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Soto-Antillon: Fight of the Year?

Photo: Big Joe Miranda

By Graham Houston

It’s wonderful when a fight lives up to and maybe even surpasses expectations, and we had such a fight on PPV on Saturday night when Humberto Soto retained his lightweight title by outpointing a very brave and determined Urbano Antillon. Some thought that the judges’ scores were too close but the important thing is that the winner got a deserved, unanimous decision after a fight that had everything except a knockdown. I liked Soto to win the fight, as I wrote in a preview on the free site, and I even thought he could get a stoppage. Antillon fought above anything he has shown before, though, and pushed Soto hard in every one of the 12 rounds.

It seemed to me that Soto was always in front but that Antillon was never completely out of the fight. In the end, it was a one-point deduction from Antillon’s score for a low blow that decided the fight. Without the one-point deduction the fight would have been a majority draw.

I can’t avoid using a cliché — Antillon fought like a man possessed. It was as if, and I hesitate to say it, he was willing to die to win the fight.

It is not often that you see a fighter give as much of himself. I can think of world-class lightweights who, in my opinion, would not have made it to the final bell had they taken the sort of punishment that Antillon absorbed. Antillon, though, was unbreakable. There were a couple of times when I thought he was on the brink of being stopped, but back he came, bloodied from a cut over the right eye but fearless and furious in his relentless attacks.

Soto showed what I had suspected — that he can lift the level of boxing to meet the challenge that is presented to him. This was a gruelling battle for the winner as well as the loser, however, and one can only guess how much the fight has taken out of each of them.

The rounds flashed by, one blurring into the other, and it seemed that there was never a dull moment. In the final month of 2010, this, surely, had to be the fight of the year.

Antillon landed heavy blows to the body — his forte — and crashed some big left hooks onto Soto’s always-reliable chin. Soto moved, jabbed, and every so often triggered off combinations or brought up left uppercuts through the middle. It was a classic display of textbook technical excellence against a physically stronger, full-bore aggressor.

So intense was the action that one wondered if the fight would go the limit. As early as round two, commentator Nick Charles was urgently inquiring: “The way this is going now, could it possibly go 12?” It did. The fighters kept going and the fight kept flowing, and the fans, in the arena and watching at home, were swept along in the raging current.
Antillon, I have to say, fought one of the roughest — as well as toughest — fights that I have seen in a long time. There seemed to be numerous low blows, yet just one point was taken. Antillon threw Soto to the canvas three times. As much as I admired Antillon’s heart and his hunger for victory, he was extremely fortunate not to have had at least one more point deducted from his score. What if Soto had suffered injury when tossed to the canvas? He was too courageous and proud to try to cop a DQ by going into the “too hurt to continue” routine we have seen fighters pull from time to time, and we all know who they are, but I was fearing the possibility of a great fight being ruined by a fiasco-type finish. The referee, I felt, needed to have reined in Antillon a little.

Getting battered by legitimate body blows, hit low, having the breath knocked out of him and his rhythm disrupted by the throw-downs, must have been draining, but Soto just kept on boxing, fighting, punching — and staying in front. He made his last big effort to end the fight when he had Antillon looking almost ready to go late in the 10th round. After this, Soto clearly just wanted to box his way through the last two rounds and get out with the win. I thought that Antillon outworked him in the last two rounds. Antillon had too much leeway to make up, however.

The fight, for me, had two winners — Soto and the sport itself, because this, surely, was a night when boxing was at its dramatic best.

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