Whenever big fights have been brought up at 126, 130 and now 135 pounds in the last few years, the name of exciting Mexican fighter Humberto Soto always gets attached. Fans want to see him in with the top dogs. Right now, many would absolutely love to see Soto, who holds a paper title at 135, take on Juan Manuel Marquez, the lineal champion of the division, or one of the other top fighters.
But what many have ignored is that Soto never actually fights any of these guys. And for some reason, nobody seems to notice.
I've done these articles before about this subject, but I don't want my tone here to be mistaken. I think Humberto Soto is a really good fighter, and I enjoy watching him fight. When Manny Pacquiao was still at 130 pounds, there was some talk of him facing Soto in October 2007. Instead, Pacquiao faced Marco Antonio Barrera a second time in a fight nobody really wanted to see. Since then, Top Rank has sent Soto on the path of least resistance, milking him as a Mexican audience cash cow, and not testing him whatsoever.
At this point, it's become embarrassing. Top Rank takes plenty of guff for the way they've milked Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and in some respects rightly so. But Chavez is a 24-year-old who had no amateur career and has fought a very busy schedule since going pro in 2003. In his last fight, working for the first time with trainer Freddie Roach, he looked like he was starting to hit his stride as a pro fighter finally.
That's not the case for Soto, a 30-year-old veteran with a 52-7-2 (32 KO) record, paper titles at 126, 130 and 135 on his sheet, and plenty of fan support from those who don't seem willing or able to comprehend the cupcake schedule that he's been fighting since losing widely to Joan Guzman in November 2007.
BoxingScene.com reported this morning that Fernando Beltran, the President of Zanfer Promotions (which co-promotes Soto), says that the lightweight titlist will face Fidel Munoz on September 25. This is a far cry from the rumored possible fight with Urbano Antillon.
Hey, do you want to make this even worse than it already is? We'll get to who Munoz is (and isn't) in a second, but this is all not even going to set up a good fight. Another scrapped but rumored bout had Soto facing shot legend Marco Antonio Barrera next. Instead, it looks like Barrera will face David Diaz, and if Marco Antonio wins there, he'll face Soto after that.
I can't say that it's the promoters or the fighter specifically. Most likely if there's only one to blame, it's the promoters. But the actual most likely scenario is Soto is perfectly happy to keep running through mediocre opponents in his toughest fights, and Top Rank and Zanfer are happy to make money off of the fights.
As for Fidel Munoz, here's the scoop. He's 22 years old and Colombian, and he has the KO rate (23-1, 18 KO) that you'd expect of a 22-year-old Colombian fighter. He also has the completely useless record you'd expect of a 22-year-old Colombian fighter. His loss was a TKO-5 to Ali Chebah last year in France.
Munoz has beaten nobody. Coming into their fights, his victims had a combined win-loss record of 55-175-1. It is a total mismatch on paper. It has no business happening. There is no legitimacy to this fight whatsoever.
When you reach the level of the sport that Soto has, fans are right to expect you to stay there until you've been knocked back down the ladder. But Soto, Top Rank and Zanfer, with the support of the ever-brilliant, fair, caring and all-around wonderful World Boxing Council, have made a habit of picking off fighters who simply aren't near his class. Let's take a look back at what Soto has done since losing to Joan Guzman, which seems to have scared he and his handlers into an eternal shell.
Carlos Urias (2008-03-14): Urias is a journeyman. He's faced tons of notable opposition. As a bounce-back fight, I've seen worse.
Francisco Lorenzo (2008-06-28): The famous acting job fight where Lorenzo put in an Oscar-worthy job on Joe Cortez and got Soto disqualified. This one also wasn't terrible. Soto was a heavy favorite, but Lorenzo had some decent wins (Nate Campbell, Ivan Valle, Cristobal Cruz, Guadalupe Rosas) and it wasn't the worst vacant interim title fight. Whatever. The problem is that this is as tough a fight as Soto has taken since Guzman.
Gamaliel Diaz (2008-10-11): Another journeyman. Not a competitive fight on paper or in the ring.
Francisco Lorenzo (2008-12-20): There was some mild demand, probably, for Soto to get his revenge, so he did. It also won him the vacant WBC belt at 130. We'd already seen Soto spark the hell out of Lorenzo and I could've lived without the rematch, but it made sense. Now we get funky.
Antonio Davis (2009-03-28): Davis had already been dominated at 126 by Steven Luevano in 2007. That fight wasn't close at all. All he'd done between that and Soto was pick off two guys with losing records. This was a soft fight without question.
Benoit Gaudet (2009-05-02): Protected Canadian fighter with a fairly empty record. Soft fight.
Aristedes Perez (2009-09-15): This one was really bad. Perez was unbeaten at the time, but his opponents had had an even worse W-L percentage than Soto's upcoming opponent. Soto toyed with him and took him out in two. It was ugly.
Jesus Chavez (2009-12-19): Chavez hadn't looked good in years and was coming off of back-to-back losses to Michael Katsidis and David Diaz.
David Diaz (2010-03-13): David Diaz is a nice guy. I don't think anyone has a bad word to say about him. But Diaz is best-known for fighting tooth-and-nail with a very faded Erik Morales, and for getting obliterated by Manny Pacquiao after that. This was actually a decent fight to watch, but another one where Soto was the overwhelming favorite. It was, with all respect to David Diaz, another soft fight. Diaz was hand-picked because he can't punch.
Ricardo Dominguez (2010-05-15): Dominguez had been on a bit of a winning streak against nobody, and predictably wasn't in Soto's league.
Here's what I'm NOT saying: I'm not saying these are all bad fighters. What I am saying is that Humberto Soto has been ranked among his division's BEST fighters for years, and he has side-stepped every other top fighter in his divisions since losing to Guzman. The guys he's fighting, for the most part, don't stink, but they aren't challenges. They are all clear underdogs against Soto, and it's not because Soto is so good, but rather because the opposition is so mediocre, and in many cases clearly picked to add another win to his record, and to keep on milking his star as an attraction for Mexican fight fans.
The reported bout with Fidel Munoz is a truly bad one, as was the Aristedes Perez fight. Even washed-up Jesus Chavez was better than those two. Soto will easily win this fight, hope Marco Antonio Barrera can win against David Diaz if that fight happens, and then they'll look to pick Barrera's bones. Some people will buy into that as a legitimate fight, sadly enough, but the truth is Barrera looked really bad in June against a weak opponent, doing enough to easily win simply because Barrera has forgotten more about boxing than his opponent had ever known.
I only say any of this (though the knee-jerk pro-Soto readers probably quit reading by now) because I enjoy watching Soto fight and would absolutely love to see him take better, tougher fights than he has recently. But as long as everyone's making money, you can probably give up on expecting Soto to take a big fight. He's racking up trinket titles, racking up the wins, and raking in the dough for easy fights, no different from some highly-publicized fighters of recent years who have done the exact same thing and met very harsh criticisms for it. Humberto Soto and the promoters deserve the same criticism.