By Ivan G. Goldman
The victory by Robert “the Ghost” Guerrero over Andre Berto was achieved in a contest so brutal it looked more like a video game between two make-believe creatures than a match between two human beings.
The action was so stirring, so vicious and unrelenting it didn’t seem possible that even one fighter could take that much punishment. The fact that they both ended the fight on their feet was not just improbable. It was borderline supernatural. I saw it, but I still had trouble believing it. Of the fighters’ four eyes, the left eye of Guerrero was the only one still functioning at the final bell.
It was the kind of fight that made me proud of the fighters and a little ashamed that I was enjoying such intense violence. After a while even the slightest levity on the part of the HBO on-camera team members seemed insensitive — almost like sacrilege. Not that I accuse them of excessive levity. It’s just that the proceedings were so ruthless that customary back-and-forth chatter was out of place.
Guerrero, 31-1 (18 KOs), dictated the terms of the fight by coming inside with rough, borderline tactics in round one and going to war. It took Berto a couple of rounds to figure out what manner of beast he had in front of him, and by that time he’d hit the canvas twice. If Berto had shaken his head and said no mas after the second-round left hand that sliced across his eye and put him on the canvas it would have been perfectly understandable. But no, he was in for the duration, just like his adversary.
They both survived dozens of on-the-money vicious shots, any of which would have felled plenty of other welterweights. Angles ranged from uppercuts underneath to reach-around rabbit punches. They absorbed body punches that seemed to sink eight inches beneath the skin. At the same time it was clear that Guerrero was getting the best of it more often and that he would win unless he got knocked out, which was a very plausible possibility.
It’s hard to see how Berto, 28-2 (22 KOs), could lose stature from this contest. Managers around the world who value their fighters’ health will stay clear of him. But clearly it made him ineligible for a fight with the maharaja of welterweights, Floyd Mayweather.
Guerrero will now be seen as a logical opponent for Mayweather. That’s because Guerrero held on to something called the “interim” WBC title, and Mayweather, 43-0 (26 KOs), holds the real-McCoy WBC title, along with the WBA light middleweight title. If and when hunkered-down Mayweather ever fights again (and he makes short statements from time to time indicating that he will do so), he’s seen as more of a natural welterweight at this point in his career.
Clearly the best fight out there for Mayweather in terms of both money and prestige would be against Manny Pacquiao, but Floyd has resisted that match with such tenacity that there’s little reason to believe it will take place before both of them get so old it won’t matter. A lot may depend on how Pacquiao fares against Juan Manuel Marquez December 8 in Las Vegas in the fourth contest of their close, savage rivalry. Whatever the outcome, it’s unlikely that Guerrero would get a match with Pacquiao because their respective promoters — Golden Boy and Bob Arum’s Top Rank — are engaged in a war that is both business and personal and additionally quite stupid.
I had pointed out in an earlier piece that Berto-Guerrero was a classic East Coast-West Coast battle, and as it turned out, neither coast has anything to be ashamed of. East Coaster Max Kellerman seemed to think West Coast referee Lou Moret was letting California’s Guerrero get away with murder in Ontario, California, but Kellerman also seemed to think the vast retinue of rabbit punches thrown by Floridian Berto were within the rules. Moret should “let them fight,” Max complained after Berto earned a warning for throwing a particularly reprehensible punch behind the head. It seemed to me that Moret did in fact let Guerrero get away with questionable roughhouse tactics, but it also seemed clear that Moret’s rulings didn’t much matter in a dogfight like this one.
Fighters with one glove free are allowed to punch with that glove when the fighters are tangled, but they’re not supposed to hold with the other glove. It’s not always easy to interpret what’s correct. Referees who break fighters with no good reason are, I believe, more incorrect than referees inclined to let them wrestle a bit. It’s only fair to state that I’m an L.A. guy. But the three scores of 116-110 did seem reasonable in a contest that is a clear contender for Fight of the Year.
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel The Barfighter is set in the world of boxing. Information HERE