WEST L.A.-The big fight looms in a couple of days in the neon lit streets of Las Vegas, so that means a lot of traveling from my residence in slow-paced Riverside to the faster streets of Los Angeles.
It all began last week when media days were held first for Miguel Cotto, then followed by Manny Pacquiao’s the following day. Back and forth I drove needing to study the two elite fighters who are set to clash Saturday Nov. 14, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
This week a media day was held for participants of the HBO pay-per-view under card.
First, Mexico’s Jesus Soto Karass, an Antonio Margarito clone from Los Mochis, fights popular Alfonso Gomez (20-4-2, 10 KOs). Yes, it’s that Gomez who participated in the first edition of the Contender reality TV show in 2005.
The last time we saw Gomez on national television he was violently stopped by Cotto in a bid to win the world title. Since that loss, the fighter who won America’s heart with his honesty and class has reeled off two wins and is ready for another pivotal clash with a welterweight juggernaut Soto Karass.
Soto Karass (24-3-3, 16 KOs) fights just like his fellow countryman and stable mate Margarito. They have the same trainer and the same seek and destroy style. Soto Karass wants this fight badly because he remembers sparring Gomez years ago and being told afterward that he lost his butt in the sparring session.
“Yes I had a black eye and didn’t look good in that sparring session but this is going to be much different,” said Soto Karass who hasn’t lost a fight in four years including wins over David Estrada, Chris Smith and Michel Rosales. “I’m not looking at this personal, this is a sport, but I am going to win this fight.”
Many experts see this fight as the best of the night aside from Pacman-Cotto.
“It’s going to be a bloodbath,” says Top Rank’s Bob Arum.
One thing about Soto Karass and Gomez is they have huge hearts and are very prideful. Though Soto Karass promises to show a few changes including more boxing, don’t expect either fighter to back away for long.
“I’m prepared to do the sort of things that are necessary,” Soto Karass said while inside the Pound for Pound Gym in West L.A.
Chavez vs. Rowland
Also in the gym was Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (40-0-1, 30 KOs) who is moving into the middleweight division to fight Michigan’s Troy Rowland (25-2, 7 KOs). It’s the son of the icon’s first step into the big pond of middleweights.
“He can’t make 154 pounds any more,” said Arum. “He keeps growing. He’s huge.”
In his last few fights that took place in the 154-pound junior middleweight division, Chavez has found it a little more difficult putting them away. Though he knocked out Jason LeHoullier in one round, he had trouble with Matt Vanda and Luciano Cuello.
Personally I’ve known Chavez Jr. since he was 12 or 13 and knew back then he would grow much larger than his father. He’s improved immensely since he first turned pro at 17 years old but now he’s fighting guys that are basically the same size.
Rowland trains in Grand Rapids, Mich. in one of Floyd Mayweather’s gyms. In fact, he once sparred with Floyd “Money” Mayweather.
“He probably doesn’t remember sparring me,” Rowland said. “It was a while ago.”
One thing about the Michigan fighters is they know how to fight. They’re schooled in the finer points of defense and accuracy.
Could Rowland be the guy to unseat the undefeated Chavez?
“He’s got a lot of experience,” said David Packer who trains Rowland. “His strength is his conditioning.”
Unlike Chavez, who has never worked as an adult, Rowland has always held a full-time job whether in construction or putting up siding in cold winters or hot summers. He’s got that Mid-Western grit.
One huge incentive is not just fighting Chavez, but fighting in the new big fight capital of the world Las Vegas.
“It’s great. It’s something I always wanted to do,” said Rowland, 34, who thought his dream of fighting in Las Vegas might not come true. “It’s something I had missing in my career.”
What also has been missing in his career is realization that he’s only lost twice in 27 pro fights since he began fighting professionally in 2000. He’s beaten middleweights like Andrew Council, Charles Whittaker and Epifanio Mendoza. Yes, that Mendoza who lost a controversial decision to Jeff Lacy a year ago.
“It was like a dream come true when they asked me to fight,” said Rowland.
That could result in a nightmare for Chavez. We’ll see Saturday night.