Saturday, November 24, 2012

Berto-Guerrero: Keys to the Fight

An unexpected welterweight showdown takes place on Saturday when Andre Berto returns to the ring (28-1, 22 KOs) against Robert Guerrero (30-1-1, 18 KOs) at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, California. Earlier this year, Berto tested positive for a performance enhancing drug and was expected to be suspended for a lengthy period of time. However, the California State Athletic Commission granted him a boxing license and he has been allowed to resume his career. Guerrero was targeting a match against welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley, but that fight never materialized.

HBO stepped up to the plate and offered princely sums for Berto and Guerrero to face each other. It's not a fight that the boxing public was clamoring for but it's a very intriguing matchup between two skilled fighters with designs on marching towards the top of the welterweight division. Read below for my keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the piece. 

1. Can Berto land his counter right hand?

Earlier in his career, Berto was a versatile boxer-puncher and employed numerous styles in the ring. Against the rugged, but limited, Juan Urango, Berto boxed beautifully and used movement and ring generalship to secure an easy victory. Facing Carlos Quintana (who fights on the undercard of this match against Keith Thurman), Berto imposed his size and physicality to dominate. Most recently, against Victor Ortiz and Jan Zaveck, Berto has been a stationary counterpunching sharpshooter, staying in the pocket and looking for opportunities to turn the fight with one punch.

Make no mistake; Berto's power is real but the results of his most recent ring incarnation have been mixed. Yes, he dropped Victor Ortiz twice and he busted up Zaveck's face for a TKO win. However, Ortiz was the more aggressive fighter in their matchup and outslugged Berto for the victory. In addition, Zaveck was having a lot of success landing his jab and short shots before his cut could no longer be contained.

Against Guerrero, Berto faces a busy and athletic opponent. Guerrero doesn't run but he's a very intelligent fighter who uses angles well. Guerrero throws a ton of punches (often over 80 a round) but doesn't square up often when throwing combinations or exchanging with an opponent. He'll be looking for Berto's right hand and will move to his right to avoid it.

The best opportunity for Berto to connect with his counter right is directly after a Guerrero flurry. Guerrero has a bad habit of standing in no-man's land after exchanges. He can admire his work too much, remaining in the pocket without throwing punches, and sometimes he fails to get out of range after scoring with a combination. These are the moments where Berto will have his best chance of succeeding with his money punch.

This is a glass half-full/half-empty scenario for Berto. In his favor, he's always looking for that perfect moment to land his counter right hand; however, he'll eat a lot of shots waiting for that opportunity. Berto's less concerned about defense – to his detriment – than throwing bombs.

2. How does Guerrero take Berto's best punch?

This is the essential question of the fight. Guerrero's chin can be dented. He was dropped by an old Joel Casamayor and he should have officially been knocked down by Michael Katsidis (the punch was incorrectly ruled a slip). In both of those contests, Guerrero fought between 134 and 138 lbs. Against Berto, he'll be at the 147-lb. welterweight limit. In theory, Berto should be able to cause a lot of damage against a fighter who couldn't stay on his feet at lightweight. However, it's also possible that Guerrero has grown into his body and that he's finally fighting at his best weight. You'll notice that in the last three years Guerrero has shot up from junior lightweight all the way to welterweight. He used to have a very lanky frame; perhaps now, at 147, he's in his physical comfort zone.

Guerrero's one fight at welterweight was a mixed bag. He did thrive against a heavy-handed opponent, Selcuk Aydin. However, Aydin didn't land that often and when he did, it was only one punch at a time. Guerrero never went down but he was visibly bothered by Aydin's right hands at a few points in the fight. In short, the jury is still out on whether Guerrero's chin can hold up at welterweight against a top puncher.

3. What if Berto's counter right hand isn't enough?

This is where Berto's in trouble. Guerrero piles up points. Employing a full arsenal of punches, Guerrero is an aggressive fighter who scores very well with judges because of his high activity level and accurate combinations. It's very easy to see scenarios where Guerrero doubles Berto's punch output in certain rounds, especially early in the fight. For Berto, he has to score with his power shots to win rounds. If he can't cause significant damage with his counter right hands, he'll find himself down on the cards very quickly; he'll have to make up some significant ground.

4. Does Berto have a plan B?

It's no secret that Berto hasn't been particularly nimble in switching up strategies during fights. In his two closest matches, against Luis Collazo and Victor Ortiz, he certainly lost the ring generalship battle. It may seem difficult to get outwitted by Victor Ortiz, but Berto did – a distinction of spectacular dubiousness. Berto's corner has been chaotic during these tough fights. (Berto's head trainer has been Tony Morgan, who has often been accompanied by what seems to be a cast of dozens barking out orders in the vicinity of the corner.) When good instruction is given, Berto often refuses to follow it.

Berto's a headstrong fighter who believes that his power will set him free. Fortunately for him, that's probably the right strategy against Guerrero. He's not going to outbox Guerrero to get a decision. It's not that Berto doesn't have good boxing skills; he certainly has excellent hand speed and a command of a variety of punches. For Berto, it's more of a question of perception. He sees himself as a destroyer. Power punchers don't need to move around the ring; they're not cute. They land bombs.

However, if Berto does fall behind in this fight, there are a couple of things that he could do to work his way back into it. First, he needs to go to the body. Berto is a proud member of the Headhunters Association (Wladimir Klitschko is the president of the organization, now in his third, four-year term). Berto likes to stun his opponents with a single, powerful counterpunch then go to work with letting his hands go. But a left hook to the body against Guerrero would do wonders. If Berto consistently landed that punch, it would weaken Guerrero, reducing his punch output and mobility. That would be a good formula to soften Guerrero up for a later knockout blow.

If down in the fight, Berto would be wise to utilize his entire arsenal. He does have an excellent right uppercut (ask Freddy Hernandez about that). By jabbing more, hooking to the body and throwing some uppercuts, Guerrero will have a much more difficult time defending himself from Berto's power shots. In short, if Berto's counter right hand is the ticket (and it may very well be), landing that shot with maximum effect should be his greatest imperative. One counter right hand in isolation might not do the trick, but putting a hard right hand at the end of combinations would reap his intended benefits. In addition, if Berto can successfully counter with a variety of punches, he will be in much better shape to land his right hand as the fight progresses. He will be far less predictable.

5. What happens in the championship rounds?

I don't regard Guerrero or Berto as particularly strong finishers. Guerrero was knocked down by Casamayor late and certainly gave up some rounds to Aydin and Vicente Escobedo in the last third of those bouts. His punch output does tend to drop later in fights and he features less lateral movement; he's easier to find late. To this point, Berto has gassed in tough fights. Collazo had some of his best moments in the later rounds of their match. Berto became a piƱata in the championship rounds against Ortiz.  

Expect both fighters to fade some towards the end of the fight. How this plays out could be very interesting. Guerrero can be prone to lapses in concentration and can get lazy with some arm punches. Berto has had trouble letting his hands go and has experienced some conditioning problems – his legs can betray him in tough fights. It's very possible that Guerrero could cruise late in the fight because of Berto's sagging energy and activity level. However, maybe this is where Berto can finally break through with power counters as Guerrero's stands more in the pocket.


I see Guerrero jumping out to an early lead. He'll get off first with quick two and three-punch combinations. He'll hit Berto repeatedly with his right hook to the head and body, straight left hand and left uppercut. Guerrero will also befuddle Berto with his movement. Guerrero will use angles and turn Berto throughout the first half of the fight.  

Berto will have his moments, but not enough of them throughout the match. He'll land a few power right hands and will hurt Guerrero. However, I don't think he'll be able to put enough punches together to finish him off. When under duress, Guerrero will use his ring savvy to tie up Berto or move around the ring. It will be a frustrating fight for Berto. With a little more energy and creativity, his desired KO victory could have been there for the taking. Instead, Guerrero, with his higher activity level and solid combination punching, will be the one with his arms raised at the end of the fight.

Robert Guerrero defeats Andre Berto 115-112, or 8 rounds to 4, with Berto scoring a knockdown in defeat.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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