Andre Berto felt the sting of doubt and criticism following his unanimous decision loss to Victor Ortiz in April, the first of the welterweight standout’s career.
Berto lost a major title and a lot of stature in the sport after his barnburner with Ortiz, but the 27-year-old Miami native regained a belt and earned back some respect with a fifth-round stoppage of Jan Zaveck on Saturday in Biloxi, Miss.
The fight, which was televised on live on HBO, was another thriller for as long as it lasted. Berto launched into a relentless attack at the sound of the opening bell, clearly on a mission to prove something to the boxing world and perhaps to himself.
Zaveck, a Germany based titleholder from Slovenia, also had something to prove. He wanted to show U.S. boxing fans that he belongs among the elite welterweights.
Although down on the scorecards, the 35-year-old veteran was on his way to doing just that by giving as good as he got, especially in rounds four and five. However, Zaveck’s facial tissue was not as resilient to Berto’s punishing combinations as his fighting heart.
Zaveck suffered a bad gash through the lid of his right eye, which was bruised and almost swollen shut, by the end of the hotly contested fifth round. He also was cut over his left eyelid.
Although Zaveck wanted to continue, he admitted that he could not see, and his corner was not equipped to control profuse bleeding.
Tough break, for the fans as well as Zaveck. As good as the fight was through five rounds, it figured to get even better over the second half.
Zaveck (31-2, 18 knockouts), who was the more accurate puncher during the fight, said he was saving some of his energy for the late rounds during his post-fight interview.
Berto (28-1, 22 KOs), the busier and more aggressive of the two, appeared committed to letting his hands blaze in body-head combinations.
The bout looked like it was on its way to being a fight of the year candidate. Berto’s already been in two of those. The loss to Ortiz and a narrow points victory over Luis Collazo in early 2009.
If he has his way, there will be more to come.
“I’m focused, I’m ready, I’m hungry,” he said during his post-fight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman. “Victor Ortiz and I can definitely do it again.”
Kellerman asked if fans could expect more aggression from a “new Andre Berto.”
“They can expect both (boxing and slugging),” Berto answered. “I wanted to make a statement tonight because (Zaveck) has never been stopped.”
One has to imagine that Berto made that statement to the boxing world on Saturday. And if there are still some skeptics out there, which there undoubtedly will be, he can be satisfied in making at least one believer.
“Big respect for Andre,” Zaveck said.
The respect is likely mutual. If Berto can’t get the rematch with Ortiz, even the fans who still doubt the new IBF titleholder wouldn’t mind seeing Berto-Zaveck II.
Doug Fischer can be emailed at email@example.com.
Photos by Naoki Fukuda