Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Does Berto Need to Show?

Andre Berto suffered his first career loss earlier this year in a grueling match against Victor Ortiz.  Both fighters were knocked down twice but Ortiz had more success throughout the night.  Berto didn't have answers for Ortiz's power shots and relentless pressure.  It was a spectacular fight and Berto experienced his first, real ring war. 

Berto's next opponent is Jan Zaveck, a titleholder from Slovenia, who is based out of Germany.  In addition to the U.S. location of the fight, Berto will be favored because of his superior skills and pedigree.  However, he is under pressure, not just to win the fight, but to look good in the process.  If he answers the following questions against Zaveck, he will have demonstrated that his career is back on an upward trajectory:

Can he overcome his chin problems?
It's not a state secret to reveal that during his rise to a title, Team Berto protected him from punchers.  He was dropped by light-hitting Cosme Rivera and was rocked by the slick boxer, Luis Collazo.  Ortiz reaffirmed Berto's chin issues with his two knockdowns.  Against Ortitz, tasting the canvas was not the end of Berto's problems.  What was more worrisome was how poorly he recovered from the knockdowns.  There were large portions of the fight where he seemed listless,  lacking energy and agility.  It's not yet clear if Berto has the ability to recuperate well in the ring.

Zaveck is not a massive puncher but he can certainly stop people, winning his belt by knocking out Issac Hlatshwayo.  In his last fight, Zaveck ko'ed lightly-regarded Paul Delgado.  Zaveck is a solid combination puncher and likes to throw quick flurries in tight quarters.  He has a good jab, but he uses it mostly to get in firing range for his right hand.  A typical Zaveck flurry consists of leading with one, sharp jab, landing the right behind it and then throwing three or four power shots in close range.  He will dig to the body and throw uppercuts.  He hardly throws his left hook.

Against Zaveck, Berto's challenge will be to avoid the right hand.  Zaveck throws that punch from awkward angles.  It's not a straight shot, yet it finds its target.  His snapping jab provides him with the cover to throw the right.  Berto must expect the right hand as soon as Zaveck throws his jab, for he rarely doubles it up.  In short, how Zaveck starts offensive sequences is predictable.  Berto should be able to time him and counter effectively with his right hand or left hook.  However, expect Zaveck to land some solid combinations at various points throughout the fight; eventually, Berto's chin will be tested.

Will he listen to his trainer?
To say that Berto's corner was dysfunctional during the Ortiz fight is a massive understatement.  Berto's trainer, Tony Morgan, was wisely instructing Berto to avoid trading with Ortiz.  Meanwhile, Berto's brother was in the corner telling him that he was "an assassin," and imploring him to go to war.  As a result, confusion reigned.  Berto didn't change tactics throughout the fight and never adjusted to Ortiz's offensive onslaught.

It's clear that Morgan and Berto will have a plan going into the fight with Zaveck.  The question is: what happens when something goes wrong?  Will Berto heed his trainer's advice and execute Morgan's plan?  The sign of a mature fighter is one who trusts his corner implicitly.    

That is not to say that Morgan is a time-tested cornerman; Berto is his highest-profile fighter.  Because of Berto's impressive skills and his mediocre opposition throughout most of his career, the Morgan/Berto combination hasn’t faced too many challenges in the ring.  They squeaked out a decision against Collazo but were unable to right the ship against Ortiz.  The Zaveck fight will help reveal whether this tandem has a prosperous future together.  Morgan has demonstrated innovative fight plans, but can he control the other voices in the corner and will Berto listen to him when times get tough?

Will he remember his uppercut?  
Berto throws a tremendous uppercut; however, that punch was mysteriously absent against Ortiz.  In fact, the Ortiz fight demonstrated that Berto is uncomfortable throwing his uppercut in close quarters.  Instead, he prefers to fire it from medium range.  Zaveck will give Berto opportunities to throw his uppercut.  He never really leaves the pocket and can be caught coming in.  Unlike Ortiz, Zaveck does not apply constant pressure and fights only in spurts.  Berto could neutralize a lot of Zaveck's aggression with the uppercut.

Can he be creative in the ring?
Berto spent much of the Ortiz fight waiting for the perfect opportunity to throw his counter right hand.  In the sixth, he found an opening and landed it.  That counter right may have been the most impressive connected punch of his entire career.  It dropped Ortiz, who was badly hurt.  However, Berto was almost in disbelief that Ortiz beat the count and continued to march forward.  Berto spent many rounds looking for opportunities to land the punch again; it never happened.

Berto seems to fight in one style throughout a match.  Against Carlos Quintana, he was the aggressor and used his size to batter him on the inside.  Facing Juan Urango, he moved exquisitely and coasted to an easy victory.  Against Ortiz, Berto became a brawler.   During the course of a fight, Berto has had difficulty transitioning from one style to another.  He seemed to run out of ideas against Ortiz, or was too busy trying to survive.

Zaveck is there to be hit.  He leaves himself vulnerable, wildly coming in to throw his combinations.  Berto could score in these situations with counter uppercuts or looping/wide shots.  Additionally, Zaveck doesn't get out of range after he fires; he could be susceptible to a check hook or an overhand right.  Berto will also have opportunities to land first and establish his jab.  In short, Zaveck presents Berto with chances to unleash his entire offensive arsenal.  However, does Berto have the fluidity and ring IQ to throw the right punches or combinations at the appropriate times?

Ultimately, Berto's ability to answer these four questions will help determine if he will ever become an elite boxer.  Many young fighters get derailed on their quest to the top.  Will Berto be able to recover from his loss by adding new dimensions in the ring, or will he falter and wilt under pressure?  With a convincing victory, Berto sets himself up for another run atop the welterweight division, where a big name like Manny Pacquiao could loom in the not-too-distant future.  But if Berto loses to Zaveck, or even struggles to win, his ceiling as a fighter will be sharply lowered from where it was 12 months ago.

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