Showtime’s Saturday boxing card, “Knockout Kings 2,” offered fans plenty of action, but it was also a cautionary tale for heavy-handed fighters: When your power isn’t getting the job done, you must have a backup plan.
Keith Thurman vs. Diego Chaves
Until this fight, Thurman’s subpar competition has allowed him to create a highlight reel of knockouts. Those knockouts, however, have prevented the public from getting a real sense of where Thurman’s boxing IQ stands. On Saturday, Thurman showed he’s more than flashy marketing.
Early in the fight, it was quite clear that Diego Chaves was more than just another hard-hitting Argentine. He was aggressive but measured. He worked at a faster pace than Thurman without being reckless and in the process was able to use his combinations to hurt Thurman and climb on the scorecards.
To my great surprise, Thurman seemed to realize that his own much-touted punching power wasn’t getting the job done, so he changed his approach. Thurman reined in the wild, sloppy punches that he usually throws when he sees, or thinks, his opponent has been hurt. Thurman also transformed into a counter puncher, showing a level of poise and boxing ability far above what he has previously shown. Slowly but surely, Thurman’s diligent and methodical hammering of Chaves’s body allowed him to hurt Chaves. Without the bodywork Thurman put in through the middle rounds, he never would have been able to slow the pressure coming from Chaves and ultimately close the show in the 10th. Thurman is now 21-0 with 19 KOs and hungry for a crack at one of the major belt holders (Mayweather, Bradley, Alexander, Broner), but he is unlikely to get a shot at any of them. Truth be told, he isn’t ready anyway. But a fight with Jesus Soto Karass, Paulie Malignaggi, Andre Berto, Robert Guerrero or Kell Brook might just start getting him legitimately into the conversation.
Omar Figueroa vs. Nihito Arakawa
While Thurman’s performance was a study in adapting to changing circumstances, Figueroa’s was the polar opposite. Everyone who’s followed Figueroa’s career knows that this 23-year-old has explosive power. Those who didn’t know it going into this fight surely caught on quickly after the first round. It is clear to see just how much work he has put in. Those endless hours in the gym, and beta-alanine to work his muscle, and maintain that imposing stature is looking like it is really paying off. Figueroa’s youthful look contrasted starkly with the ferocity of his attack from the opening moments of the fight. But no one told Arakawa that he was supposed to be a stepping stone.
Hurt several times throughout the fight, Arakawa fought like a perpetual motion machine. Nothing Figueroa threw at him slowed him down for too long. Arakawa fought with relentless pressure, and if he’d only been blessed with the heavy hands of his opponent, he might have come out the victor. Alas, Arakawa was not.
Although he didn’t get the victory, Arakawa surely earned himself another fight with his fan-friendly style. He also exposed Figueroa’s inability to adapt. The young fighter came in with one game plan. In the face of overwhelming evidence that the plan wasn’t working, he refused to adapt. His fans better hope that he actually hurt his hands as early as he claimed in the post-fight interview, otherwise this former Aggie may have had a fatal flaw exposed.
Jesus Soto Karass vs. Andre Berto
Berto is without a doubt an entertaining fighter. His speed and explosiveness, and his quirky sound effects when he punches, all contribute to the fanfare of his fights. But he is simply not elite. There was a long stretch of time when HBO touted Berto as the next rising star, a fighter with Mayweather-esque skills and Pacquiao-like aggressiveness. The problem is that he has nowhere near the defensive ability of the former or the stiff whiskers of the latter.
The main question for Berto on Saturday night wasn’t whether he could hurt or knock out the rugged Soto Karass; it was whether he’d learned enough from new trainer, Virgil Hunter, to avoid his old bad habits. The answer is no. Berto’s early ability to land punches on the slower Soto Karass made him overeager and an easier target. His weak chin was exposed, and Soto Karass took full advantage with smart pressure.
With Soto Karass’s beautiful counter hook in the 12th round, he knocked out Berto and earned himself the marquee win he’s been searching for his entire career. While he may soon be paired with Keith Thurman, or another top-level welterweight that isn’t a champion, Berto must go back home and ask himself if he’s comfortable being just a gatekeeper for those aspiring to a title. After his third loss (the second in a row), the writing is on the wall, and it seems clear that Berto’s best is well behind him.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.