Jaws dropped when it was announced that Mexico’s Jesus Soto Karass and Japan’s Yoshihiro Kamegai would face each other in the intimacy of Southern California’s best fight venue the Belasco Theater.
That announcement served as a kind of countdown over a month ago and finally, here we are.
Soto Karass (28-10-3, 18 KOs) seems to have been around forever. Kamegai (26-3-1, 23 KOs) not so much but that’s a good thing. It means that the Japanese prizefighter from Tokyo will be fresh as warriors go today at Belasco in the heart of downtown L.A. Estrella TV and #RingTVlive will show the Golden Boy card.
It’s been 12 years since Soto Karass arrived in Southern California as one of the newest members of Team Margarito. They were a rough bunch of Mexicans who used to spar regularly at South El Monte Gym, then later at Montebello P.A.L., then at Maywood Boxing Gym. Those were incredible wars.
In the beginning the team included Margarito, Alfredo “Perro” Angulo and Soto Karass. They would have their round robin wars that resembled one of those cage fights on wrestling cards. It was like an endless tag team and newcomers could join if they were willing to pay the price of a pound of flesh.
They were brutal sparring sessions.
Soto Karass was the rookie of the group and when he entered the ring to face Margarito or Angulo it seemed the veterans pulled back slightly. They would pressure him but the steam in their blows was not full Tijuana or full Mexicali. It was more Southern California cool.
But as time passed you could see the soft gloves turn into rocks and they let go around 2007. Soto Karass had arrived.
The welterweight from Los Mochis never seemed like the strongest or the fastest but always gave problems to whoever he faced. You just could not judge Soto Karass on his physical stature. Upsets have always been his forte.
Soto Karass knocked out Andre Berto, beat Selcuk Aydin, and should have received the win against Mike Jones when they fought in 2011. He’s just one of those guys that like to fight and it shows whenever he steps in the ring.
“I’m a Mexican warrior,” said Soto Karass who I ran into in the parking garage under Golden Boy headquarters. He was happy as can be to go upstairs and sign the contract.
Japan’s Kamegai arrived five years ago with a group of Teiken Promotion fighters that included Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. Since that time he’s been showing a ferocity in the ring that fans just like. Whenever his name is mentioned ears just perk up.
“That’s my style when I fight here,” said Kamegai via the telephone on Wednesday. “When I’m in Japan I fight more technical.”
But since fans like brawls Kamegai gives the fans brawls.
“In the U.S. I’m a visitor so if fans prefer to see a fighter with a lot of courage that’s what I give them,” said Kamegai. “U.S. fans appreciate it and the reward makes it beneficial.”
Kamegai says he does not simplify Soto Karass as a one-dimensional fighter.
“He changes here and there,” said Kamegai of his Mexican opponent. “I prepared to fight and adjust to how he fights. It all depends on him.”
Though he aims to please the fans Kamegai does have a primary goal:
“My goal is to fight for the world title and be a world champion,” Kamegai says.
This fight may not be a world title match but it has world class event stamped on it.
Years ago Japanese and Mexican fighters regularly fought wars at the nearby Olympic Auditorium a few blocks away.
One of the first fights I ever witnessed at the Olympic was a brawl between Sho Saijo and Jose Pimentel in 1968. That night Pimentel out-pointed Saijo after 10 rounds to win a split decision. They fought again a month later at the same venue and this time Saijo won by unanimous decision. A year later they fought a third time and this one was held in Sapporo, Japan. Saijo won the third encounter by knockout in the second round and grabbed the WBA featherweight world title.
Ironically, Kamegai is originally from Sapporo, Japan just like Saijo. Coincidence?