You can hate him all you like, but as long as Andre Berto keeps being in good fights against quality opponents like he was in his stoppage win over Jan Zaveck Saturday night on HBO, I’m going to be a fan of his in the ring. Some of his ill-considered remarks outside the ring are going to inhibit my fandom there, to be sure. But whatever you think of the man and his past level of competition, and whatever you think of his boxing ability — his whole game is kind of a mess, really — he’s undeniably exciting between the ropes when he puts his mind to it and he’s matched evenly, as he was against Zaveck.
There’s nothing that’s a mess about the game of featherweight prospect Gary Russell, Jr., as he showed in a decision win over Leolino Miranda on the undercard. Other than world-class punching power, Russell has the look of a complete fighter. Miranda was meant by promoter Golden Boy to test whether Russell could take a shot from a big puncher. Russell didn’t take very many of them because he’s good on defense, but he took enough to suggest he can handle at least a few, so mission mostly accomplished.
(After the fights, HBO’s Max Kellerman offered up some words about Al Haymon, who serves as an adviser to both men. So after this write-up, so will I.)
ANDRE BERTO – JAN ZAVECK
It’s too bad this one ended when it did. Zaveck was competitive in all five rounds, and won the 3rd. He arguably won the 4th and 5th. It was a nice little dust-up, with both men exchanging clean, hard punches, just standing in front of each other, squared up. L7, hepcat.
Berto had the expected speed advantage, and he made use of it. He landed punches around and under Zaveck’s high guard, but his most effective punch was a head-snapping uppercut. Problem is, he’s eminently hittable in return, and Zaveck’s punching technique is significantly better, plus he wasn’t so bad in the speed department himself. Still, the first two rounds were clear Berto rounds.
Zaveck began getting closer to Berto in the 3rd, 4th and 5th, and it made a difference. Berto is an infant on the inside. He’s totally helpless. He can still land punches, but he doesn’t land them as well or as often as his opponent, so it doesn’t do him much good. His best inside move is to hold until his man goes away, and he wasn’t doing much holding this time around.
The 4th, then, was also a narrow Zaveck round. The 5th is when things changed. Zaveck began the first minute like he was taking control of the fight, but Berto amped up his activity and punched with greater authority, too. He cut up both of Zaveck’s eyes in that round, both on the eyelid so that the blood was streaming into his eye.
There are some who have objected to the fight being stopped. I thought it was a borderline call. Maybe it’s just because on my television, a cut be bigger than my real life head. But the one on Zaveck’s right eye was very deep, and gushing blood unstoppably, and the whole area was swelling shut. I would’ve liked to see Zaveck get one more round, at least, because he deserved it, not that I think he was likely to stop Berto. If the fight had gone the distance, though, I would’ve liked Zaveck’s chances of winning.
As it is, Zaveck emerges as a fighter I want to see again. He may have lost the fight, but he probably made a few fans.
Berto is due to fight Randall Bailey next, if things go according to the plan his promoter Lou DiBella laid out for the two of them. It’s a pretty decent fight, that one. I’d rather have a Berto-Zaveck II, though. I’m curious how that one would have gone, had it continued. Before the fight, I didn’t even want Berto-Zaveck I that bad. Funny how a good fight can create a market like that.
GARY RUSSELL, JR. – LEOLINO MIRANDA
An eight-round fight on HBO, huh? Can’t say I much like that. If the idea from Russell’s team was that Russell is prone to hurting his left hand and they want to save him from 10 or 12 round fights until they “have to,” as HBO’s team explained it, being on HBO would seem like a moment for “have to.” Especially with Russell being in against an opponent who wasn’t very HBO-worthy.
But within those confines, Russell really does seem like the real deal. He’s my kind of fighter, too. I’d like it if he had more knockout power, but he’s an exceptionally skilled boxer who also fights with a high degree of aggression. Miranda really never could do much about it. His best move in the fight was to thrice weave his head under the top rope when Russell had him trapped, prompting the referee to step in and halt Russell’s greasy fast combinations.
Miranda did connect on enough shots to convince me Russell’s chin wasn’t a major problem, at least. It might reveal itself to be vulnerable down the line, but it showed no such signs Saturday night. Russell thinks he’s ready for someone like YURIORKIS GAMBOA!, and it’s hard to argue with him. Russell against a top-10 featherweight, sooner rather than later, is something I can get behind.
Kellerman, in his closing comments, criticized Al Haymon for his influence, citing the eight-rounder for Russell as evidence. Michael Woods suggested that perhaps Kellerman had the backing from the new regime at HBO to say so, although I wouldn’t put it past Kellerman to be speaking out without regard for how his bosses would take it; Kellerman doesn’t strike me as the kind who would be afraid to speak his mind, even if it goes against what HBO suits might want him to say.
Regardless, Kellerman didn’t say anything I disagreed with. In my little crusade on Haymon, I’ve never said Haymon lacks influence. He does have some. My issue is, as of today, does he have that much more than anyone else? And does he “control” HBO, as some claim? The little acronym “Haymon Boxing Organization” doesn’t ring true.
For several months, I kept a running tally of the number of appearances by Haymon fighters on HBO in 2011. For 2010, David P. Greisman did a similar tally. Haymon fighters, it turns out, appeared on the network less than 10 percent of the time over those two stretches. For 2011, Cameron Dunkin-managed fighters had appeared more often, when last I did my count. In 2009 or 2008, maybe Haymon got his fighters on more often; I don’t know. All I’ve ever argued is that if Haymon, as of now, doesn’t have his fighters on the network often enough today to CONTROL anything.
It’s also sometimes said that Haymon gets a greater percentage of his stable on HBO than anyone else, and often earlier in a boxer’s career than other fighters he doesn’t manage. Some of that might have to do with Haymon picking his spots pretty carefully. It’s not like he’s signing bums. Still, this is a fair criticism, overall. But Haymon doesn’t get all of his fighters on HBO, either. When’s the last time Sakio Bika appeared on HBO? Librado Andrade? Andre Dirrell? Chris Arreola? It’s been a while, for all of them. If Haymon controlled HBO, he’d get them all on HBO, wouldn’t he? And why would HBO turn down a perfectly good fight in Jermain Taylor-Carl Froch, if Haymon was so powerful? Having Haymon in your corner isn’t an automatic ticket to HBO.
It’s also often thought that Haymon fighters get an inordinate amount of favors. The Russell eight-rounder is a legit gripe. And occasionally, Haymon fighters get other advantages like that, like when Tomasz Adamek-Arreola was aired in California, Arreola’s home turf, even though it would’ve sold more tickets on Adamek’s home turf of Newark.
But the view that Haymon fighters are frequently in mismatches on HBO is way off. Berto has now been in two consecutive fights that were against indisputably worthy competition. Floyd Mayweather’s most recent fight on HBO pay-per-view was against Shane Mosley and his next is against Victor Ortiz. Mayweather was the favorite against Mosley and is against Ortiz, but those are thoroughly defensible fights. Arreola’s last two appearances on HBO were against Adamek and Vitali Klitschko, with the first an even-money fight and the second where he was the underdog. Rico Ramos was the lower-ranked fighter against Akifumi Shimoda. Adrien Broner’s next fight is against the higher-ranked Ricky Burns. Paul Williams’ roster of opponents on HBO includes Antonio Margarito, Sergio Martinez twice, Kermit Cintron and Erislandy Lara. The list goes on: Haymon fighters are in mismatches on HBO sometimes, but they’re also often matched very, very tough. And twice this year, HBO has rejected opponents for Haymon fighters selected by those fighters’ teams. If he had so much influence, why would ANY of that happen?
Berto is, of course, the worst-case scenario of a Haymon fighter getting pull with HBO, even though some of the complaints about his competition have now been rectified. Berto has been on HBO more than anyone. But haven’t a bunch of fighters HBO got high on early in their careers gotten comparable rides? Saul Alvarez, anyone? Even Gamboa had three mismatches on HBO before he was matched against someone who was in the top 10 of his division. Berto’s ride has been longer than those gentlemen, but if Haymon was the reason, why wouldn’t ALL Haymon fighters be on HBO as much as Berto has, against the level of competition Berto has? And there was a period of time where Berto was tied with Alfredo Angulo, not managed by Haymon, for most HBO appearances in recent years; if Angulo hadn’t run into his immigration problems, wanna bet that Angulo and Berto wouldn’t still be tied?
You have to ask yourself: Are the things that happen with Haymon fighters unique to Haymon fighters? And the answer is no. When Williams got a gift decision against Lara, Haymon was blamed for somehow influencing the judges. But last I checked, Haymon never managed Joel Casamayor, who got a comparably unworthy gift win again Jose Armando Santa Cruz.
The man who right now seems to have the kind of influence with HBO that people believe Haymon have is promoter Gary Shaw. HBO seems to be in love with Shaw fighters who lack big fan bases, like Timothy Bradley or Chad Dawson. He gets them unbelievably favorable contract terms, like a huge payday for Serhiy Dzinziruk to fight Sergio Martinez PLUS a guaranteed return date. Angulo, during his run on HBO, was a Shaw-promoted fighter.
So let’s be clear about this. Haymon IS a power broker. He DOES have influence with HBO. But he’s not the only one. And the extent or importance of the phenomenon is far from the biggest problem or even a particularly big one at HBO, let alone with boxing. It’s a good thing to look out for, and criticize, when Haymon’s influence asserts itself in a way that hurts boxing fans. But out-of-proportion hysterics about it is silly.