Sunday, September 4, 2011

Notes from Berto-Zaveck

  • The Andre Berto-Jan Zaveck fight was shaping up to be a barnburner.  Through five rounds, both fighters committed to vicious power shots.  If Berto's combinations were flashier, Zaveck's were more accurate.  Berto was able to open up cuts on both sides of Zaveck's face, especially a particularly nasty one over his right eye.  After the fifth, Zaveck's corner wouldn't let its fighter continue and Berto scored the stoppage victory.
  • I scored the fight three rounds to two for Zaveck.  Berto captured the first two rounds by getting off first and landing the harder shots.  Rounds three and five were close, with both fighters connecting with numerous power shots.  I gave those rounds to Zaveck, whose right hand counters and uppercuts landed frequently.  However, three and five could have gone either way.  Zaveck easily won the fourth with his high connect percentage and success in landing power shots. 
  • The trajectory of the fight was favoring Zaveck.  After a dominant first two rounds, Berto's defense started to deteriorate.  In all, Zaveck was able to land over 40% of his shots, most of those power punches.  That ratio did not bode well for Berto over the second half of the fight. 
  • It seems as though Berto has found his ring identity.  Through his development, he has fought in many different styles, from slick boxer to aggressive infighter.  Against Victor Ortiz and now Zaveck, Berto has settled on a pocket fighter who favors power shots and combination punching.  He leaves himself vulnerable to counters but he has extreme faith in his power (even if it may be misplaced).
  • In a recurring theme of his career, Berto ignored his trainer, Tony Morgan, in this case as early as the second round.  Morgan implored his fighter to incorporate more "ins and outs" after the second round, meaning, hit and get out of range.  Instead, Berto stood right in front of Zaveck, exchanging power shots.  After the fourth round, Morgan demanded that Berto box more, yet Berto continued in the same fashion.
  • Berto had advantages in foot speed and lateral quickness, but he refused to capitalize on these strengths.  He was determined to wear Zaveck down with his strength and power.  It's inconclusive whether this strategy would have been enough to secure the victory.  The fight could have been much easier for Berto, had he incorporated more jabs and used the ring to his benefit.
  • Nevertheless, whatever strategic deficiencies that Berto exhibited throughout the match, he should be credited fully for the victory.  His repeated right hand bombs and right uppercuts caused the stoppage.  If he followed Morgan's advice, perhaps he doesn't win the fight.  
  • Berto threw a much-improved uppercut.  In the past, he would need considerable space to execute that punch.  Here, he was able to land it repeatedly and powerfully during close exchanges.
  • Defensively, Berto must improve to have any shot at defeating truly elite fighters.  He is tardy in returning his hands to a defensive position after throwing punches.  He also squares up to his opponents, giving them more of a target.  This flaw makes him very susceptible to left hooks and also explains why the southpaw Victor Ortiz was able to have so much success against him. 
  • Berto fights like a man who is in love with his power.  He can't wait for his opponent to throw, because he believes it will give him opportunities to land his harder shots.  This confidence in his power may be misguided.  He has yet to knockout an elite-level opponent.  It seems as if fighters with good chins can take his shots fairly well.  It will be fascinating to see whether Berto's supreme belief in his power will lead to his undoing in future fights.
  • Additionally, Berto's refusal to listen to his corner is a serious problem which will further manifest against elite opponents.  Morgan was giving Berto sound advice, yet Berto almost willfully ignored it.  Give Morgan credit, his corner was much more controlled this fight.  There weren't six voices yelling at Berto with different strategic imperatives.  Morgan's instructions were lucid and relevant.  However, if Berto doesn't trust Morgan implicitly, his ultimate success as a fighter will be hindered.  Even with the victory, it may be time for Berto to change trainers, or bring in another voice as the lead.  When the rough waters come, Berto is going to need a trainer for whom he has ultimate respect.  Berto's professional relationship with Morgan is a chink in his armor.  It leaves him vulnerable in future, tough fights.  
  • For Zaveck, he demonstrated a lot of character in the loss.  As an unknown quantity for U.S. television audiences, Zaveck showed that he clearly belonged against a top-five welterweight.  Zaveck displayed a great chin and demonstrated the ability to block and parry a number of shots.  However, his style of high-volume combinations and power counters leads to a lot of opportunities for his opponents.  Even though Zaveck was doing well in the fight, quite possibly he could have been losing by three rounds. 
  • Furthermore, if he is prone to cuts, his style of fighting could directly lead to difficulties in future contests.  To this point in his career, Zaveck hasn't demonstrated an alternate style that allows him to win fights against good opponents.  If he can only win by aggressive infighting, the stoppage against Berto could be a harbinger of things to come.  It would be wise for Zaveck to hire a top-tier cut man.  Clearly, his cuts against Berto were debilitating, but with someone like Joe Souza or Miguel Diaz in the corner, could his night have been salvaged?  
  • Hopefully, Zaveck's performance will enable him to get fights against the elite welterweights in the world.  He would make a great opponent for rising junior welterweights such as Amir Khan or Devon Alexander.  He fights in a TV-friendly style and showed that he can compete with the best in the division.
  • HBO did not have a good night.  The network's opening fight was an uncompetitive showcase bout for rising prospect Gary Russell, Jr.  The fight was so boring that Max Kellerman and Roy Jones decided to engage in an incoherent esoteric debate about ring identities.  Bob Papa, who is usually solid in calling the fights, did not forcefully assert himself to keep the broadcast centered on the (in) action at hand. 
  • Additionally, in the main event, Kellerman insisted on comparing Berto to former champion Meldrick Taylor.  The comparison wasn't apt in that Taylor was much slicker and had significantly faster hands than Berto does.  The two also had far different ring temperaments.  Nevertheless, Kellerman continued to ramble on without Papa reining him in.  Papa, who's not primarily a boxing guy, may not have had the specific ring knowledge to call Kellerman on his B.S. or was too deferential to his analyst.  Nevertheless, as the play-by-play man, he is responsible for the directional course of the broadcast.  If an analyst veers off track, it is his job to refocus the crew.  
  • The broadcast ended with a strange declaration from Kellerman, who disparaged some of the practices of his own network. He acknowledged (rightfully so) that HBO was perhaps too cozy with manager Al Haymon (Haymon had both Berto and Russell fighting on the broadcast).  He admitted that the Russell fight was not of HBO quality and that Haymon has wielded significant influence over the network. 
  • Perhaps Kellerman was instructed to fire a public salvo at Haymon.  Maybe, with the president of HBO Sports resigning, the new interim regime was trying to assert itself and respond to industry criticism.  Although Kellerman's remarks were heartfelt and correct in terms of substance, calling out a manager to end a broadcast (not a fighter or even a promoter!) seems like small potatoes.  Yes, HBO has some issues to address with its boxing program, but last night's public flogging of Haymon seemed out of place and beneath the dignity of the "Network of Champions."

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