CRANSTON --- After losing his last three fights over the past 24 months as a lightweight fighter, can a change in weight class result in a change of fortunes for Eddie Soto?
The Pawtucket fighter and his camp at 401 Boxing in Cranston certainly think so.
Soto, who spent the first seven years of his pro career fighting at 135 pounds, is moving up two classes to the 145-pound welterweight circuit and making his debut in this division next Thursday night on the āHome Invasionā show, presented by Jimmy Burchfieldās Classic Entertainment & Sports, at the Twin River Event Center.
The boxer known to local fans as āThe Puerto Rican Sensationā will take on Jason āSchoolboyā Pires of New Bedford, Mass. in a six-round main event thatās sure to fill up the Lincoln facility with fans from the Blackstone Valley and the Whaling City.
Soto (12-3, 4 KOs) and Pires (22-4-1, 9 KOs) share a few things in common. Both are going strong in their mid-30s (Soto is 35, Pires 37) and are familiar with each other from their days in the amateur ranks.
And both are hungry for their first victory since 2009. Sotoās last win was an easy six-round unanimous decision over Darrell Martin in the summer of that year at Twin River, and Pires had an eight-round unanimous-decision victory over Louie Leija that March in Plymouth.
Sotoās victory over Martin raised his record to 12-0, and his unbeaten status, along with the EBA New England lightweight championship he won on Feb. 6, 2009, established him one of New Englandās top lightweights.
But then he suffered his first loss on March 19, 2010 in a rematch with Sean Eklund of Lowell, Mass. for the EBA title at Twin River.
After that came stoppages he suffered to two unbeaten boxers in the first main event fights of his career, to Mike Faragon in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. on July 30, 2010, and Jose A. Gonzalez last Sept. 2 in Puerto Rico.
āIām a little disappointed because I wanted to be undefeated,ā Soto admitted before a workout at 401 Boxing. āI managed to do something with my record, and I started out pretty good and I shocked a lot of people by going 12-0.
āBut then I lost my next three fights, and thereās no excuses. Iām not looking for any excuses; I made mistakes and (the losses) are my fault. But now Iām at a different weight class and Iām going to be dangerous.ā
Itās been said time and time again that the older a boxer gets, the tougher it is for him to make a weight, and in the eyes of Sotoās trainers, Jose Santos and Chuck Sullivan, that was certainly the case with their fighter.
āThe losses that he sustained were on the scale,ā said Sullivan. āHe was skin and bones. We took those fights because they were there for him, but he was fighting at 135 pounds and he walked around at almost 160. Heās had to kill himself to make weight.ā
āThe last three fights, I told him that I didnāt want him fighting at 135 pounds anymore,ā added Santos. āI told him I wanted him fighting at 145. But then Eklund wouldnāt take the (2010) fight at 140, so we had to go down a weight, and then Faragon, he only wanted to fight at 135.
āAnd then this last fight was a big opportunity, so that why we took it. But I told him before that last fight, before we even went down to Puerto Rico, āIf you fight at (135) again, itās going to be without me.ā ā
The fight against Gonzalez (19-0, 14 KOs), which took place at the spacious Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, was supposed to be a happy homecoming for Soto, a native of the country, but instead it turned into the worst loss of his career -- a first-round knockout that saw Soto hit the canvas at 1:50.
āThat was a big loss,ā admitted Soto. āI thought I was going to win the fight because I was bigger than [Gonzalez], but I made some mistakes, and one of the mistakes was chasing the guy around. I should have never done that.ā
His days as a 135-pounder now behind him, Soto admitted that he feels a lot stronger as a welterweight and he only needed to lose six pounds in order to get to 145 pounds, which is a breath of fresh air compared to the sometimes 15-20 he found himself having to shed before his weigh-ins.
Santos also noticed some big changes in Sotoās workouts since the move to 145, and the biggest ones may be in his energy and stamina.
āRight now, weāre at the right weight,ā said Santos. āI can see that because I usually give him some work in there sparring. When heād be at 135, heād be dead after the fourth, fifth round, but now, heās in there and weāre doing eight rounds and heās stronger in the eighth round than he is in the fourth.ā
āItās a different camp and Iām a different fighter,ā said Soto. āWeāre training really hard, and at 135, I was still in good shape, but at 145, Iām going to be stronger and dangerous.ā
Soto will need to be stronger and dangerous for his fight with Pires, who took nearly five years (2003-07) off from boxing to concentrate on going to school and becoming a police officer. He is currently a New Bedford officer, as well as a member of New Bedfordās SWAT Team.
While Soto respects Pires, he recently took offense to a couple of comments he stated in a press release that said he gave Soto some boxing tips and Soto is a fighter who will stand in front of him all night long and is tailor-made for him because āI can work my jab and try to take them out in the end.ā
āHeās given me tips, but he could use those tips for himself,ā noted Soto. āHe thinks Iām going to come forward and he said heās going to take me apart and beat me to the punches. One thing is saying it, the other thing is doing it, and Iād like to see him try to do it.
āHeās a great fighter, and I wonāt take anything from any fighter. Anyone who stands in front of me in the ring, I give them a lot of credit. But Iām not going to be a punching bag like he said. The crowdās going to want to see a fight, and Iām going to fight, and itās going to be a brawl.ā
āEddieās going to be a lot stronger in this fight,ā said Santos. āI mean, Jason is a tough, strong competitor. I have a lot of respect for him, but if he thinks this is the same old Eddie that fought at 135, he will be in for a surprise.ā
Soto wonāt be the only Pawtucket fighter on this nine-fight card. Undefeated Thomas Falowo (5-0, 4 KOs), a hard-hitting middleweight prospect out of Manfredoās Gym, will battle Troy Artis (3-2-1, 2 KOs) of the Bronx, N.Y. in a six-rounder on the undercard.
In the co-feature, super middleweight and ex-URI football standout Vladine Biosse (11-1-1, 6 KOs) of Providence will contest George Armenta (14-7, 11 KOs) from Silver Spring, Md. in a six-round bout.
Two other Rhode Island fighters, middleweight prospect Alex Amparo (2-0, 1 KO) of Providence and 40-year-old super middleweight Benny Costantino (7-0, 4 KOs) of West Warwick, will place their perfect records on the line on the undercard.
Tickets for the show, which officially launches the 2012 Twin River Thursday Night Fight Series, are $35, $50, $75, and $125 (VIP) and can be purchased by contacting CES at 724-2253/2254, going online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com, or visiting the Players Club booth at Twin River or any TicketMaster location.
The doors open at 6 p.m., and the first bout is scheduled for 7. The casino has waived its 18-plus rule for the show, and anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult and must enter through the West entrance.