In January, Andre Berto was supposed to fight Shane Mosley in a huge welterweight bout. In July, Celestino Caballero might fight Yuriorkis Gamboa in what would be a huge featherweight bout. As the A-sides in an HBO doubleheader Saturday, Berto and Caballero are facing opponents that aren’t on that level, but then, they aren’t exactly screwin’ around, either. Berto’s dance partner, Carlos Quintana, has twice in his career played the spoiler to young up-and-comers much like the 26-year-old Berto. Caballero’s dance partner, Daud Yordan, was the man responsible for raising all the doubts about Robert Guerrero last year in a match prematurely shortened by a cut, no cupcake for Caballero’s 126-pound debut. And considering how this card almost fell apart when light heavyweight Tavoris Cloud mysteriously pulled out of his fight with Glen Johnson, it’s remarkable that a quality double-dip like this ‘un is coming off this weekend.
Another major selling point to its credit, as if the poster doesn’t make it obvious, is that portions of the proceeds go to assisting the people of Haiti following the earthquake in January, the same earthquake that prompted Berto to pull out of the Mosley fight and throw himself into aiding his home country. So if you live in or near Sunrise, Fla., get yourself to the show, which is both good and for good. (Did I mention Soulja Boy is performing, too? I can’t say that should be a tipping point for you, but Soulja Boy still gets tons of credit in my book for what amounts to one of the funnier subversions of White America in recent memory.)
CELESTINO CABALLERO-DAUD YORDAN
What to make of Caballero? Ring magazine ranks him in its pound-for-pound top 10, roughtly 10 spots higher or so than most anyone else. Sometimes he looks like he has that kind of ability — like a real world-beater whose size, volume, ability to take a punch and awkwardness are enough to make even the boldest boxers (cough Juan Manuel Lopez cough) hide or at least pretend to be a mannequin and hope he doesn’t notice. Other times he looks sloppy and vaguely terrible.
Beating Daniel Ponce De Leon in 2005 was his real arrival. He’d been beaten two fights before by Ricardo Cordoba, even suffering a rare knockdown, so when Caballero stood up to all of De Leon’s power punches that had been collapsing everyone else, it was something of a shock. Since then, he’s proven he’s a good deal more than that one-hit wonder, dispensing so easily as he did with top-notch junior feathers like Somsak Sithchatchawal and most recently, Steve Molitor. Along with wins over a few other decent contenders, those three victories highlight what is not a bad resume at all. That said, Caballero hasn’t beaten anyone remotely in the world-class category, and he struggled mightily with the unknown Jeffrey Mathebula last year, which is why I remain something of a skeptic. That, and some stylistic issues.
Caballero, at 5’11”, was a condor of a 122-pounder, and he’ll still be gigantic one division north; Yordan is four inches shorter. He puts tremendous pressure on his opponents, and he hits very hard, although he’s more of a wear-you-down than flatten-you-straight type, good for 23 KOs in 33 wins. Despite a knockout loss on his record, he’s taken everything everyone’s given him since the Cordoba knockdown. He throws at awkward moments, like, say, a punch as he’s switching his foot position. And a boxer that tall shouldn’t reach with a right hook to the body or throw right uppercuts from the outside, two of his favorite punches along with his straight right. His best defense is his size, which makes it difficult to reach him before he pulls back. But he’s got gobs of holes. His speed is better than it might look, but it’s not great. His defense is better under trainer Jeff Mayweather, but he’s also very hittable because of things like throwing right uppercuts from the outside. In the middle rounds against Mathebula, he tired. He hates fighting on the inside. Sometimes his awkwardness, usually an advantage, leads to his arms getting tied up and nullifying his offense. And he’s 33, old for the lower weight classes.
Aside from the questions about whether Caballero’s power will carry up to 126 and whether his chin will be so sturdy there, there is the matter of Yordan. I’d thought him an easy foe for Guerrero last year based on his record of wins against no one of note, accumulated in Indonesia and Singapore. He proved he was not that at all. I had Guerrero winning both rounds of the fight before it was stopped, but Yordan was giving him hell and picking up momentum to boot. He’s a sharp counter-puncher, with good speed and some pop, and he’s good on defense, keeping his guard high while still picking off body shots. He does punch a big wide with his hooks, from looking at him on YouTube against Antonio Meza. He probably shouldn’t have had to settle for an MD with an opponent of that caliber, but the biggest knock on Yordan going in is that we really don’t have much proof of his viability outside a couple rounds against Guerrero.
I’m of the mind, based on what we’ve seen of both men, that this is not going to be a Caballero blow-out along the order of what he did to an intimidated Molitor. Caballero’s move up in weight, his age, his inconsistency and Yordan’s ability to exploit some of Caballero’s defensive lapses via counterpunching mean it’ll likely go the distance. But Caballero’s going to be the aggressor, and I think he’ll win a not-so-close decision. Then it’s on to YURIORKIS GAMBOA! in a fight that will make or break each man.
ANDRE BERTO-CARLOS QUINTANA
Rather than a huge step up in class like Mosley would have presented Berto, Berto’s staying at about the same level he was at in his greatest test, a life-and-death struggle against Luis Collazo to begin 2009. In some ways it’s identical.
Quintana, like Collazo, is a swift-handed leftie with counterpunching skills and power that’s modest but that still has to be respected. Quintana is, if anything, more powerful, but he’s also taken more punishment than Collazo, suffering two knockout losses, albeit to superb fighters in Miguel Cotto and Paul Williams in their rematch. In his last fight, against Jesse Feliciano — once a rugged test, these days only rugged — he was doing well for almost two rounds then suffered a knockdown, although he came back to stop Feliciano on a cut in the 3rd. Quintana’s chin is, in other words, a liability. But he tore up Williams in their first fight with brilliant timing and smarts, which he did as well to young Joel Julio, and it’s worth remembering that even though he went down in flames against Cotto, he troubled Cotto early. He’d been looking to move up to 154, but money fights at 147 keep dragging him back down, so it’s an open question as well whether he’ll struggle to make weight, which could in turn impact his performance in the ring.
Berto’s questions could be rust and focus. It’ll be almost a year since he fought last, a tepid but comprehensive decision over Juan Urango. His devotion to Haiti is commendable, but I do have to wonder whether it — and the eight relatives he lost due to the tragedy — might have affected his training and mental preparation. Mentally, he showed tremendous grit late against Collazo in a fight where he needed late rounds to win, so maybe it won’t be a big deal. Physically, he’s a real athlete — strong, quick, with endurance and coordination. At times, he’ll really gets oohs and ahhs with his athleticism. Boxing-wise, he’s a wonderful combination puncher, but defensively he has stretches where he doesn’t seem to be paying that much attention, which can cost him because he has shown he can be rattled when hit cleanly even by lesser punchers. For as much as we’ve seen of him on HBO, he’s still a work in progress, showing great gains from fight to fight only to take small steps backward here and there. I first saw him on the network four years ago, and yet you can make the case that Quintana, who’s currently unranked by Ring magazine in any division, is the best opponent of his career.
This has the potential to be a very difficult fight for Berto, stylistically and at this moment in his life. But I think he’s the better specimen, that his seven-year age advantage will really be a benefit, and that he’ll be better equipped to handle a crafty southpaw this time around than last. I’m going for Berto to score a knockout late. And from there, if he looks impressive, he might be poised — strangely enough — for a shot at someone even bigger than Mosley, like Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. He’s the #5 man at welterweight now, and beating someone like Quintana (and depending on whether Mayweather beats Mosley) he could leap to #3 behind Manny and Floyd, a lofty position indeed.
[The TQBR Prediction Game is in effect. Remember the rules.]