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Andre Berto, The Unknown Welterweight…BORGES

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berto_ortiz_posterOnce upon a time Andre Berto would have been talked about. His name would have come up regularly on the sports pages and in barroom debates because he holds a portion of one of boxing’s most revered prizes – the welterweight championship of the world.

That was when boxing held sway in this country but today it has become a niche sport for diehards, a game that has made itself too complicated to keep track of and too self-destructive to pay attention to for the average sports fan. The people who suffer most because of this are guys like Berto, an undefeated and earnest champion who is seen as standing several notches below Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and so is all but ignored.

This is despite the fact his last EIGHT FIGHTS have been telecast on HBO, the cable network that used to build stars but now most often seems to keep young fighters from becoming stars. While the cable giant is incessantly hyping Pacquiao’s appearance against well shot Shane Mosley next month you’d have to send the Mounties out to find much mention of Berto’s title defense Saturday night against undeserving Victor Ortiz, the young phenom who faded the first time someone punched back but who remains protected by his association with Oscar De La Hoya and hence ends up with a title shot while more deserving fighters languish in even deeper shadows than the ones obscuring Berto.

Berto (27-0, 21 KO) has held the WBC title for nearly three years, defending it six times against, frankly, B level competition. He has never been able to land the kind of fight that might have lifted his profile – one against Pacquiao, Mayweather or even Mosley – in part because they didn’t see an economic need to do so and neither did the man running his career, manager Al Haymon.

And why would Haymon risk Berto if HBO is willing to pay him $1.2 million to defend his title against someone like Freddy Hernandez, as they did in his last outing? The risk-reward ratio there was perfect from a business standpoint – no risk for a healthy reward.

That is not the case this weekend however because for all Ortiz’s dubious issues with his resolve when pressured he can punch like a mule and if he lands Berto could find the floor as readily as anyone else. Of course, if Berto fights smartly and with his usual level of interest (which he did not show, by the way, when he was handed a dubious decision over Luis Collazo a year ago on a night he admits he was ill-prepared for the challenge he faced) he should dominate the second half of the fight and eventually convince Ortiz of something he’s already shown before – that there’s a level of pain through which he’s not willing to pass just to have his hand raised.

“There’s no question about my heart,’’ Berto said. “I have to question his on everything from one situation, when he had to endure controversy (because) he didn’t like to crack back (in a loss to Marcos Maidana when he not only quit under duress but admitted it after the fight).

“At the end of the day you can’t teach what beats in the chest. You either have it – heart – or you don’t. I can out-power him, out-skill him. Any way it goes.

“Let’s see how he handles real power. I got caught early in my career – my hand just hit the canvas – and I got aggressive. I didn’t quit. I got aggressive.’’

Berto is likely to approach Ortiz (28-2-2) in the same fashion, although he does have to respect his punching power even though Ortiz is moving up from junior welterweight for the first time. Ortiz has the kind of power that can stun a man and when that happens he’s quick to try and finish him but Berto is aware of that and should be ready for it.

The problem is if he does defeat Ortiz where does that leave him? Will he be one step closer to either Pacquiao or Mayweather? Not likely.

Will he finally be able to get a piece at Mosley, who at 38 is now in the business of selling his hard-won but now shop worn reputation to fighters who want to burnish their own resumes like Mayweather, Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto and Lord, even Sergio Mora? That too would seem unlikely because once Pacquiao is finished with him it’s likely Mosley will be finished as well, at least as a saleable commodity to a public that seems to only remember the old names because no one is building any new ones for them to pay attention to.

Berto might have been one of those names in other times but he has been too well protected by Haymon and unable to get the kind of big fight that could lift his profile even in defeat if he acquitted himself well.

That is not his fault, it is just reality in boxing these days and so instead he prepares at 27 for guys like Ortiz, who drew in his last fight against Lamont Peterson in December at 140 pounds yet somehow ended up with welterweight title shot out of it.

Berto has been criticized by many in boxing circles for the  quality of his opponents but he’s fought King Kong compared to Ortiz, whose best wins came against well shot Vivian Harris and nearly well shot Nate Campbell before the draw with Peterson.

Perhaps Berto has been a willing co-conspirator in the road he’s taken but I doubt it. Berto has been crying out for a shot at Pacquiao or Mayweather for some time and seemed anxious to face Mosley as well at one point, at least more anxious than the people around Mosley were to make that match happen it would seem.

And so a fighter who would in years past have been talked about in the larger sporting world as a champion you wanted to see in against the biggest names today he continues to fight in the shadows despite the fact he’s been on HBO nearly as often as Tony Soprano.

“I feel I’ll always get a little criticism,’’ Berto said. “They say the fighters I’ve fought are a lower level of competition. I won’t get the credit that I deserve (if he beats Ortiz). I just keep knocking guys out. Every time I step in the ring I’ll make it look like that (easy).

“Talk doesn’t make a difference. At the end of the day I don’t listen to criticism. I don’t listen to what others say. I’m staying focused on the fight. Skills pay the bills. It only matters if you win.’’

That is a wise philosophy to follow because it’s unfortunately all Andre Berto can do. Win and wait for his moment. Win and wait for Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather to decide they need him as much as he needs them or wait for someone like Amir Khan to move up to 147 pounds in search of a title belt.

Only then will we really know about Andre Berto, which is a sad fact he has to ignore if he’s ever going to change it.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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