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The Cyber Boxing Zone Newswire -- JUNE 30:2001
TAPIA STUNS SOTO IN FEATHER DEBUT
Felix Flores upset by late sub
by Chris Bushnell

June 30, 2001

Last year, when talk of a Johnny Tapia-Naseem Hamed showdown surfaced, the conventional wisdom was that Tapia just wanted one more big payday to cap off a brilliant career. After all, Tapia wasn't known for his power at his best weight, 115. How could hope to keep up with Hamed's power at 126? Flash forward to June 2001. Hamed has been dethroned, and Johnny Tapia has done what the Prince couldn't: drop Soto for the 10 count.

Johnny Tapia could have selected an easier opponent for his featherweight debut. Cesar Soto, who has fought at 126 since 1993, was known primarily for his good chin and powerful looping left hook. No doubt Tapia was looking for that hook early when Soto surprised him with a windmill right hand that landed flush in the opening seconds of the fight. Tapia circled away from further harm, but the task was clear: use speed, footwork, and defense to outbox the bigger man. Tapia went to work.

As Tapia circled, a hunched over Soto steadily gave chase. In typical Tapia style, Johnny would occasionally halt his movement, fire off a few quick shots, and then get out of harm's way. For most of the opening round, the only answer Soto had to Tapia's speed was a left elbow. Soto used the illegal blow to shove Tapia back as he would step in for a quick flurry. Tapia's combos did little damage, however. Many of his jabs were blocked, and even his hooks and crosses didn't faze Soto in the least. On the other hand, when Soto landed a few wild counters near the end of the first, Tapia's head was swiveled and the power disparity was evident. Tapia would have to be careful in every exchange.

Despite picking up the first round on the volume of his punches, Tapia was in for a surprise in the second. Early in the round, the fighters came together at center ring. Soto threw a right and Tapia stepped back to avoid the blow. But as Soto came forward with the punch, he stepped on Tapia's foot. When Tapia attempted to take a second step back to avoid the follow-up hook, he couldn't. As a result, the hook hit Tapia in the chest and he stumbled back off-balance and fell onto his rear. Referee Joe Cortez immediately picked up the mandatory eight count. Tapia was incensed. He immediately began yelling at Cortez, even shoving him at one point. But Cortez was well within his rights to call the knockdown. Tangled feet or not, Tapia was down at the end of a punch.

Tapia was still yelling at Cortez when the fight resumed. As Tapia came at Soto, his head was even turned and he angrily taunted Cortez off to the side. Too fired up for his own good, Tapia now attacked Soto openly, and ate a heavy left hook in the process. Several times Tapia swarmed on Soto, and ran into a power punch for his efforts. The blows only seemed to make Tapia more angry, and Cortez had to break up several rough clinches. Tapia was now out of his game plan, and Soto welcomed the opportunity to exchange. With a minute to go in the second round, Soto approached a more flat-footed Tapia and nailed him flush with a left uppercut. Tapia stood in place after the blow, simultaneously acknowledging his own mistake and Soto's power. Soto jumped on Tapia's pause, landing another flush left hook and right hand combo. The three punches didn't wobble Tapia, but he was hurt. Tapia now openly brawled with Soto for most of the final minute of the round, and Soto again was landing the more telling blows. Even without the freak knockdown, Soto had won the round with his power shots.

New trainer Buddy McGirt urged Tapia not to brawl with Soto between rounds, but seconds into the third round Tapia was again exchanging punch for punch with Soto in center ring. At one point, both men threw overhand rights at the same time. Soto's landed flush and made Tapia take a half-step back. Tapia then stood up straight and took a deep breath, another acknowledgment that he was not following the gameplan. With that, the brawling ended, and Tapia once again was on his toes boxing.

But Tapia was having a difficult time with Soto in the third. He would float towards Soto and pump off four jabs as he spun Soto around. But after Tapia would punctuate his jabs with a right, Soto would land a much heavier hook and even the score. After several bursts ended with a stiff Soto reply, Tapia decided that he needed a change in tactics. Up until this point, his jabs had opened up his combinations. Now he returned to his bread and butter: the left hook to the body. Tapia planted his feet, dipped to his left and fired off two quick hooks to Soto's liver. The punches made Soto wince, and he pinned his elbow to his side for protection. Tapia now straightened up and launched a crisp left uppercut to the middle of Soto's exposed belly. Soto looked like an inflatable man that had just been popped. His already-crouched stance shrunk as he curled in pain. Tapia fired another body shot and Soto's knees began melting. Tapia now let his hands go on Soto's unprotected face, and he landed several good shots during Soto's collapse to the canvas.

At first it looked as though Soto would go down to one knee, but he flopped onto his back groaning in pain. Cortez leaned over him and began the count. Soto made it to all fours by seven, but was only half-kneeling by ten. Johnny Tapia KO3. While we had picked Tapia to win, we certainly didn't expect it to be this easy. Neither did Cesar Soto (now 53-10-3/39), who looked stunned long after he had caught his breath.

After the fight, Tapia (50-2-2/27) again asked for a match with Hamed. It's unclear whether or not Hamed's management will work with Tapia's new promoter, Don King, but the message is clear: Tapia will stay at 126. But it's an awkward weight for him. While the move up was made out of necessity (Tapia scaled at 135 through the ropes), this is a division that could cause serious problems for Mi Vida Loca. Soto's power shots gave Tapia plenty to think about, and he's not the strongest man in the division. Hamed has even more power, and much taller Erik Morales isn't far behind. And if you consider the solid power generated by Marco Antonio Barrera, who can box as well as Tapia, you don't have a lot of places to go. Tapia may well beat one or all of these men, but he'll have to box smart and get hit less than he did against Soto.

On the undercard, DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley, picked up the WBO 140 lb. title in an upset over Felix Flores. Flores was scheduled to face WBO champ Ener Julio. But when cataracts were found in Julio's eyes this week, Corley was brought in as a late sub in a bout for the newly-vacant title.

Corley had his left hand overtly cocked and ready to throw from his southpaw stance to start the fight. Maybe that's why Floes didn't see the right uppercut that Corley threw after one minute of feel-out time. Flores knees buckled under him after the punch landed. He stayed kneeling in center ring with a blank stare on his face until the count of three, at which point he bounced back up to his feet and backpedaled to a corner to lean on the ropes. Flores was allowed to continue, but 15 seconds later was nailed by another uppercut, this time a left. The punch swiveled his head and again swiped his legs out from under him. Flores dropped to his knees, then his back. He lay there for a moment before rolling over onto stomach and pushing himself to his feet. As soon as he stood upright, he staggered forward into the ropes. Referee Jay Nady completed his count, asked Flores if he was okay twice, asked him to come forward, and wiped off his gloves. The extra time didn't help. As soon as the fight resumed, Corley uncorked a massive right hook-left cross combo and landed both punches flush. Flores was on his feet, but he absorbed both punches with his hands down and offered no response. Nady immediately pulled Corley off Flores. Corley KO1.

Corley (26-1-1/16) has a split decision victory over Ener Julio, who will be installed as the #1 contender to this minor crown once his eyes are treated. The rematch will provide a perfect foil for the Tszyu-Judah winner... that is if that victor doesn't head to 147 looking for Mosley. Flores' defeat is the first loss in recent memory for a Felix Trinidad Sr.-trained fighter. All streaks eventually end.

.....Chris Bushnell
http://www.boxingchronicle.com

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