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Soto looks to join elite group

Story & photos by Felipe Leon

If anybody is ready to take their turn under the spotlight, it is WBC super featherweight champion Humberto Soto (50-7-2, 32 KOs) of Los Mochis, Mexico.

Often considered one of the most underrated fighters in the sport, "Zorrita" or sly little fox, is on the brink of joining only a handful of Mexican warriors who have captured three world titles in different weight classes this Saturday night when he faces former world champion David Diaz (35-2-1, 17 KOs) of Chicago, for the vacant WBC lightweight title in the semi-main event to Pacquiao-Clottey in Dallas.

"That is what motivates me the most, being able to join that elite group of fighters," Soto says as he begins his work out at the Sports World Gym in Tijuana. "We can't be conformist though, God willing, we earn this one and maybe in the future we get another one."

Soto captured his first title at featherweight when he surprisingly defeated Houston's Rocky Juarez to capture the interim WBC title in '05 and then his second in 2008 when he defeated Gamaliel Diaz for the vacant 130 lbs. strap. Now as Soto is ready for his third title challenge and having his name etched in the record books, his manager Antonio Lozada, shares his excitement for the action to begin on Saturday night.

"I am happy, excited and above all very proud to be on Humberto's team. When I first met Humberto, he was a four round fighter, he was seventeen years old, now he is twenty-nine. He has been twelve years with me and I think that we have done a great job together, he is going for his third world title," Lozada states while he watches Soto hit the mitts. "A lot of people now try to jump on the bandwagon but I think that what we have done is proof of itself. We have been together in the good times and in the bad times and in the really bad times. This is a team effort and we couldn't be where we are at if it wasn't for the help of Don Romulo who I respect immensely."

Don Romulo Quirarte is the renown Tijuana based trainer who has led a multitude of fighters to the championship promise land including former IBF bantamweight champion Raul "Jibaro" Perez, lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo and the living legend himself, Julio Cesar Chavez. Now, Quirarte's son Bobby, is in charge of Soto's corner and has been for the last couple of years.

"Personally, I think any trainer wants to get to those heights and for me will be the second time that I help a fighter to a world title, in this case it will be with Humberto," Bobby Quirarte adds regarding the meaning of Soto's next bout. "As far as the event, there is plenty of people that would like to just be there and personally I feel very proud."

For Soto, this will not be the first time sharing the bill with the sport's current pound for pound king Manny Pacquiao. Soto in his own right has been chasing the Filipino icon but the closest he has come is stopping Pacquiao's brother, Bobby, in '07 via 7th round KO.

"We have had the good fortune in fighting on three of Manny Pacquiao's under cards and they are huge events with plenty of meaning to them. We are very happy because of that," Lozada states diplomatically. "We expect that we soon we will get bigger fights with bigger purses because we have been part of these big fight cards of Pacquiao, always in the semi-main event but you know that the main event is the one that takes the bigger purse."

Whether a bout against Pacquiao materializes still remains to be seen but first, Soto must get past the tough Diaz who is no stranger to Pacquiao or big events.

"He is an experienced fighter. He has fought the best out there. I don't think that neither David Diaz or Humberto Soto are going to be the winners of this fight but more the people that are going to watch it," Soto says enthusiastically.

"It is a tough fight, a complicated fight, similar to the one against 'Matador' Chavez but we are ready to bring that title with us," Quirarte adds.

Coincidentally, both fighters are coming off a victory over the same opponent, former lightweight champion Jesus "Matador" Chavez. Soto defeated Chavez in a dirty ten round bout via unanimous decision in December of last year while Diaz earned a majority decision three months earlier in September.

"I felt good, working intelligently and minding what my corner had to say," Soto states of his bout with Chavez. "Honestly, I didn't feel strong enough because of a cold I had prior to the fight so I think if that wouldn't have been the case, the fight would have been different but we listened to our corner and followed the game plan."

The Soto team is confident it has come up with the right strategy to beat the former Olympian who has only been defeated twice, once by Pacquiao and once by Kendall Holt, both by TKO.

"What is going to help 'Zorrita' is his preparation, his confidence. We are not focusing on so much what David Diaz can do but what we can do to be able to beat a fighter of his caliber," Quirarte states. "We have the game plan thought out but not just one but several and the tools that we need to use will be revealed as the fight goes on. Hopefully our plan A is the one that works so that we don't have to adjust too much during the fight because it can get complicated. I am sure that David Diaz has his game plan for us but we are ready and I think we must box from a distance to be able to beat David Diaz."

What might complicate things for Soto is Diaz's southpaw stance which helped the native Chicagoan to defeat another three time world champion in Erik "Terrible" Morales in '07 but as far as Bobby Quirarte is concerned, they have worked with the right sparring partners to be prepared for the unorthodox angles.

"I don't think the fact that he is a southpaw will complicate things," Quirarte states. "We have been sparring with some good fighters like Marvin Quintero who is also a southpaw but much quicker and younger than Diaz which can only help us because Diaz is not as young or quick and that is to our advantage."

For the up and coming prospect Marvin Quintero, he saw first hand why Soto is ready to dispute his third world title.

"It was the first time that I sparred with Humberto. He is very strong, very solid, very intelligent, in short, he is a world champion. That is why he is a world champion. He is very complete," Quintero says. "He handles a continuous pressure but it is an intelligent pressure. Not like some brawling fighters who keep up the pressure, his is more intelligent, with feints, very complete."

With a third title strapped around his waist, Soto will soon have to decide which one to keep and defend, the super featherweight or lightweight version of the WBC championship.

"We don't know yet until after the bout. We are confident, God willing, that everything is going to come out in favor and we will make a decision for which of the two roads we continue on," Soto says.

As of now, Soto feels more comfortable at the 135 lbs. weight limit.

"I do feel better at lightweight, it is the process of all fighters. Once the body asks you to go up in weight, on must do it and gain that advantage," Soto explains. "Right now we are at a more natural weight with out any of the sacrifices to give the super featherweight limit. I think right now I am much more motivated, stronger and quicker. I think we are going to show that this coming Saturday the 13th."

Despite feeling welcomed at lightweight, Soto does not discard the chance of shedding the five pounds to defend his current title just as soon as a good offer is made.

"If there is a good fight and a good purse but that is something we would have to talk about with my team, my trainer, my manager, this is a team. We would have to sit down and make a decision," he says although he can not think of an opponent that would meet his criteria at 130 lbs. "I don't think there is any. That is one of the reason why we go to lightweight. I haven't really been focused on the super featherweight division."

At twenty nine years old and fighting as a professional for almost half his life, Soto is conscious that his time inside a ring is measured but with that in mind, his goals are clear, a third world title and then a fourth but first, there is David Diaz.

"I think that is true, that is my mentality right now. As far as right now, I can't think of if because I am focused on that lightweight title on March 13th."



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