Thursday, November 29, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Guerrero-Berto, Hatton-Senchenko

Robert Guerrero found one way to neutralize Andre Berto's counter right hand; get so damn close to Berto that he couldn't even throw it. In a surprise to many in the boxing world, Guerrero took the fight to Berto over 12 bracing, vicious rounds to earn a unanimous decision. Although Guerrero was certainly a trendy pick for some going into the fight, the thought was that he would win with his boxing ability, throwing quick combinations from the center of the ring. No one foresaw Guerrero mauling Berto along the ropes for 12 rounds. It turned out to be a winning strategy and one which Guerrero deserves much credit for executing.
 
Clearly, Guerrero and his father and trainer, Ruben, studied Victor Ortiz's fight with Berto, where Ortiz overwhelmed and outslugged Berto over 12 rounds. What they probably saw from that match was a fighter (Berto) who couldn't put enough punches together and had problems being effective at close range.
 
Although Guerrero hadn't demonstrated many examples of top inside fighting throughout his career, he certainly showed that he was a quick study. With his straight left hands and his newfound physicality at welterweight, Guerrero constantly drove Berto back to the ropes. In the first round, he scored a knockdown with a straight left hand. (There was holding and hitting involved. In theory, a ref could have deducted a point or discounted the knockdown.) In the second, Berto went down again on an accumulation of blows.
 
The match was conducted mostly in the trenches. Guerrero constantly moved his hands, connecting with his right hook, straight left hand and left uppercut. Berto was reduced to throwing only uppercuts and chopping right hands. The fight was a foul-filled affair with Guerrero holding and hitting and Berto wrapping up excessively (which included some well-executed headlocks) and throwing rabbit punches. Referee Lou Moret had very little control of the fight.
 
Berto was certainly overwhelmed early but he started to get back into the fight with some picture-perfect right uppercuts and clubbing right hands.
 
As the match progressed, both fighters looked worse for wear. Both of Berto's eyes started to swell shut while Guerrero complained of vision problems from the power punches that he had received. Perhaps the reason that they stuck so close to each other, and along the ropes, was that they couldn't see shots coming, and the ropes helped with possible depth perception/ring awareness issues.
 
The rounds in the fight’s last half followed a similar pattern. Guerrero threw and landed more and was the effective aggressor, while Berto connected with some solid uppercuts and right hands. Ultimately, Berto just wasn't busy enough to win a majority of these rounds.

The action was sustained and fierce throughout the match. After the final bell sounded, the fighters still went after each other. Somehow, a California State Athletic Commission official was able to separate the two before Lou Moret got there (as I said, Moret didn't have a good night).
 
Guerrero swept the cards with identical 116-110 scores, or eight rounds to four, with two points off of Berto's count for the knockdowns. (I also scored it 116-110). It was a career-best victory for Guerrero and he proved to the boxing world that he had the skills, chin and, most importantly, the temperament to take on the best welterweights in the world. It was a special effort from Guerrero and his confidence with his inside fighting and his beard creates new difficulties in how to game plan for his attack.
 
Potentially, there were other ways for Guerrero to defeat Berto, but this one, the most savage and satisfying, left no doubts at the end of the fight. Ultimately, Guerrero's success reflected his supreme belief in his chin and conditioning.
 
But Guerrero did get hit way too often for my liking. True, he did tie up and angle his body to a degree; however, he showed no effort to get out of the way of punches. It was a very dangerous game that he played (and won) but if he fights like this in the future, it will provide opportunities for counterpunchers or volume punchers to land at will.
 
Although Berto took quite a beating, he did perform more ably than he did against Ortiz. On Saturday, he fought hard the entire match and didn't use the final few rounds to merely survive. He threw some great uppercuts and scored well with his cuffing right hands. At points in the bout, he had some sustained success fighting off of the ropes. He also was in excellent condition. Physically or mentally, he could have folded after the first few rounds of the fight, but he persevered to give himself a chance to win.
 
Ultimately, Berto just didn't move his hands enough. He got outthrown 731-411, not even 35 attempted punches a round for Berto, an outright terrible number for a welterweight.
 
To my eyes, Berto has fallen in love with his power. He waits for those perfect moments to land his power shots, convinced that his best punches will turn the tide of his fights. Berto does have a good knockout percentage of 73%, but keep in mind how mediocre some of his early opposition was. Since moving to 12-round fights, he has only stopped 4 of 9 opponents (44%).
 
In addition, Berto's defense has deteriorated. Always looking to land his own shots, he just eats and eats punches. Berto started the fight on Saturday in the Mayweather shell defensive stance. Ultimately, it didn't matter what posture Berto used because he got hit with everything. The move smacked of a gimmick or a sense of panic and doesn't speak well of Berto or his trainer Tony Morgan's confidence in the fighter's defensive fundamentals. In addition, the timing of the change made little sense. Making radical wholesale changes should be done in a tune-up fight, not against a world-class level opponent.
 
It's clear to me that Berto needs a new trainer. Berto doesn’t make adjustments well during fights. At times, I have liked Morgan's instruction between rounds, but his fighter has plateaued. Gone are the days of the consistent jab, the movement, the boxing ability and, frankly, the confidence. Berto looked lost during large stretches of the fight, where he was unprepared for Guerrero's aggression and just didn't know how to get himself off.
 
Berto's new trainer must have a Come to Jesus moment with him, an intervention where he is told that his power won't be enough to win fights at the world-class level. Berto must realize that he has to incorporate additional facets into his ring performances.
 
Berto had an exponential rise as a prospect, touted by HBO and many media members as a future star. He was matched softly and the hype often outstripped his performances. It's true, Berto toughed out two brutal fights against Ortiz and Guerrero, but they were both losses in winnable matchups. To date, in his biggest opportunities he has come up short.
 
After the fight, Guerrero called out Floyd Mayweather and as preposterous as that matchup would have sounded 12 months ago (Guerrero talked about it then, and it was utterly and absolutely preposterous), I certainly would be fine with the fight now. I don't expect Guerrero to win that matchup but he would certainly make for a suitable opponent. With his size and various offensive dimensions, he'll have the ability to make it interesting.
 
Berto conducted his post-fight interview with HBO's Max Kellerman wearing sunglasses. Instead of letting fans in and giving them something personal and endearing, Berto was too cool for the room. He complained about the ref and begrudgingly gave Guerrero credit. Many fighters revel in their post-fight battles; these are moments to connect with fans. But Berto was far more concerned with looking pretty and pretending that he didn't give a shit. His interview encapsulated why he has always had a chilly reception at the box office. It's beneath him to show vulnerability or unbridled emotion. I wanted to shake him and say, "Andre, the fans want to like you!"
 
On the undercard, rising prospect Keith Thurman demolished veteran spoiler Carlos Quintana, scoring a fourth-round knockout and sending the crafty Puerto Rican into retirement. A spectacular left hook to the liver in the first round dropped Quintana and he barely made the count. He spent the rest of the fight trying to buy time and avoid Thurman’s' power.
 
For Quintana, he had some excellent wins in his day, including ones over Paul Williams and Joel Julio, but he was never able to sustain a successful run. He would win a big one and then lose a big one. Then, he would work his way back. Nevertheless, Quintana made the most out of his limited gifts and he can retire knowing that he was once a world champion. Not too shabby.
 
Thurman's power is his calling card. He's 19-0 with 18 knockouts. He has two real weapons of note. His right hand, which is a pulverizing punch, and his left hook – when he landed that punch in first round, the devastation was an eerie reminder of Miguel Cotto’s left hook that dropped Quintana in 2006.
 
Power is the sexiest quality in boxing but Thurman's team, which includes Al Haymon and Golden Boy, must avoid rushing him too fast to get a title shot. Thurman wildly overcommits to his power shots and often gets himself out of position. In addition, when throwing his right hand, he drops his left. He'll also stalk fighters around the ring with both hands only as high as his shoulders. If this sounds like a recipe for getting knocked out, you're right. Thurman and his excellent trainer, Dan Birmingham, still have things to work on in the gym. He's an exciting young fighter, but it will be much more rewarding to see him challenge for a championship belt at the end of 2014 than at the end of 2013.
 
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Ricky Hatton returned to the ring after a three-and-a-half year layoff in front of his adoring home crowd in Manchester. Instead of taking a predictable tune-up fight for his comeback, he chose Vyacheslav Senchenko, a former world titleholder from the Ukraine.
 
Hatton started the fight off fairly well. After a few close rounds, he had some sustained success in the third round with his left hook. In the next few rounds of the fight, he did vintage Hatton things: mauling his opponent, connecting to whatever part of the body was available and backing his opponent up along the ropes. He was moving well and if his accuracy wasn't great, he wasn't embarrassing himself.
 
By the seventh round, he began to fade. Senchenko, who started the fight tentatively, gradually let his hands go with more frequency. He scored with his jab, straight right hand and left hook. He wasn’t dominating but he was getting the better of the action. In the ninth round of the scheduled ten-round affair, he unleashed a wicked left hook to the body and Hatton crumbled to the canvas; he never made it back up.
 
At the time of the stoppage, Hatton was up on all three scorecards (I had Senchenko winning 87-85). Ultimately, Hatton's body betrayed him. The inactivity and years of self-abuse outside of the ring had finally caught up with him.
 
For Senchenko, it was a mixed performance. Although the veteran can certainly handle himself in the ring, his loss earlier this year to Paulie Malignaggi suggests a fighter with some real limitations. Already 35, Senchenko possesses a good jab and a decent arsenal of punches but he doesn't react well to getting hit and he clearly had a problem with Malignaggi's hand speed and Hatton's aggression. Saturday's knockout was an excellent one, but it doesn't portend great things in Senchenko's future. In the minds of the judges, he lost a majority of rounds to a guy that had been out of the ring for 40 months. That doesn't sound like a stock you want to buy.
 
Typical of Hatton, he provided a wonderful post-fight interview after the loss. As opposed to Berto, who had given off the impression that losing the fight to Guerrero was as devastating to him as forgetting to set his DVR, Hatton let the emotions flow. The feelings of regret and disappointment were emblazoned on his face. Hatton wanted the win so badly. The loss hurt him personally. And the feeling that his boxing career would now finally conclude whipsawed him to a level of sheer nakedness. Here was raw vulnerability. There were tears and they were the markings of a man who grasped the awesome connection that a fighter has with his fans. Their pain was his pain and vice-versa. It was an unforgettable moment.
 
For Hatton, who struggled with substance abuse and thoughts of suicide during his initial retirement, his comeback was a chance to reestablish his self-worth and purge destructive forces from his life. That he lost surely will be a tough pill for him to swallow, but hopefully, he will be able to find some semblance of inner peace (he immediately went back into retirement after the loss).
 
Hatton made so many vital contributions to boxing's health and well-being. He helped reestablish British boxing after a lull. He created a legion of fans that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have gravitated to the sport. He also bridged boxing worlds, taking his fans on road shows in the U.S. and picking up more admirers along the way. He might not have won his biggest fights, but he gave it his all. He was as authentic an athlete as we've had in these times.
 
On the undercard, fast-rising junior featherweight Scott Quigg stopped former title challenger Rendall Munroe in six rounds. Quigg, who is promoted by Hatton's company, put forth his best outing as a professional. Exhibiting poise, great technique and a crunching body assault, Quigg outshone Munroe throughout the entire match. He reminded me of featherweight contender Mikey Garcia. Both fighters are economical with their punches but they unload with great combinations and have real power. Quigg landed a debilitating left hook to the liver in the sixth round for his first knockdown. He followed up later in the round with a right hand that ended things for good.
 
For a young fighter (24), Quigg is very disciplined and has an excellent understanding of what he wants to accomplish in the ring. An obvious matchup for him would be rising attraction Carl Frampton of Northern Ireland. Although the two boxers are in different promotional stables (Frampton is with Matchroom), this potential clash is definitely being pushed by the British media and fight fans. It's an interesting one to consider. Frampton is the flashier offensive talent with quick hands and explosive power. Quigg is more workmanlike, accurate and defensively responsible (although he was dropped earlier this year by Jamie Arthur). Personally, I'd like to see the matchup happen in another year or so, when it would have more importance in the sport and provide better paydays for the fighters. However, if the powers that be deem that this clash needs to happen in early 2013, I know that I'll be watching.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
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1 comment:

  1. Excellent sports writing!!!

    ReplyDelete