Say what you will about Saturday night's fight between Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz, but Andre Berto isn't going to overlook the bout.
"I always work hard in training camp," says Berto. "He's a southpaw with power, so we have to prepare and tweak a couple of things to get ready for the fight."
Berto (27-0, 21 KO) has been criticized, and often rightly so, for the level of opposition he has faced. Since being gifted an alphabet trinket in 2008 just for beating mid-level foe Miki Rodriguez, tough challenges have either been largely avoided or near-impossible to find, depending on who you believe, and when you believe it. As a "champion," Berto has beaten undersized veteran Steve Forbes, Luis Collazo, Juan Urango, Carlos Quintana and Freddy Hernandez. The only win most gave him major credit for was Collazo, and some believed that Collazo deserved the win.
But he's been winning. He and promoter Lou DiBella made an offer to fight Manny Pacquiao, which from all reports was deemed "fair," but instead of fighting the 27-year-old Berto, Top Rank chose Shane Mosley for Manny's May date. Mosley turns 40 in September and struggled badly in two fights last year, going 0-1-1 against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Sergio Mora.
With Pacquiao off the table, Mosley tied up with Pacquiao, and Mayweather a sideshow, options were low for Berto. Who was there to fight at welterweight? The most credible "other" option would have been Joshua Clottey, who has basically gone into hiding since last year's loss to Pacquiao. Past that lot, the best options out there are the likes of Kell Brook and Mike Jones, themselves needing that "next step" that Berto badly requires, but without many suitors.
Victor Ortiz made the decision to move up to welterweight, where he is likely to stay. Once one of the hot prospects in boxing, he was first promoted by Top Rank, but has gotten most of his hype under the Golden Boy banner. In 2009, he was matched with Marcos Maidana, expected to shine in an HBO Boxing After Dark main event.
Instead, after flooring Maidana early, Ortiz found himself walking straight into a right hand bomb which sent him to the canvas in response. A few rounds later, under heavy pressure in a bombs-away slugfest, Ortiz gave up on the fight. An ill-advised but in fact bluntly honest post-fight interview with Max Kellerman brought the doubters out in droves. And they were right to doubt.
Since the Maidana debacle, Ortiz has been matched very carefully -- but has not lost the support of HBO, just like Berto. Ortiz beat faded veteran Antonio Diaz in a tentative comeback performance, then toyed with low-level gatekeeper Hector Alatorre on Golden Boy's "Fight Night Club" series. Wins over ancient versions of Nate Campbell and Vivian Harris impressed few, and in a step back up in competition, Ortiz drew with Lamont Peterson in December, fight on the undercard of the main who derailed his train.
What we have Saturday is make-or-break in some respects for both fighters. Berto needs the win to keep even mild hopes of a Pacquiao fight late this year in play. Ortiz may need the win simply to stay in play at all.
Both have been showcased consistently. Now the showcasing needs to stop, and the proof needs to be there.
We'll have more on Berto-Ortiz during the week, including a full fight preview of what I really think might be a sleeper battle.