Big bouts elude Guzman, Soto

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Between them, Joan Guzman and Humberto Soto have 78 professional bouts. They've been among the best featherweights or super featherweights in the world for at least the last four years, if not longer.

Nowhere on either man's record, though, will you find Manny Pacquiao's name. Or Marco Antonio Barrera's. Or Erik Morales'. Or Juan Manuel Marquez's. Or Acelino Freitas'.

Or any of the truly big stars of those divisions since 2002. They're fighting each other Saturday at the Borgata Hotel-Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., as part of an HBO-televised card with Guzman's WBO super featherweight belt at stake.

But the winner won't be guaranteed anything for 2008.

And though it seems odd in an age when promoters parrot the refrain, "The best must fight the best," it's not all that surprising to Bob Arum, who promotes Soto.

He has tried to maneuver Soto into position for a match against a recognizable name, so far without success.

"He's a tough, tough fighter and he has no real drawing power, so guys like Barrera or Marquez really have no incentive or interest in fighting him," Arum said. "Why would you want to fight him if you were them? He's a very difficult opponent, and what does he bring to the table other than a tough fight? Nothing at this point. So it makes it hard."

Soto, 27, is 43-5-2 with 27 knockouts and one no-contest. He burst onto the scene in 2005 when he upset Rocky Juarez in a fight for the vacant WBC featherweight belt.

At that stage, he was best known for a competitive loss in 2002 to Kevin Kelley, the former featherweight champion who was very near the end of the line.

Guzman, 31, is 27-0 with 17 knockouts. He has blindingly fast hands, but, though he is nicknamed "Little Tyson," he has a conspicuous lack of power.

Guzman has held a world title belt pretty much continuously since 2002, but he also has been unable to land the big names. "I fight anybody, everybody," said Guzman, who is trained by Floyd Mayweather Sr. "If someone doesn't want to fight me, that says something about them, not me."

Guzman's marquee fight has been a Sept. 16, 2006, brawl with Jorge Barrios for the WBO super featherweight belt in Las Vegas. But while Barrios is a known commodity among the hard-core fans, he's virtually anonymous outside of that small sect.

So Guzman and Soto have to fight each other in a fight that, even on the HBO broadcast, will have to take a back seat.

Guzman-Soto is one of three fights HBO is airing Saturday, including the replay of Miguel Cotto's unanimous-decision victory over Shane Mosley in their battle for the WBA welterweight title last week from Madison Square Garden.

(That bout, incidentally, has sold more than 400,000 pay-per-view units, according to Arum. But he says he's adopting a new policy of not releasing the final figures because fighters will want to be paid on that number and Top Rank doesn't have the revenue yet. More likely, though, for his decision to keep the numbers to himself is that the fight failed to reach the 500,000-plus sales Arum projected.)

The low-key Soto insists he doesn't mind the lack of attention and he's heartened by the fact that Arum said he's one of three potential opponents for Pacquiao in March, along with Marquez and WBC lightweight champion David Diaz.

He couldn't explain his lack of success in getting one of those big names in the ring sooner, but he isn't making a fuss about it.

"Why I haven't gotten the opportunity before, I don't know, but there's a lot of opportunity now," Soto said. "I know there are a lot of guys on their way out, and the new generation is here. We want to show the new generation is just as good as the old with a great fight. "A lot of people have asked why I haven't fought someone like Guzman before. The division is retiring a lot of its legends, and new ones need to step up."

New ones aren't going to step up unless there is incentive for them to do so. The premium cable television networks, which in large part bankroll the sport in the U.S., need to develop higher standards that would force these types of fights to occur.

Showtime, for instance, is showing an abominable card on Dec. 1, with Vernon Forrest defending the WBC super welterweight title against Michele Piccirillo in the main event and Antonio Tarver meeting Danny Santiago in what figures to be a one-sided light heavyweight beatdown in the co-feature.

Arum said he had proposed what would have been a compelling welterweight match to Showtime for that date featuring Antonio Margarito and Zab Judah, but Showtime declined.

It isn't surprising that Showtime turned the fight down because its track record in 2007 indicates it doesn't want a fight if it is not promoted by either Gary Shaw or Don King.

Until the Nov. 3 fight between Marquez and Rocky Juarez, which was promoted by Golden Boy Promotions – and which fell into Showtime's lap after it was scheduled to be Sept. 15 on HBO but had to be postponed when Marquez was injured – every card Showtime broadcast this year was promoted by either King or Shaw or a combination of both.

Predictably, the Dec. 1 card is being promoted by Shaw.

The truth is that Al Haymon, the risk-adverse manager of both Forrest and Tarver, is promoting the show, but because it is a violation of federal law for a manager also to be a promoter, he has hired Shaw to fill that role.

The lesson that television executives can't seem to learn when it comes to boxing is that if you give guys the option to fight dreadful opponents like Danny Santiago while offering a nice payday and national exposure, there's little reason for them to take on legitimate challenges, like Guzman and Soto are doing with each other. Guzman said he doesn't understand the concept of hand-picked opponents.

He willingly is taking on Soto and issued an open invitation to all comers for next year.

"If you have the pride, you want to be the best, and you have to prove yourself against everyone," Guzman said. "You have never seen me run from anyone. I never will. I say you either fight everyone or just stay home."

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