On Saturday night from the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Golden Boy and Showtime bring back the "Knockout Kings" format after last September's financially successful event, but this time they're not running on a hot boxing date, and there's no Canelo Alvarez in the main event.
Instead, it's a televised tripleheader (starting 9:00 pm EDT) with one former titlist looking to get back into the win column, one highly confident prospect/contender looking to work toward his first title shot, and a rising young action star taking an on-paper step up in class.
Let's break down the three fights and talk about what to look forward to on Saturday.
Andre Berto vs Jesus Soto Karass (Welterweights, 12 rounds)
The NABF title will be on the line in this fight, as Berto (28-2, 22 KO) aims to work himself back into contention, which shouldn't be too hard if he wins. He makes for exciting TV fights, including his only two career losses to Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero, which were Fight of the Year contenders in 2011 and 2012.
The 29-year-old Berto never did (and almost surely never will) become the sort of pound-for-pound contender that HBO and Al Haymon tried to sell us for years, but he is a two-time titleholder at 147 pounds, and has been a quality fighter in the division. That he didn't become great is often held too much against him. He's good, and he's a lot of fun to watch most of the time. Yes, he was overpaid for garbage fights, but that was a lot more to do with the HBO/Haymon love-in than it was anything Berto did. What was he going to do, turn down good money and a free world title because Miki Rodriguez didn't belong there?
Soto Karass (27-8-3, 17 KO) is a pretty durable veteran fighter who has been around the block a number of times. He's here due to a mild upset win over Selcuk Aydin in January, and an exciting TKO loss to Marcos Maidana on the first Knockout Kings card last year. He can be expected to bring a fight to Berto, but he'll be giving up a lot in handspeed and explosiveness, two things that Berto has used in the past to shine against fighters at this level. Soto Karass is certainly a respectable pro, but this is the level on which Andre Berto built whatever reputation he was able to build before he met reality in the form of higher-level opponents. This is a fight designed to get Berto a good and likely exciting victory. Soto Karass won't run and hide, and he's likely to be outgunned. Prediction: Berto TKO-5.
Keith Thurman vs Diego Gabriel Chaves (Welterweights, 12 Rounds)
Thurman (22-0, 18 KO) and Chaves (20-0, 18 KO) have sparkling records without a ton of substance, but Thurman's HBO victories over Jan Zaveck, Carlos Quintana, and probably even Orlando Lora surpass anything that Chaves has done at home in Argentina, one of those places where it can be easy to build a fluffed-up record.
Of course, as we say in all instances like this, just because Chaves has a thin record doesn't mean he can't fight, and doesn't mean he's not a real danger here. Thurman, 24, still has his doubters, despite performing well in his biggest opportunities thus far. Whether or not the 27-year-old Chaves is the man to "expose" the flaws that some believe are there for the exposin' is another story.
I won't pretend to be an expert on Diego Chaves, but what I've seen of him on YouTube, he didn't jump out as the next Sergio, Maidana, or MATTHYSSE! -- if I had to bet on whether he'd be thrown into that category, or more closely resemble Walter Matthysse (you may recall Kermit Cintron nearly decapitating him back in the days when Kermit Cintron was a thing), I'd have to say I expect him to look like Walter.
There could be a surprise here, and really, nobody gets 18 stoppages in 20 wins if they can't punch, so there's a chance that Chaves could be a really destructive hitter, too. He doesn't have the body where you expect him to bring thunder just by looking at him, but then neither do Maidana or MATTHYSSE!, so that's no sure bet.
Going with my gut more than anything, I think Thurman will be able to box his way past Chaves, and at some point find the big blow to take it home inside the distance. But Thurman can get a little reckless, and if Chaves' power is the real deal, he's a wild card here. Prediction: Thurman TKO-7.
Omar Figueroa vs Nihito Arakawa (Lightweights, 12 Rounds)
When I first heard about Omar Figueroa, I heard he was a potential head case fighter, a guy who wasn't 100% dedicated to the sport and was doing it because he happened to be pretty good at it naturally. Some issues on the scales a couple of times seemed to indicate that those rumors might be true.
Figueroa (21-0-1, 17 KO) is doing his best to make rumors that never got too far off the ground basically never have existed at this point. He's a rising young contender in the 135-pound ranks, a punishing, hyperaggressive action fighter who digs to the body and wings wild power shots upstairs, fearless of anything coming back that can do the sort of damage he's dishing out. At 23, he's really just getting started, but he's been positively destructive since January 2012, when he debuted on ShoBox with a beatdown of Michael Perez. He was last seen on April 20, thrashing Abner Cotto in just 2:57.
Arakawa, 31, is a fairly interesting opponent to import for the fight. On paper, Arakawa (24-2-1, 16 KO) represents a possible step up in class from prospects that Figueroa has exposed and veterans who never really had much chance, as he's not overly old or past whatever his peak was, but the trouble for Arakawa may be that on the best day of his career, he might not be able to handle an offensive storm like Figueroa brings.
You will recall, however, that the last time Golden Boy brought in an under-the-radar, Japanese, southpaw veteran to face a nasty puncher from Texas, Nobuhiro Ishida kicked James Kirkland's ass. I don't expect a repeat. Prediction: Figueroa TKO-6.