, since Berto is on his way down," Morales said.

Berto (28-2, 22 KOs) will face Soto Karass (27-8-3, 17 KOs), the rugged Mexican brawler, in a 12-round welterweight bout as the main event of Saturday's tripleheader, dubbed "Knockout Kings II" by Golden Boy Promotions, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

Also on the televised portion of the card, Omar Figueroa (21-0-1, 17 KOs) faces Japan's Nihito Arakawa (24-2-1, 16 KOs) for a vacant interim lightweight belt, and Argentinian Diego Chaves (22-0, 18 KO's) defends his interim welterweight title against Keith Thurman (20-0, 18 KO's).

"Soto is still young, and he knows that this is a huge opportunity for him," Morales said. "After Berto, let the better rivals step into the ring. But he must win on Saturday. And to achieve that, he completed an excellent training camp."

Berto, 29, went the distance in recent all-action, exciting slugfest defeats with Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero. He also saw his lucrative rematch with Ortiz go up in smoke when he tested positive for steroids. Needing a change, Berto fired career-long trainer Tony Morgan and replaced him with Virgil Hunter.

"I'm not sure it will be the last chance for Andre Berto to reach the pinnacle of boxing, but if that's the case, I'm sure he will prevail because we really prepared to defeat Jesus Soto Karass," Hunter said.

Hunter claimed that Berto is excited by the prospect of getting a new shot at a world championship, and in order to claim that, he must defeat Soto Karass, who has proven to be a tough test for anyone looking to climb the ladder in the welterweight division.

"It's hard to tell if this is [Berto's] last shot, but we prepared to face Soto at his finest," Hunter said. "We are aware that he is always ready for a war, and that motivated Andre. We are sure that we will have an amazing fight because Berto belongs to a higher level, although we are not underrating Soto."

Morales, meanwhile, said his concern is with the risk of Soto Karass dealing with cuts to the face. Because of that, they have brought two cutmen to help in their corner, just to be on the safe side.

"The risk of the cuts is something we've prepared for," he said. "There will be a couple of cutmen to prevent any potential problems, but we are confident that this fight will be ideal for Soto Karass and he will be able to take a step into something much bigger."

The news that he was headlining the first Golden Boy show at the Best Buy Theater in Manhattan, on Aug. 19, didn't drive Danny Jacobs to tears ... but it came darn close.

The 26-year-old middleweight contender will meet Giovanni Lorenzo, a perennial title challenger, in the first of 24 cards that will run on Fox Sports 1 on Monday nights. When Jacobs (25-1 with 22 KOs) learned that he would be topping the bill, he held off tears and recalled his lowest moment a few years ago, when cancer had him on the verge of a TKO.

"It was a couple days after my surgery," he said, referring to the procedure that removed a tumor on his spine in May 2011. "I was in bed, I couldn't move my legs at all, I was about 230 pounds, I was completely down. I started crying. I felt like my life was over, that I'd never be able to box again, that I'd never be able to take care of my child the way I wanted to. Fast forward to today, it's so amazing."

Jacobs did interview after interview at a press conference held at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday to trumpet the card and the series. He had to pinch himself, make sure it wasn't a dream. "I come from Brownsville! What? We don't ever get these opportunities! I want to make the best of the opportunity."

I admit, I didn't think it was any kind of sure bet when Jacobs said he was coming back to boxing after the cancer fight that he would ever get past an inaugural return to the ring. Guess what? He didn't know that he would either. "I didn't know how I was going to perform," he admitted. "It was 50-50. I could have had a frail chin, or not the same power I had before." No worries; he's stopped all three of his foes since his return.

Being a smart soul, he knows not to get ahead of himself and look past the durable, Dominican-born Lorenzo (32-5 with 24 KOs; age 32). But yes, Jacobs admits, he has allowed himself to drift off and fantasize about winning the middleweight crown at Barclays Center.

"I do think about that opportunity," he said. "Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said when I fought for a world title, I'd win it at Barclays. I believe that. Whoever they put in front of me, it will be historic."

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The opportunity of his fighting life is nearly in place for Dominican-born junior middleweight Delvin Rodriguez. The Connecticut hitter (28-6-3, 16 KOs) has an agreement in place to fight comebacking Miguel Cotto (37-4, 30 KOs), the 32-year-old Puerto Rican ace who is on a two-fight losing streak and in dire need of a win to re-inject buzz into a Hall of Fame-level career.

Rodriguez's manager, AJ Galante, told NYFightblog that Team Rodriguez, which includes promoter Joe DeGuardia, has "an agreement in principal" for a Cotto-Rodriguez fight. The fight would likely unfold on Oct. 5 in Florida and be shown on HBO.

"We are finalizing the documents," Galante said. "It's not done yet, but I'd be surprised if it's not official by the weekend."

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Back in July 2010, when the people from the Brooklyn arena that hadn't been built yet, Barclays Center, announced they were getting into boxing, with an exclusive deal with California-based Golden Boy Promotions, it's fair to say the reaction wasn't shock, awe and optimism across the board.

After all, the topic was boxing, that much-maligned throwback sport whose best days were in the rearview mirror of the Camaro. A niche sport, they sniffed, relevant once or twice a year -- and probably for not that much longer, once Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao packed it in.

I confess, I had doubts myself, whether the NYC region would sustain the demand for regular dates at the Barclays Center. At the time, I recall asking Brett Yormark, the CEO of Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, if the arena would have a micro-arena built, a theater to accommodate 5,000 or so fans, max. The implication of my question was clear: I don't think you can find enough boxing fans to fill up the barn on a regular basis. He assured me then that there would be no mini arena and that the fans would come.

Fast forward to today; I admit my skepticism was misguided. Barclays and Golden Boy has put on four boxing shows, the most recent one taking place on June 22, topped by a Paulie Malignaggi-Adrien Broner welterweight tussle. The attendance for each event has been healthy, and 11,461 people watched Broner take a split decision from the Brooklyn native.

I sat down last week for a chat with Yormark and asked him to reflect on the journey, getting boxing back to being more of focal point, not just a side dish, in the region.

"In some respects I feel vindicated," he said. "We've been able to do exactly what we hoped for, and more, and that's to bring an incredible sport back to Brooklyn, where it has a heritage, and have it flourish. And in less than a year we've been able to do that."

The grumblers, the tear-down artists, were out in force at the start. Boxing debuted on Oct. 20, 2012 at Barclays, and the "I told you so" crowd noted that they saw ticket markdowns and package deals available everywhere in the weeks leading up to opening night. They cited that as proof the endeavor would fail. In fact, audience response has been quite respectable, Yormark said. The first show drew 11,112; the second, on March 9, 2013 drew 12,293; the third, on April 27, drew 13,048. All the main events and select undercard bouts were televised on Showtime.

Critics mumble under their breathe that those figures represent a large dose of "comps," or freebies, to paper the house. Not so, Yormark told me.

"We did not comp," he said. "We're not comping. There are very few comps. The first two fights we discounted probably a little more than we wanted to, but we have not comped. We don't believe in comping here. One of the things we had to learn, we had to learn price it right, and in the last two fights, I think we really priced it right."

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