Sunday, January 18, 2009

Welcome To The Hurt Business, Andre Berto

By Lee Payton

Luis Collazo let Andre Berto know what being a professional prizefighter is all about last night. For 12 rounds the two welterweight contenders exchanged painful blows in front of a lively crowd at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, in Biloxi, Miss. The action was fast and fierce from the opening bell, to a finish that saw the best of both men emerge. One fighter confirmed what most of us already knew about him, while the other was forced into answering his toughest set of questions yet. Luis Collazo is back and Andre Berto has some tiger in him.

Entering the ring as a significant underdog did not seem to fluster the gutsy southpaw from Brooklyn, as he took his time in the opening stanza before pitching a sword-like straight left down the middle that sent his opponent falling backward into the ropes. He jumped on the youngster, but couldn't finish the job. After holding on to catch his legs and clear his head, Berto was able to stay out of trouble until he could get his own speedy licks in to close the round.

He seemed a little lost after 3 rounds. For the first time he wasn't able to overwhelm the man in front of him with his own impressive bursts of offense and athleticism, so he found himself getting roughed up on the inside whenever he stopped working. When the referee took a point away from Berto in the 4th round for excessive holding, it looked like the wheels were coming loose on the little hot rod, given that he also lost the round while searching for answers.

Despite all these new problems, the young man gutted out some of the middle rounds on work and desire, but couldn't put together anything consistent and had yet to hurt his man. Luis was feeling a bit gassed, so he took the opportunity to catch his breath and show off some cute defensive moves. Feeling like he may be leaving the door open, Colazo's corner urged him to let it all hang out down the stretch.

The 10th round was the worst 3 minutes of Andre Berto's career. He was outworked from start to finish and was the recipient of a lesson on in-fighting, given by his more experienced challenger. The Florida native was pressured steadily and battered around the ring. To his credit, he never stopped swinging, but was just trying to keep Collazo off him at that point.

Even when he did land something big during one of the numerous exchanges, he would just get swatted with something right back. In taking his licks and fighting back, Berto showed that he is no softy, but it wasn't looking great for his undefeated record. At this point I had it 96-93 in favour of Collazo.

Though the title belt that was on the line doesn't mean Berto is the welterweight champion, he certainly fought like one in trying to keep it. He took advantage of a winded opponent by letting his hands go enough for him to take the 11th and set the stage for what felt like a winner-take-all final round.

It had been a spirited contest that left both men weary and busted up. This kind of combat was something entirely new to the expertly guided young pug, but he passed the ultimate test when he put together a scintillating assault that showed how bad he wanted the fight. He slashed Collazo with power shots from everywhere and never stopped. Amazingly, his punches still had a lot of zip on them, even after the fantastic pace of the previous 11 rounds.

All of Berto's work finally paid off when a body shot folded Collazo with about 30 seconds left in the fight. Only his heart and and courage kept Luis from going down as he was clearly hurt and exhausted.

Both sides had good reason to believe their man took the fight and they let the two warriors know how much they appreciated what they just saw. When all was said and done, the only thing you could complain about was the hideous card of judge Bill Clancy, who somehow saw it 116-111 for Berto. It was made meaningless by two reasonable scores of 114-113 for Berto, who was awarded a unanimous decision.

With the loss, collazo falls to 29-4-0, but he proved his worth as a top fighter at 147 lbs, and showed that he won't lay down for anyone. Both fighters agreed to a rematch in the post-fight interviews and I'm sure boxing fans would tune in for a second go. Either way, I'm sure we'll see him again soon.

For Berto, he remains undefeated and surely learned more in this one fight than he had during his previous 23 combined. The bad news for him and his management is that fans will expect him to fight at this level from now on. He was just pushed to a new limit by a guy who everyone wants to see him fight again, and it's not going to get any easier for him at 147 lbs. While he definitely showed his massive fighting heart, he's got to tie up some loose ends on defense if he wants to give himself the best chance to be successful against top competition. It will be interesting to see how much he takes from this painful introduction to the hurt business.

There is extra pressure on Andre Berto to perform because he has been in the public eye more than most young fighters, and that's fair to an extent, but it would be a shame if TV dates, management, title belts, and defensive flaws made us lose sight of what makes this kid someone to keep an eye on. None of that other stuff matters when the fighter gives it everything he has in the ring.

Lee Payton