The timing of tonight's fight on HBO between WBC interim welterweight titleholder Robert Guerrero and former two-time champion Andre Berto at the Citizen's Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California could not be any better than Thanksgiving weekend. Each man can be considered pilgrims on a journey to the holy place that has evaded them, albeit for different reasons.
Guerrero (30-1-1, 18 KO's) became the third fighter to win world titles from featherweight up to welterweight, amassing a total of six championships including three interim belts. A slick southpaw, Guerrero is a versatile, measured boxer and good puncher who has yet to achieve the broad respect for his accomplishments.
The journey became even more turbulent when Guerrero's wife was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago and subsequently underwent a bone marrow transplant, forcing the then super featherweight champion to vacate his title in 2010. Guerrero draws strength from the harrowing experience.
"The situation being there with my wife, seeing what she had to go through, it makes you step back and look at the bigger picture. She was out there fighting for her life, and I have the privilege to do what I love to do in the ring and get paid for it and be successful at it," explained Guerrero.
"So take advantage of it, use that drive and go out there and make it happen. That's why I love what I do. That's why I work very hard, because you can't take things for granted. You can't look past anything. You've got to enjoy the little things in life and everything that comes your way."
Guerrero made something happen that is very rarely done in the sport when he jumped from lightweight to welterweight. After a 15-month layoff to recover from rotator cuff surgery and carrying an additional 11¾ pounds, the 29-year old Guerrero added the WBC interim welterweight belt to his feast with a unanimous decision victory over Selcuk Aydin in July.
The victory was expected to set up Guerrero as a mandatory challenger for Floyd Mayweather Jr., the 'regular' WBC welterweight champion. However, that ship realistically was not expected to sail given Mayweather's incarceration this summer, uncertainty surrounding the pound-for-pound king's future plans in boxing and Guerrero's lack of star power to warrant such a match-up.
Instead, enter the hard hitting Berto (28-1, 22 KO's). A bronze medalist at the 2003 World Amateur Championships and a 2004 Athens Olympian for Haiti, the 29-year old Berto is quick and explosive. He made five successful title defenses of the WBC welterweight belt before slamming into Victor Ortiz in April 2011, a bout that garnered 'Fight of the Year' honors and a seat for Ortiz at the table with Mayweather. Although Berto subsequently captured the IBF strap from Jan Zaveck in his next fight in September 2011, his sights were set on another serving of Ortiz with hopes it could lead to his own shot at Mayweather.
However, Berto's career was re-routed temporarily due to a positive test result in May for the anabolic steroid nandrolone. This resulted in the cancelation of the highly anticipated rematch and suspension of his license by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC). Upon review of the case by the CSAC, it was determined that Berto's test result was due to contamination rather than performance enhancement and his license was re-issued in August. With this opportunity, he fights tonight to resume his career and restore his reputation.
Like Guerrero heading into the Aydin fight, Berto has been out of the ring for 15-months and believes the experience has had an overall positive impact on his life.
"Just like they always say, it's always a storm before a blessing, man. And I went through a hell of a storm within this last year, and it does put me in perspective with a lot of different things, and I'm right here in the position just to move forward," Berto said. "Me, I'm blessed. The family's blessed, and we're ready just to move forward and make it happen."
Expect a storm in the ring tonight, as well.
Guerrero will be after his fifteenth consecutive victory and tenth knockout but his stamina and power at welterweight could make this difficult. He tired badly against Aydin and found himself getting nailed with a number of short uppercuts and right hands while on the inside. He remained active throughout the bout with a very nice display of combination punching but was unable to hurt his flat-footed opponent. Against a more powerful and athletic Berto, we'll get a better taste of whether Guerrero is a top grade welterweight.
Southpaws have given Berto the most trouble in his career as evidenced by the Ortiz loss and a closely contested unanimous decision victory over Luis Collazo in January 2009. Berto engaged in the wrong fight against Ortiz, getting baited into a slugfest and going head to head with a tenacious and brawling opponent. Collazo, a pure boxer, out-hustled and out-punched Berto in the middle rounds to keep it a highly competitive bout. Guererro does not have the power of Ortiz nor the pure boxing style of Collazo to give Berto the same kind of trouble but his versatility and determination are plentiful.
After this storm, the blessing for the winner could be the Plymouth Rock on which both men are trying to land.
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