By Steve Kim
On the night of Jan. 21, 2012, Jesús Soto Karass was defeated soundly by Gabriel Rosado, at the Asylum Arena in Philadelphia. Two fights later, on Sept. 15 on Showtime, he was stopped in eight rounds by hard-hitting Argentine Marcos Maidana.
Soto Karass looked for all intents and purposes like a fighter whose sell-by date was rapidly approaching. But after Saturday night's victory over Andre Berto in San Antonio, Soto Karass suddenly finds himself a legitimate welterweight contender, a fighter with an immediate future.
For every Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, there are hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of pugilists like the 30-year-old Soto Karass, who earn far less than millions and just hope to scratch out an honest living. They migrate from places like Soto Karass' hometown -- Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico -- a city with a long and storied history of producing boxers of various degrees of talent and stature. You don't so much choose to box as the sport chooses you.
At age 19, when many others are beginning college, Soto Karass began his freshman campaign at the school of hard knocks, turning pro as a fighter. He racked up 11 victories with one draw in his first dozen outings, before hitting rough waters for the first time in his career. Unlike, say, Marco Antonio Barrera or Erik Morales, Soto Karass wasn't a Mexican import who was groomed for stardom. He would have to do things the hard way.
He eventually was matched with a string of undefeated prospects (Nurhan Suleymanoglu, Freddy Hernandez and Yuri Forema) who all handed him decision losses. And just like that, Soto Karass went from an undefeated prospect to a damaged suspect, branded as nothing more than cannon fodder for better-connected boxers. The fight game can be unforgiving in that respect. In other sports, young athletes and teams are expected to lose and be better for it in the long run. In boxing, one loss too many gets you the journeyman label, which often is impossible to ditch.
Eventually, Soto Karass was able to right the ship and start winning fights on a consistent basis again, taking 13 of 14 bouts between 2005 and 2009. But during those years, he was better known as the stablemate and sparring partner of Antonio Margarito, who had become one of the sport's premier welterweights. Being a sparring partner to a well-known fighter is akin to being an understudy to a great actor, except that you also get punched in the face every other day.
In many respects, Soto Karass was Margarito Lite. He had the same rugged, hard-charging, aggressive style, but without the power, physical strength and work ethic. He had a well-earned reputation as a fun-loving and goofy character who simply didn't work hard enough in the gym.
He hit another bumpy stretch from 2010 to 2012, when he lost four of five bouts (culminating in the knockout loss to Rosado), and his career, to paraphrase Mike Tyson, was headed to "Bolivian." After a bounce-back win against Euri Gonzalez several months later, he fell to Maidana in eight rounds in an exciting back-and-forth contest. While he lost, it was the kind of defeat that nonetheless enabled him to retain some value. And with that, he was paired with Selcuk Aydin for a Jan. 26 fight that his own handlers deemed do-or-die for his career prospects.
They swore up and down that this time around, Soto Karass was dedicated like never before, and he even took the step of setting up a personal training camp. Claiming to be "in the best shape of my life" is boxing's version of "the check's in the mail," but Soto Karass delivered a sharp performance and easily out-boxed Aydin, which then set up a June 8 showcase versus Yoshihiro Kamegai. But then the offer came in to face Berto (who was coming off a loss to Robert Guerrero) in San Antonio, as the main event on Showtime.
Berto -- one of those well-connected boxers -- needed an opponent. The fact that Soto Karass was fan-friendly and a native of Mexico made him the perfect foil. Yes, Soto Karass was the B-side of this record once again, brought in to lose against a boxer on his way to bigger and better things.
Soto Karass clearly was the superior fighter in a hard-fought battle. He controlled distance from the outside and landed his overhand right consistently, and he strafed the muscular and compact Berto with whipping body shots from in close. After getting floored in the 11th frame from a borderline body-blow, Soto Karass decided that he simply wasn't going to leave this in the hands of the judges, who had the fight a draw going into the last round. He closed the show with a left hook that sent Berto sprawling to the canvas, dazed and disorientated to an extent that referee Jon Schorle had no other choice but to wave the fight off.
The win improved Soto Karass' ledger to 28-8-3, with 18 stoppages. That alone speaks to the hard road he has traveled. In an era when built-up records can be manufactured with smoke and mirrors and careful matchmaking, there is something very real about Soto Karass' résumé. Figures like Mayweather and Pacquiao are the stars of this business; men like Soto Karass are its heart and soul. It's why people are drawn to the sport and why we admire those who do it.
Now Soto Karass is going places. All because he refused to go away.
Steve Kim began covering boxing in 1996 and has been writing for Maxboxing.com since 2001. He is also a regular contributor for Boxing News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets (a lot.)