Welcome to 2009, boxing. In a big way.
Welterweight (147 lbs.) Andre Berto, hailed as a potential heir as the next American star in the sport, remained undefeated Saturday night against Luis Collazo in a really close, crackerjack fight marked by dramatic swings in momentum. Depending on how ’09 shakes out, it could end up being an honorable mention for Fight of the Year.
One judge insanely had it at 116-111 for Berto, while two had it a far more reasonable 114-113 for Berto. HBO ringside unofficial judge Harold Lederman had it 115-112 for Collazo, while I had it 114-113 for Collazo, with the 11th round the one that was the most difficult for me to award — I went with Collazo — and factoring in a somewhat premature point the ref deducted from Berto.
What this fight showed was that Berto remains an unfinished product, and some of the questions about him — like his chin, considering he got hurt a few times by a relatively light-punching opponent — are legitimate. Because of his effort, Collazo should definitely live to fight another day, maybe even in a rematch that Berto said he’d be down for. And it showed that despite some defections from the welterweight ranks, this division is still a murderer’s row.
Collazo struck first, hurting Berto and staggering him against the ropes in the 1st round. Berto, showing the poise and heart that are vital to any would-be superstar, charged back and hurt Collazo, but the round went to the underdog. In the 2nd, Berto was crisper, and took the excellent advice to duck down when Collazo was firing his biggest punch, the straight left. In the 3rd, the fight’s pattern began to cement, when Collazo earned the advantage by going inside. To that point, Berto had been holding when he got inside, where Collazo was busier, more accurate and landing telling body blows, but a warning against holding made Berto a little gun-shy, so he opted unwisely to trade on the inside. Things held to form in the 4th, but when Berto held again, the ref docked him a point, unfairly I thought — Berto wasn’t holding excessively, and Collazo was initiating some of the clinches.
But the ref may have done him a favor. Berto’s corner — trainer Tony Morgan gave excellent advice all night — was encouraging him not to hold and simply step aside, and now he had no choice. Berto kept the distance appropriately in the 5th, then did more of the same for most of the 6th, which was close with great back-and-forth action but a round I thought Berto won. And then, in the 7th, Berto appeared to find the key to the fight — body shots that really bent Collazo over. Collazo dropped his hands and played opposum, except for he was really hurt, and Berto didn’t seize the momentum. But he went back to work in the 8th. Somehow, Harold Lederman had Berto losing several of these rounds, few of which were even close.
Out of nowhere, Collazo got super-busy in the 9th, then again in the 10th, and Berto appeared gassed. The 11th was a great round — Collazo appeared to be busier, while Berto landed the better shots. And in the 12th, against a weary Collazo, Berto went for the knockout, summoning some incredible willpower and scoring with huge punches. Collazo’s chin held up, as did his ribcage. Somehow. They didn’t show each judge’s scorecard for the final round, but HBO’s Max Kellerman said the margin of victory came from that round, a fair assumption. That’s some heart Berto found in the final stanza. The winning kind.
Berto made a number of mistakes that cost him, but then, that happens when you step up in class and you’re a young fighter. He got away from the big body punches that slowed and damaged Collazo in the rounds after the 8th. He doesn’t seem to know how to tie up his opponent properly, and Collazo took advantage by swatting at Berto with his free hand.
If you’re thinking this fight proves Berto doesn’t have “next,” I’d caution you not to close that book just yet. Fighters with shaky chins — and I think you have to move Berto out of the “maybe” category to the “yes” category — can make up for them in other ways, and given the way Berto’s improved and his competitive spirit, he can find a way. Likewise, the size disadvantage he had against Collazo suggests that’s going to be a problem, too, but with his speed, power and combinations, he can compensate for that as well. He may have no choice, because he weighed 160 pounds Saturday night and it’s hard to imagine him squeezing his squat, muscular frame into junior welterweight (140 lbs.), a division that probably suits him better. So don’t close the book. But there’s justifiable fodder for doubt here.
Set all that aside for a second, though: You gotta admit, it was a really fun fight, right?
Next for the loser: If I’m Collazo, I make racket about that rematch. But this is now two losses on his resume that I thought he narrowly had turned into wins, so one way or the other, he should stay in the picture. Collazo made his own share of mistakes, and at a certain point, when you let wins slip away, you have to be held accountable — he took several rounds off, hurt or no, and while he deserves credit for bouncing back like he did, he needed to dig even deeper. Maybe he can, maybe he can’t. But he deserves at least one more chance to try. And if he can’t get Berto, he absolutely must stay busy. He makes good fights but he was forgotten for nearly two years until tonight. He needs to force himself into the picture, given his set of circumstances, and one way to do that is to be out there all the time and stay sharp. He won’t get rid of that bread delivery route unless he does; he’d rather be getting the bread ($) delivered to him, but he has to earn it.
Next for the winner: I admire Berto’s spirit for wanting a rematch, but I might hold off. He’s still got some developing to do, which he can do with some opponents on a notch just below Collazo. He passed this test, but not with the flying colors he needed to pass it with. Antonio Margarito would have eaten him alive tonight. I’d like a rematch — it’s some instant gratification, since this fight was so good — but there’s a difference between what I’d like Berto to do for my own entertainment and what I’d like him to do as a fan who thinks he has bigger potential than he’s showed tonight.