Welterweight Jesus Soto-Karass faces Gabriel Martinez from the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois, in the latest installment of “Top Rank Live” on Fox SportsNet/Espanol. Like his stablemate, Antonio Margarito, he was forced to find a new trainer after Javier Capetillo had his license indefinitely suspended last year by the California State Athletic Commission in the wake of illegal wraps being found on Margarito’s hands prior to his fight with Shane Mosley in January of 2009.
Soto-Karass doesn’t speak that much English. Yet, he is now trained by a “gringo”- the respected Joe Goossen. But, thus far, they’ve had no problems communicating.
"The good thing is that both of my assistants speak Spanish, Ricky Funez and George Diaz," said the veteran cornerman, outside his Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys last week. But Goossen isn’t a complete stranger to this foreign tongue. "I’ve often said I can get by speaking Spanish in two places: a boxing gym and a Mexican restaurant. I speak fluent Spanish in a boxing gym and in a Mexican restaurant. Now, ask me to get to a mechanic shop, I couldn’t tell you where to start or end. But yeah, my communication with Karass is really the least of our problems. In fact, he speaks a decent amount of English, enough where if there’s something that I’m having a hard time translating from English to Spanish, he gets it; he understands “pigeon Spanish” and he’ll fill in the blanks with Spanish.
"So there really is not a problem. It was the same way with Joel Casamayor, basically,” continued Goossen. “He was around enough English to get it between the two of us; we could get a comprehensive sentence together."
In many ways, Goossen was the ideal replacement for Capetillo. In addition to his work with the standout Cuban, he also had success with other Latin fighters such as the Ruelas brothers. He was the first choice of Sergio Diaz and Francisco Espinoza, who co-manage both Soto-Karass and Margarito.
"The process with Francisco was pretty easy," explained Goossen, "I’m pretty much black-and-white; there’s not a lot of gray area with me. So if a guy asks me to do something, I make a decision right there on the spot- or not. I might think about it for one day. But for the most part, I had taken him on without question because it’s Francisco. I’ve known him for years. We’ve never had any working relationship before, but I’m very friendly with all of them."
And what was Goossen’s first impression of the happy-go-lucky Mexican?
"Out of shape," said the trainer, bluntly. "But I gotta tell you, he stuck it out here for the past three months, now. You can see that his weight is already down. He’s putting in 25, 35 rounds-a-day on the floor. He’s doing his sparring. It’s a whole new program to him. Like Frank Sinatra said, ’If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’ You can make it through my workouts, then you’ve basically said to yourself and to me, ’I’m going to do what it takes to be a true professional.’ Because you can’t be a true professional unless you put in the hours, like anything else. And this is such a dangerous game. You try to skimp and scrape by and cut corners, you’re very foolish."
As you see Soto-Karass, the first thing that is noticeable is just how focused he is on the task at hand. He just looks more serious walking into the gym than he had in the past. And his lean physique backs up Goossen’s statements about the sweat equity he has put in with him in Van Nuys. In the past, his work ethic was less than ideal for a professional prizefighter. This could be exactly what the doctor ordered. Just as importantly, it’s what Soto-Karass wanted.
"Fighters are a little stubborn," said Diaz, Soto-Karass’ co-manager on Friday afternoon. "They don’t want to make changes. They feel that they know it all; they get into this comfort zone and they don’t want to make a change. Jesus came to us and said, ’Y’ know what, guys? I need to make a change. I need to get better,’ and once he gave us that green light, the first person we actually thought about was Joe Goossen. It was going to be a perfect fit. Goossen’s gym is really close to where Jesus lives and Joe has a very good track record. He does very well with his fighters and we felt that it was going to be a good relationship between the fighter and trainer and we got together with Joe and they clicked right away. As a matter of fact, they were acting as if they had known each other for a long time."
Diaz added later, "What I really believe is that he was only taught so much. But there was room to change and we knew that Joe could get him to that point to learn more."
But the transition was made smoother by the fact that Goossen is at least partially bilingual.
Goossen says, "I’ve always had an affinity towards Spanish. For some reason, I always had a pretty good accent and I owe it to Mrs. Gallagher in sixth grade Spanish at St. Francis De Sales; she was the first one who got me interested in Spanish. It was a private Catholic school and my next year, we had Mrs. Rodriguez, who taught us Spanish as well, at St. Francis. So we got the foundation; then junior high, I had my third year Spanish. So I took three years of elementary Spanish and then my dad, of course, was from Boyle Heights, he was a cop. But before that, he was one of the few non-Hispanics at Roosevelt High School back in the old days. So he brought that affinity, as well, to the house."
With the predominant amount of Latin boxers today, Goossen believes having some grasp of Spanish is vital.
"Oh, it’s an absolute must,” he asserts. “Look, in California you have a lot of bilingual-speaking people, white, black, green, red. But, for the most part, in California, it’s an utmost necessity, and I imagine even in New York, where there’s a lot of kids from Puerto Rico there that need some translation. I would feel very insecure if I could not communicate right now, at least some salient points to the fighters through my Spanish."
Growing up, one of the first shows I can ever remember watching on a regular basis was “Diff’rent Strokes,” followed by “The Facts of Life” on NBC. So I was stunned and saddened to learn that Gary Coleman, who starred as “Arnold” on that show, had passed away on Friday afternoon.
So with that, I say we ring a ceremonial ten-count for him and sing along to this classic theme song:
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