Soto speaks out
Story & photo by Felipe Leon
With a broad grin displayed across his face, WBC Super Featherweight Champion Humberto "Zorrita" Soto fits right in at the CREA Gym run by Romulo Quirarte and his two sons, Romulo Jr. and Bobby.
At CREA, Soto has been prearing for his first defense of his title this coming Saturday night, against Antonio Davis (26-4, 13KO) of Atlanta, Ga., one of four fights on the PPV-televised "Latin Fury 8-Tijuana Thunder" card.
The gym, housed under the stands of the largest sports complex of Tijuana, is the home of over 60 amateur and professional fighters ranging from six years of age to those in their thirties.
As each athlete makes their way into the small and crowded room comprised of two makeshift rings and well used heavy bags, they are sure to shake hands with everybody else already inside as politeness and manners is thought just as much as the correct way to connect with a jab or to throw a left hook to the body.
"I feel comfortable here since in the late 90's,” says Soto. “It was about '98, that I used to train here. When my issue with Pancho happened, my manager Antonio Lozada gave me choices of who I would like to work with and I decided with Bobby Quirarte since we had a good relationship already.”
The issue that the 28 year old fighter from Los Mochis, Mexico, faces is the absence of life-long trainer, Francisco "Pancho" Valenzuela from his corner.
"He decided stay home with his family,” says Soto. “We needed to respect his wishes but at the same time, we need to keep moving forward. It was an amicable split and we still have a great friendship. He was beginning to feel the strain of leaving Los Mochis and he wanted to be home and enjoy his family.
"I can't train in Los Mochis and I have always trained outside of it. I have a lot of friends there and there is a lot of invitations for dinners and parties and they tend to be counter productive so that is why I have always gotten ready for a fight outside of my hometown."
With his new home away from home clearly established, Soto (46-7-2, 29 KOs) has diligently been working to be part of the legendary gym that has seen many champions work its bags such as five time world champion Manuel "Mantecas" Medina, bantamweight champion Raul "Jibaro" Perez and the living legend himself, Julio Cesar Chavez.
"I think the gym is very happy to have this type of champion here,” says Soto’s trainer, Bobby Quirarte, who is in charge of day-to-day operations.
"He brings a lot of experience. He had worked here before but since then he has gained a lot of experience, with most of it being fights at the world class level."
Soto, who has been a professional fighter for twelve years, still feels that there is still much to learn from not only the if-they-could-speak walls of the CREA, but also from his trainers.
"In boxing you never stop learning,” says Soto. “There is always new and different things. We have been boxing for quite some time and we are working on the basics. This is my second fight with Bobby and things going great so far."
Trainer Quirarte agrees:
"I think every day fighters bring in something new. They bring in new details and new faults that need to be worked on daily. We don't work with him as far as teaching him something new but we work with strategies and fixing flaws. All fighters, despite being world champions, can acquire bad habits and we work on that."
After capturing the interim WBC featherweight title back in 2005 by defeating Rocky Juarez with a unanimous decision, Soto struggled to earn the opportunity for a full fledged title. In late '07 he got his chance but against the fast moving Joan Guzman and Soto came up short over 12 rounds in his challenge for Guzman's WBO super featherweight strap. Then in late 2008, Soto was tapped to fight the little known Dominican Francisco Lorenzo for the interim WBC 130-pound belt on the under card of the Pacquiao-Diaz. As Soto dominated the contest for the first four rounds, well on his way to an early stoppage, he was disqualified by referee Joe Cortez for allegedly hitting Lorenzo while he was down on the canvas. Cortez awarded Lorenzo the win but the WBC refused to grant the green belt to the Dominican.
"I felt bad,” recalls Soto. “That night I wasn't awarded the belt but thousands of people saw me win. When there is negatives, I like to see the positives and if there is something that I have to thank Lorenzo for, is that thanks to him and that night, people now know me. If before that fight a thousand people knew of me, now there is ten thousand."
Despite having to defeat Gamaliel Diaz four months later in his return bout for the interim title in what could be considered one of the ugliest fights of 2008 and then capturing the official version in December, Soto holds no ill will toward the "firm but fair" Cortez.
"We don't have any hard feelings towards Cortez,” says Soto, choosing his words carefully. “He has many years of experience but that night, he lost it. He has a very good reputation and that night many people spoke ill of him because he made an injustice. A lot of people say that he acted in a racist manner.
"Soto says choosing his words carefully. "I don't know what to say. Only he knows the truth. He is the authority in the ring and if you see the video, you can see what happened, but we must respect his decision."
But now that Soto has reached the top of the division, as luck would have it, no fighter that he or his team would consider to be a top notch opponent is left in the weight class. Ever since defeating Bobby Pacquiao in 2007 with a brutal body shot in hopes of baiting the Filipino's more successful older brother, pound-for-pound king Manny, Soto has been in an endless quest to face the "Pacman".
"I think that if you want to be star, you have to go after the one that is on top. I hope that Pacquiao will give us the shot to fight him, I think it would be a very attractive fight."
His manager Antonio Lozada agrees.
"We are looking to make one or two defenses at the most in this division. Our intention is to bait Linares, the WBA champion, to unify with us which is something I don't think he would like to do. It is getting to the point where Soto is having trouble making the super featherweight limit so we are going to look for the lightweight title against Marquez, Barrera or whoever is there.
"We have been going after Manny Pacquiao since we were at featherweight but he has been going up in weight and we haven't been able to catch him. Now Pacquiao is at 140 lbs. and we are going to wait for the result of his fight against Hatton and if he goes down to 135, hopefully we can meet him there."
Soto is of the same opinion regarding his weight issues.
“The truth is that I have the height and body of a super lightweight. I do struggle to make the 130 lbs. weight limit. I am getting older and I think its normal for fighters to go from less to more but we are very professional and we work hard to make the weight. If tomorrow the opportunity arises for us to join the lightweights, then we'll go."
But many ringside pundits believe that there is still some unfinished business for the hard hitting Soto at super featherweight. Besides the aforementioned Venezuelan Linares, there is the man from Gilroy, Calif., two-time world champion Robert "Ghost" Guerrero.
"Fernando Beltran, our promoter, had offered the fight for the 28th to Robert Guerrero, but it seems that they have other plans,” says Lozada. “We are ready to fight anybody in the division that is willing to fight us.
"I think its just a matter of their people speaking to our people. We have experienced with Robert Guerrero when he fought Gamaliel Diaz, one of our fighters and we took away his undefeated record. Although I think it would be a tough fight, I am sure that Humberto beats him."
But when Linares or Guerrero are mentioned to Soto, "Zorrita" seems to have bigger plans although stating what is expected.
“I am interested in those fights and as fighters we have to go for the biggest fights and purses and we hope they come our way."
But now, Soto must first solve the riddle which is Antonio Davis as part of the PPV extravaganza which is being distributed by Top Rank in association with Zanfer Promotions and the City of Tijuana.
This would be Davis' third challenge of a world title, with his first being a unanimous decision loss to Joan Guzman in '06 for the WBO super featherweight version and then dropping four pounds to challenge Steven Luevano for the featherweight strap of the same organization. His two other losses have come at the hands of the Koba Gogoladze and very early in his career to Edner Cherry.
"He is a tough, difficult fighter, since his only losses have been with Steven Luevano and Joan Guzman and a couple more,” says Soto. “We know that it is not an easy fight and that is why we are working hard in getting ready for him.”
Soto's trainer Bobby Quirarte has a more thorough idea of the champion's next challenge:
"We've seen two videos of him, one of them being when he fought Joan Guzman. He is a good fighter. He boxes, he is quick and he works the distance well despite being shorter. We have seen the video and together with the rest of Soto's team, we have come up with a good strategy.
“We expect that with the work that we are doing we can decipher him and hopefully end it with a knock out so that we can home early and ready for the next fight."
An ending that would only bring more smiles to Soto's face since he has not fought in his adopted city of Tijuana since stopping Ismael Gonzalez in the tenth and final round back in 2004, eight months before he jumped on the boxing radar by defeating the former Olympian Juarez.
"I am very happy to be back fighting in Tijuana. I don't think its the same for people to see you train than to see you fight in a championship bout. A lot of people can't go to the United States or to another city in Mexico so all of the people that know me from all my years of training in Tijuana, they are very happy to see me fight here and that they will be able to attend."
. . . .
For more coverage on the San Diego/Tijuana scene, please check out SDFights.com