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Saturday, July 27, 2013
Soto Karass, Figueroa put on a show

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

If there's one excellent fight on a televised boxing card, most fans leave the arena or get off the couch happy. If there are two? Well, they jump for joy. And then there was Saturday night, when six brave fighters served up the best card of the year so far, with three action-packed and dramatic fights before a very lucky crowd of 8,811 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

It was great matchmaking, great programming and great fighting from the men between the ropes.

Jesus Soto Karass, Andre Berto
Jesus Soto Karass, right, controlled Saturday's main event in San Antonio, but he had to survive an 11th-round knockdown and Andre Berto comeback before landing a stunning 12th-round knockout.

In the "Knockout Kings II" main event, welterweight Jesus Soto Karass (28-8-3, 18 KOs) scored the biggest win of his career by stopping former two-time welterweight titlist Andre Berto (28-3, 22 KOs) in the 12th round of a fight that he appeared to be in control of, despite the judges having it scored a split draw at the time of the stoppage. The upset win puts Soto Karass, who survived a body-shot knockdown in the 11th round, in position for another significant fight. The loss sends Berto, who fought most of the bout through an injured right shoulder, into a career free fall. It was his third loss in his past four outings and leaves him nothing to show for his new partnership with trainer Virgil Hunter.

In the opening fight, Keith Thurman (21-0, 19 KOs) knocked out Diego Chaves (22-1, 18 KOs) in the 10th round of another exciting fight to claim an interim welterweight title in the biggest test for both of them. It was Thurman who passed, dropping Chaves with a body shot in the ninth round and then finishing him in the 10th, softening him up with a series of hard left hands before dropping him for the count with a clean right hand.

And then there was what came in between those two thrilling fights.

In a bona fide fight of the year candidate, lightweights Omar Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs) of Weslaco, Texas and the heretofore-unknown 31-year-old Japanese southpaw Nihito Arakawa (24-3-1, 16 KOs) waged a thrilling slugfest for the ages.

In the end, it was the 23-year-old Figueroa who won the clear decision -- 119-107, 118-108, 118-108 -- and a vacant interim belt. But those scores don't tell the story of an epic, bloody battle that delivered nonstop action from the first bell to the last, including the third round, a clear round of the year candidate in which the fighters relentlessly hammered each other.

They combined to throw 2,112 punches in a fight that never had a dull moment and during which referee Laurence Cole had almost nothing to do whatsoever. That's because Figueroa and Arakawa simply pounded away for three minutes of every round. Figueroa landed an incredibly high 50 percent of his shots -- 480 of 942, according to CompuBox -- and it was rather stunning that Arakawa made it to the final bell given all the clubbing shots he ate.

Arakawa-Figueroa
Nihito Arakawa and Omar Figueroa provided nonstop action and showed unrivaled resolve in their fight of the year candidate on Saturday's undercard.

"It was incredible. We both took a beating," a smiling, still-bleeding Figueroa said afterward.

Arakawa landed 280 of 1,170 punches (23 percent), and even though he was down twice -- in the second round, under a hail of shots and a big right hand, and again in the eighth round when a right hand hurt him and the ropes held him up -- he never gave an inch.

Figueroa, as it turned out, injured both of his hands early in the fight, but never stopped throwing punches and ignored the blood that poured from wounds on his face. The blood must have been inside his mouth also, because when Figueroa was in his corner before the start of the 10th round, he spit a stream of pure blood into the bucket.

Arakawa, too, never stopped throwing punches despite taking an inordinate amount of punishment that left his left eye swollen like a water balloon.

The fight is destined to become a YouTube classic, and Showtime might as well add it to its on-demand channel and just leave it there forever.

When the fight -- which Showtime analyst Al Bernstein rightfully called "Ward-Gatti-esque," was over, Figueroa walked over to Arakawa, hugged him and said simply, "Great fight, man. Great fight. Nothing but respect."

Respect to both of them for giving all of us that kind of fight.

"Figueroa was very strong -- that's one thing I can say," Arakawa said. "I was thinking of all the people who supported me and who got me here and the people of Japan. That's what kept me going."

Figueroa, who gave his new belt to his father, said this was the kind of battle he wanted to have at some point in his career.

"We prepared for this. It was incredible," Figueroa said. "I messed both my hands up [in the second or third round], but I came to put on a show and we did it. I've looked forward to a fight like this."

Figueroa said he didn't think the fight would last much longer after he scored the knockdown in the second round and seemed to have Arakawa in big trouble, but Arakawa "showed tremendous, tremendous demeanor in the ring, and it was a great fight.

"I'm happy."

And so was everyone who had the privilege of watching.