The $2.6 million in purses shared by welterweights Robert Guerrero and Andre Berto for Saturday night's HBO main event raised a few eyebrows, but both men had to work hard for every penny in what was the grittiest fight of 2012 so far. It was a bout where both men fought half-blind, through swollen eyes and engaged in some of the most outstanding exchanges you'll see in a boxing ring, even if they couldn't see them themselves. Guerrero came out on top thanks to a couple knockdowns and a blistering work rate, even though he had to pay a heavy price in the form of sizzling flush uppercuts from the faster, harder-hitting Berto.
On the undercard, power-punching prospect Keith Thurman stepped up to a new level of opposition and easily wrecked Carlos Quintana, suggesting that he's ready for yet another step up.
ROBERT GUERRERO-ANDRE BERTO
HBO's announcing team once more got carried away with historical comparisons, and Jim Lampley saying that Guerrero-Berto reminded him of Carmen Basilio-Gene Fullmer did the fight no favors. But for all its mauling and wrestling and dirty tactics, the bout did eventually work itself into an excellent one, with moments of memorable briliance and a more appropriate reminder via Lampley that for all the courage it takes to be an elite athlete, no other sports puts the kind of courage on display that boxing does.
Early on, it looked like those who wanted to see Berto take a beatdown would see their hopes fulfilled. Berto got $1.6 million for this fight, a paycheck out of whack with his marketability, and he has always gotten that kind of HBO love, while Guerrero got $1 million and brought the majority of the fans Saturday in Ontario, Calif. Plus, Berto had tested positive for a banned substance earlier this year, and no amount of "It was only a contaminated supplement!" was going to convince people who are sick of Berto specifically and sick of performance enhancing drug excuses generally.
Guerrero wobbled Berto with a left hand in the 1st as Berto ineptly tried to employ Floyd Mayweather's shoulder roll defense. Guerrero then followed up by holding Berto behind the head and smacking him until he finally fell down. It got worse for Berto in the 2nd, as Guerrero wobbled him again AND grazed his eye with the thumb of his glove, whereupon Guerrero hammered at him until he fell down again.
It would take until the 4th for Berto to find his composure and begin landing vicious uppercuts on the inside, a location in which his cluelessness had cost him in the past. While Guerrero was clearly the better and more willing inside fighter, over the rest of the fight Berto would make it so Guerrero was going to have to get beaten up along the way, too.
They would swap rounds throughout. The 7th and 11th were both potential Round of the Year contenders, as Berto would land uppercuts and left hooks that would have put down one of those robots from "Real Steel" and Guerrero would immediately try to pay Berto back. In the 11th, Berto wobbled back into his corner. To start the 12th round, HBO cameras zoomed in on the swollen eyes of Berto and Guerrero, a picture worth a thousand words. This was a Fight of the Year style bout where both men dished out and endured a couple tons worth of punishment.
The 12th ended and Guerrero kept fighting after the bell, the consequence of some bad refereeing from Lou Moret, who had a bad night as he struggled to decide whether he'd allow a street fight or whether he'd try to take control, more often taking control of Berto than Guerrero. But it also was a bit of a metaphor for the fight: In a bout where both men gave everything, Guerrero was able to go just a little bit further than Berto. Still, Berto's effort was so impressive that even hardcore Berto haters couldn't help but admire him for finding a way to make this fight competitive. Guerrero still won clearly, 116-110 on all the scorecards.
Berto hasn't been in a bad fight in years, and belongs back on HBO, albeit at a reduced cost. And while Guerrero said he'd be willing to do a rematch, he has had bigger dollar signs in his eyes for a long time: He wants the man they call Money, Floyd Mayweather. There was a time when Guerrero's incessant press releases calling for a Mayweather fight were met with universal groans by fight scribes, as he was a lightweight who began his run at junior featherweight and had never fought at 147. But Saturday, Guerrero did more than earn every penny of a $1 million paycheck. He picked a couple legitimate top-10 welterweights (Selcuk Aydin before Berto) and beat them in a way that gave him a better claim to earning a Mayweather shot than anyone in the division not named Manny Pacquiao.
KEITH THURMAN-CARLOS QUINTANA
We'll be brief about this fight, because it was a pretty clear-cut thing. Quintana was by far the biggest test of Thurman's young career, someone who could test theoretically Thurman's ability to deal with a crafty, quick southpaw type. Quintana didn't come close to that. He was scared of Thurman's power immediately once he felt it, even before Thurman dropped him with a body shot that Quintana nearly didn't get up from. And while Quintana was coming off a win over another fringe contender in Deandre Latimore, even in that fight he looked like his balance was shot and that he was playing the old role of spoiler on instinct. Here, he was also ragged.
Thurman, to his credit, passed the test, such as it was. Thurman really can crack, and he's patient about setting up his power shots without falling into the Rocky Juarez/Randall Bailey school of punchers who don't punch enough. Quintana tried to run, but Thurman was always right there with him. By the 4th, Thurman put together a brutal series of punches that began with a left hand and had a wobbly Quintana fighting him off until he could no longer. Thurman's arrival on HBO earlier this year was rightly thought of as only the kind of thing a client of adviser Al Haymon could pull off (Berto is, of course, with Haymon, too), but two HBO fights later and he's now reached the point where he belongs on HBO against an opponent one more level up above Quintana.