Every bout on ESPN2, HBO2 and Showtime this past weekend was, at minimum, quality, but they came in two varieties: good, and competitive; or good, and one-sided. The Juan Carlos Burgos-Yakubu Amidu, Keith Thurman-Diego Chaves and Juan Francisco Estrada-Milan Melindo were the close kind. The best of them, somehow, was of the one-sided variety — the one that featured the above-photographed hospital buddies Omar Figueroa and Nihito Arakawa. It was a Fight of the Year candidate, albeit weaker than some others because of Figueroa dominating, and the 3rd was the potential Round of the Year. It helped make the Showtime tripleheader before an impressive announced audience of nearly 9,000 in
San Diego San Antonio the best top-to-bottom card of 2013 so far and the best in some time overall.
- Fight of the Year vs. inhumanity. For some, Figueroa-Arakawa was not a Fight of the Year candidate at all. That's because it started getting pretty ugly after the midway point. Arakawa wasn't winning many rounds, he was pushing his punches and the punishment was piling up. The pleading for the bout to be stopped started hitting a pretty high crescendo on social media late in the fight. I suppose I would've been pleased if someone had stopped it, particularly Arakawa's corner. The referee was in a tough position — Arakawa kept surging back and remaining just competitive enough that it was difficult to find a place to pull the plug. Now that we know Arakawa is OK, we can stand back and better appreciate one of the elements that made the fight stunning: Arakawa was over-the-top courageous, like, parody-of-insane-bravery courageous. It almost took away from what a good, rugged performance Figueroa put on, the latest indicator that this kid is for real at lightweight. Who would want to get hit in the gut by that mean Texan? He's also popular with the Texas crowd, which was moved to exhibit its love in large decibel figures in part by rooting for a great fight and in part by rooting for the hometown hero.
- Jesus Soto Karass' performance and the judges. Speaking of taking away: Because Berto is such a polarizing figure (more on him in a moment), he overshadowed what was the latest sign of progress for Karass from gatekeeper to borderline contender. No, he's not there yet. So far, his two best wins — this one and the one over Selcuk Aydin — are over former contenders. Let's see him beat someone who's a current contender first. Could he beat Paulie Malignaggi, or Kell Brook? Perhaps. He has shown noticable improvement. He moves and turns so much better than he used to — he's still basically a straightforward plodder with no defense, but he's not exclusively that anymore. The way he responded to the knockdown he didn't believe was a knockdown in the 11th was classic Karass, who fights very well when angry. Turns out he probably needed to, because the judges somehow had it a split draw going into the 12th round, when Karass stopped Berto. No word on what's next for him, but Golden Boy has more than a few welterweights to offer.
- Andre Berto's place. It's easy to comprehend why Berto once generated so much animosity — he was the prototypical spoiled Al Haymon/HBO baby, getting easy dates and getting oversold, and he did a few things on a personality level that rubbed people the wrong way. I once argued against allowing the hype surrounding a fighter to affect one's estimation of him, but that's not how a lot of boxing people think; they hate boxers when they don't like how they're marketed to them, even when it's not their fault, and once they don't like someone, they don't like them for forever no matter what. What's ironic about that is that Berto has become everything the most vocal anti-Haymon sorts say they like most: flawed in a way that guarantees he'll be in entertaining fights every time out. He's only been in good ones after 2010, some of them Fight of the Year candidates. That so many of Berto's most vocal critics spent so much time talking about how much he sucks afterward is the kind of thing that would make some of them say, if another fighter like him was being critiqued in that way, "Who cares? He's in good fights!" I also love the line of thought about how this loss (and losses in three of his last four) mean that Berto always sucked. He was once a promising prospect. He became a top-fiveish welterweight contender, which he earned with wins superior to other welterweight contenders. Compared to the majority of today's fighters, he was, at that point, flawed and demonstrating some of his limits, but he was far from a bum. As I wrote back when, he "stopped showing improvement." And then he regressed — that shoulder roll experiment, for example, made no sense. Then, the punishment accumulated, to the point that he immediately was showing signs of being a diminished fighter from the opening bell against Karass. He still has some speed and power, but mainly he was competitive with a wounded shoulder against Karass on pure guts. Now, everyone knows he shouldn't be headlining a fight card again, not that he should be banished from TV altogether, cuz, you know, fun fights. Maybe if he reestablishes himself somehow, he can get back to that high level, but it doesn't appear likely, because new trainer Virgil Hunter either didn't have enough time or capability to teach Berto any new tricks or it's too far into his career, at age 29, for him to learn them. (As for his contention in a post-fight intervie\w that he deserved an eight count — maybe. But he was in bad shape and didn't need to get hit anymore, either.)
- Next for Keith Thurman, and the Argentines. Thurman is targeting his own welterweight contender, Adrien Broner, down the line. It'd be a good fight. So would Thurman against Marcos Maidana. Doubt Broner-Thurman happens anytime soon, though — Thurman is steadily answering the questions about whether he's just the next Haymon fighter who got spotlight prematurely, but the bout probably wouldn't be big enough yet for Golden Boy to make a risky bout like that for two of its youngsters. Maybe I'm underestimating GBP, though, given its strong run. Chaves, like Jan Zaveck, had Thurman under duress, and Thurman again rose to the occasion. Chaves showed what so many Argentines (including, just this weekend, featherweight Mauricio Munoz against Evgeny Gradovich) have been showing lately: They might knock you out, but if they don't you'll know you were in a scrap.
- Next for Juan Francisco Estrada, and about those scorecards. The #1 flyweight might be headed toward a rematch with Brian Viloria. It's probably the most marketable bout for him next, and certainly Viloria and his backers can sell the first loss as a strategic misstep, which is how Viloria's been talking about it already. Everyone wouldn't mind seeing an Estrada rematch with Roman Gonzalez, too. As for the bad scorecards for Estrada's win over Melindo, the commentary has swung too far in the wrong direction in some quarters. Estrada clearly, clearly won. It wasn't exactly close, as some are making it out, let alone a fight Melindo could've been considered to win half of the rounds.
- Anthony Dirrell, Andy Ruiz, Jr. Super middleweight Anthony Dirrell was back in the ring on Sho Extreme and looked good against Anthony Hanshaw, albeit a much older version than the one Anthony's brother Andre beat when it mattered. Dirrell called out Sakio Bika afterward, and I'd be interested in it. Mainly I'm sick of the talented Dirrells continually acting like they're going to do something then never doing it. There's this saying about what you ought to do when you're on the pot that comes to mind. Off TV, Andy Ruiz, Jr. beat Joe Hanks in a meeting of American heavyweight prospects. He had him in trouble from the start, then finished him off in the 4th. As a result of the win and the manner of it, he is indeed worth watching. But for heavyweights with that kind of physique, the flab eventually comes back to haunt them.