You may know some things about Andre Berto, what from all the fancy hype he gets from the USA Todays, the ESPN the Magazines, the Deadspins. You may know he’s “one to watch in 2009,” you may have read about his poise, you may have heard he’s a lot of folks’ favorite young fighter.
Here are two things you don’t know about Andre Berto:
1. How he’d fare against a fellow honest-to-God, no doubt top-10 welterweight (147 lbs).
2. How he’d fare against a big puncher.
Luis Collazo, Berto’s opponent Saturday night on HBO, will solve the first mystery. He won’t solve the second; that will have to wait. Collazo doesn’t come with the hype Berto does. His career of late has been marked by misfortune — a decision that didn’t go his way against Ricky Hatton but probably should have, a hand he hurt early in his fight against Shane Mosley. But scratch that away and underneath it all is a very good fighter, one who has what it takes to be the cyanide spiking the punch at Berto’s coming out party.
Count me in the camp of Berto fans. There are plenty of us, but there are plenty of detractors, too. On the plus side, he’s an electrifying combination puncher with an intoxicating mixture of speed and power. On the negative side, he’s not really fought anyone who’s certifiably good, and there are questions about how well he can take a punch. The detractors will argue that he’s gotten too much love from HBO and he’s been moved too slowly to warrant the attention he gets. I disagree with those detractors. He’s getting love from HBO because he’s an American and because he’s talented, plus he seems to have good intangibles outside the ring — an engaging personality and very little drama (and his managerial connections probably don’t hurt, either). I also think he’s been moved at almost the exact speed he should be.
The 25-year-old turned pro after the 2004 Olympics and his competition began to move into the “credible” territory around 2006, and with a couple exceptions, has been on an incline since then. In July of 2007, long-time fringe contender Cosme Rivera knocked down an overeager Berto with veteran timing, and Berto was badly hurt, but got a reprieve when his corner took a really long time between rounds fixing his glove; afterward, he went back to dominating that fight. Rivera exposed some holes in Berto’s game, particularly his decision-making about when to go on the offensive and when to go on the defensive. Two fights later and ever since, his defense has been pretty tight. He picked up an alphabet title belt in his second-to-last fight, then looked better against Steve Forbes than Oscar De La Hoya did in Forbes’ previous fight. Are there still reasons to be a Berto detractor? Of course. He’s got stubby arms that may not serve him well against a bigger welterweight, and then there are those questions ’bout his chin. But if a veteran exposes some weaknesses, there’s no reason to rush a young lad into stiffer competition until the problems are fixed.
Collazo has wasted nearly two years since the Mosley defeat with wins over two anonymous opponents, but he’s landed this fight, so maybe there was some method to the madness. Since I started with the pro-Berto case before getting into the negatives, I’ll do the same for Collazo — he’s very fast, an excellent defender and a tricky southpaw who is prone to frustrating his opposition. Not so much? His power may sting the occasional upper-caliber opponent, but he’s only got 14 knockouts in 29 wins, so he has little choice but to be quicker, a better defender and trickier. Bad luck may be behind his two most recent losses, but I also thought Mosley looked like the superior boxer in the short rounds before Collazo suffered his hand injury. Ultimately, he’s a top-10 but second-tier welterweight at his best until he proves otherwise.
Berto will give him that chance. You can make a case that the winner of this fight will warrant top-5 status. The argument for Collazo’s resume pre-Berto is that he really honestly did, in my opinion, deserve the win over Ricky Hatton in the junior welterweight (140 lbs.) champion’s welterweight debut. It was a close fight, certainly. Hatton caught Collazo with a good punch early that knocked him down, but it was more an out-of-balance thing than the fact that Collazo was badly hurt. After that, though, Collazo began to give Hatton trouble with his boxing ability, length and superior size; Hatton just ain’t a welterweight. Collazo nearly knocked Hatton down and perhaps out in the 12th round. The other good win on his resume — really, the only good win on his resume, since the Hatton win wasn’t official — is over Jose Antonio Rivera, in a fight he took on short notice in the then-hot Rivera’s backyard. Other than that, he stays in the top 10 just because he looks like he’d give trouble to some of the guys above him. On the other hand, if he loses to Berto, you’d have to question whether that’s just an illusion, and the bad on his resume begins to outweigh the good.
At a mere 27, a Berto-defeated Collazo could have trouble finding another top opponent without some serious rehab, given that he’s already had such trouble and given that his crafty southpaw style isn’t a recipe for making his foes look good. At 25, with no losses on his record so far, Berto may have an easier time bouncing back, but you better believe the haters will pounce if he can’t overcome Collazo. You can excuse a loss by a youngster to a well-schooled vet in his prime up to a point, but then, if Berto can’t beat Collazo, it’s hard to imagine how he’d beat anyone above him; I already have trouble even imagining Berto knocking off the two top men in the division, Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. For now, though, Berto’s facing the first really good opponent of his career, and anyone interested in whether Berto can live up to his promise as the increasingly rare young American star ought to be pleasantly anxious to find out if he can pass the test.
My prediction: Berto by late knockout. I do think Berto will have a little trouble figuring out Collazo at first, but as he showed against another tricky vet, Forbes, he has too much pride to lose rounds. After a few, I expect him to turn up the heat with real pressure and combination punching even if Collazo’s connecting, two of the best ways to unlock a crafty defender. Collazo got knocked down by Mosley and Hatton, lesser punchers than Berto in my opinion, and he might be rustier now than in either of those bouts, which would make him easier to hit — slick fighters often need to stay active to stay sharp. Eventually, I think Berto will hurt Collazo badly enough that he can’t continue.
Confidence: 70%. I don’t think Collazo has what it takes to ask the big question about Berto’s chin, but I could see him having the savvy to outpoint the younger talent. Given the odds — Bodog has Berto at -550 to +350 for Collazo — I might even go so far as to place a small bet on Collazo, were I a betting man. I’m not, and I do think Berto will win, but Collazo probably won’t make it easy.
My allegiance: Berto is among my favorite fighters, albeit right outside my top 10. Nothing against Collazo, whose skill I admire, but a Berto win is good for boxing, because it would fuel hopes that Berto can be that rare, young American boxing star. I’ll still have my own questions about his ceiling, but a definitive win over Collazo would make me more willing to see them put to him directly.