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.
Apropos of nothing, why can't I find a youtube of the Mayweather/Cotto fight? You can usually find fights there in segments. but not that one. I wanted to see it again to correct my misperception that Cotto did really well in that fight, rather than really well compared to everyone else (except Castillo, who kind of won his fight with Money). When I watched the highlights I realized it wasn't even close
When one guy is initiating the holding, as Berto rightfully was after the knockdowns, it enables the other fighter to somewhat respond in kind which is how the first knockdown happened. Aside from that I think the fight will almost certainly get eclipsed for FOTR. Mayweather is certainly the goose that laid the golden egg and his elusiveness affects the sweepstakes, but I'm not interested in seeing him fight the overmatched Guerrero.
I was astonished by the ref's ineptitude; he often stood by, clearly nonplussed, all but wringing his hands when they were in the clinch. The fight continued in that situation, but often it was a standstill. I'm also wondering about Guerrero was legal with the first drop, as he held Berto behind the head, which reminded me of Lennox Lewis' weird knockout of Michael Grant. I don't think it was fight of the year by any stretch, but certainly there were at least two rounds that were best for 2012.
@kgberg I'll agree to disagree. Very few of those were pure clinches. Either fighter often had a free hand, either chopping or trying to chop inside.
It was a dirty fight. It was a vicious fight. But inside fighting is part of boxing and should be allowed to unfold as a strategic option. That's what Moret did.
I don't understand the withering criticism of Moret.
Moret had a few moments of confusion about whether to allow in-fighting, but Berto DESERVED to be warned early in the fight. He was clutching and grabbing for dear life after being creased by Guerrero in the first two rounds. Guerrero was holding Berto's head during the first KO and should have been warned by Moret.
Otherwise, I thought Moret was pretty consistent in allowing both guys to continue to fight inside as long as one hand was free and working, which was the case nearly all the time. Would fight fans prefer meddlesome officiating by Joe Cortez, who steps in and separates fighters the first time they breathe on each other?
I'll take Moret's philosophy any time. It bred a true FIGHT.
Jack Reiss was FAR more deserving of criticism for letting Quintana be treated as a brain pinata by Thurman before stopping the fight. Reiss allowed nearly 10 unchallenged shots that snapped Quintana's neck before ending the fight. That officiating does more than alter a fight -- it could shorten a fighter's career or life.
Moret marred what was an awesome fight. He continuously warned Berto even though Robert continuously bullied his way on the inside with his forehead while holding the body in place.
I didn't see the thumb in the eye in the second, but the first knockdown could have been a point taken (and at least should have been a warning instead of a knockdown).
If Moret is going to allow a true fight then let em go. Let Berto aim for the side/back of the head when Robert rubs his forehead in his face/chest. Let him chicken wing when Robert is holding on to the body right before he lets loose with a combo.
Moret let a shadow be cast on a bout that probably would have gone a similar way (a hard fought Guerrero win) if he had done his job effectively).
Jack Reiss's late stoppage was no where near the incompetence Moret showed.
@PaulKelly I agree with the Reiss call I guess, but it happened pretty fast, it seemed to me. But I think he could have stopped it earlier
@PaulKelly My problem with him is that he couldn't make up his mind -- he was breaking guys and warning them, but unevenly, and sometimes was letting it go and sometimes not. What he did at the end, not being near the fighters toward the end of the bell, was inexcusable.
And I agree with you on Reiss' performance.
@tstarks Wholeheartedly agree with you on Moret's narcolepsy at the final bell. That was inexcusable.
But Reiss could have allowed a serious injury to occur through his unwillingness to protect Quintana. That was a FAR more serious transgression that Moret's inconsistency about regulation of inside fighting.
I will never understand why in a clinch when one fighter has a hand free and is still punching the other guy doesn't let go. It seems to me like common sense that you can't block a punch if both your arms are wrapped around your opponent. Berto did it all the time and it was the reason he got knocked down in the first round.
Not only that but the HBO crew went on like Guerrero was doing something wrong by punching when his arm was free.
@ham_napkin true. and they even said that guerrero was fighting dirty! hypocrisy to the fullest when they were hyping this fight and describing how clean and noble guerrero is as a fighter. very bias towards berto whom it's favored to win this fight and for him to have a blockbuster showdown with floyd! two attempts and both failed on GBP and HBO's side. they've invested millions to berto only to see the mega harvest they are trying to reap disappearing again!
@LeonardoLTorres @ham_napkin You really think they were trying to make Berto-Mayweather for sure? Because both are with Haymon and Haymon's guys haven't fought each other ever, that I can remember. It's been years and years and years, if it's ever happened.
I'm with you, HN, on Guerrero punching with a free hand. Sometimes he was the one doing the holding, though, and then you're not supposed to be punching with a free hand.
I heard somebody said.. "PaulKelly Yeah, no way Guerrero ever hurts Berto in this fight.", did I hear it right, Tim
@TIMbuktu Hey, it wasn't just Tim. It was me, too. I was stunned at Guerrero's power. He has grown into a welterweight nicely. Not just a bloated lightweight or junior welterweight.
@tstarks @PaulKelly @TIMbuktu I was very surprised both at Guerrero's aggressiveness and his power. Honestly, I told the person I was watching the fight with that Berto would end it in round 4, "The harder puncher will win this one," I wrongly predicted. Guerrero is strange that way. He is much more effective than it seems he should be because he doesn't have flashiness or a "trademark" style. I saw a replay of "The Problem" versus de Leon, and there I saw that sometimes the reverse happens, where jaw dropping athleticism and style can be explosed by a really experienced, straught-ahead fighter who just doesn't give a shit and isn't going to be intimidated