Before Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz reached the halfway point of their April 16 welterweight title bout, fans were already texting, tweeting and posting that the eventual 12-round thriller was a fight-of-the-year candidate.
Thanks to a breathtaking sixth round, in which the welterweight bombers traded knockdowns, the memory of their HBO-televised showdown, won by Ortiz, was still strong in the minds of hardcore fans more than eight months later.
Ortiz’s close unanimous decision over Berto was the clear selection for Fight of the Year by fans who took part in RingTV.com’s readers’ choice poll.
Ortiz-Berto received 41.9 percent of the vote to beat out a quality field that included Hernan “Tyson” Marquez’s electrifying 11th-round TKO of Luis Concepcion, which garnered 19.6 percent of the vote, Jorge Arce’s inspirational 12th-round stoppage of Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (13.5), Lamont Peterson’s gritty, hard-fought split decision over Amir Khan (11.3), Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez’s 10-round slugfest that ended in a draw (8.5), and Akira Yaegashi’s brutally brilliant 10th-round TKO of Pornsawan Porpramook.
It’s debatable which fight provided more world-class entertainment for fans. The lighter-weight fights – Marquez-Concepcion I, Arce-Vazquez and Yaegashi-Porpramook – were fought at a faster pace and featured more exchanges per round than Ortiz-Berto.
And unlike Ortiz-Berto, which had a few lulls in the action down the stretch of the fight, Wolak and Rodriguez had styles that meshed to make for sustained fighting in every round. Peterson and Khan exhibited more technique and ring genearlship during their hotly contested 12-round battle than Berto and Ortiz did during theirs.
However, Ortiz-Berto stands out because it feautred two well-known contenders who are young, talented, hungry – and most importantly – were eager to prove their mettle to the boxing world.
Despite their considerable accomplishements, both fighters had their share of critics and detractors among fans and the boxing media.
Ortiz, the decided underdog in the bout, was viewed as a “bust;” a former hot prospect who couldn’t hack it at the world-class level of the sport. The 24-year-old southpaw was beaten into submission in his first bout against bona-fide contender, Marcos Maidana, who scored a sixth-round stoppage in their memorable shootout in 2009.
Ortiz won four consectuvie bouts following the Maidana loss, including a 10-round decision over Nate Campbell, but boxed cautiously against the faded-but-still serviceable former lightweight titleholder and did not impress.
Prior to facing Berto, Ortiz took on Peterson, a fellow 140-pound contender, last December. He dropped Peterson twice in the third round but allowed the recent WBA/IBF junior welterweight title-winner to work his way back into the fight and earn a 10-round draw.
Hardcore fans had no choice but to question Ortiz’s focus, desire and heart going into the Berto bout, his first fight at 147 pounds.
Fans were also skeptical of Berto.
Nobody questioned the undefeated WBC titleholder’s heart or desire; he proved he had those intangibles during his hard-fought unanimous decision over Luis Collazo in ’09. However, many observers thought Collazo deserved the nod in their fight-of-the-year candidate.
Many hardcore fans also thought Berto’s resume was rather thin beyond the veteran southpaw and two other left-handed former beltholders, Juan Urango and Carlos Quintana. And they didn’t get too excited about those victories. Collazo lacked power. Urango was too small and slow. Quintana was getting long in the tooth.
So although fans questions Ortiz more than Berto, the Kansas native was viewed as test because he wasn’t old or undersized or slow and he certainly didn’t lack power, as Berto found out in the first round of their fight, which took place in Mashantucket, Conn.
Ortiz sent Berto to the canvas with a cuffing left a little over a minute into the bout. Referee Mike Ortega did not count it as a knockdown, but a minute later Ortiz connected with a right hook that rocked Berto into a corner where the underdog bombarded him with uppercuts and crosses until he hit the canvas.
This time the knockdown was counted and the barnburner had officially begun. The two boxer-punchers exchanged hard shots throughout the second round. Ortiz let his hands go with seemingly murderous intentions, but he walked into a right hadn that deposited him to the seat of his trunks before the end of the round.
The young fighters were now tied 1-1 for knockdowns as the fight began to exceed expectations.
Ortiz remained the busier and more aggressive of the two in rounds three, four and five, but he also continued to stalk his way into Berto’s jabs and right hands. Berto landed his best right hand of the fight midway through the sixth round. It was the kind of flush power shot that instantly knocked out most fighters. It was good enough to put Ortiz down hard but the challenger beat the count and tried to survive the round on still wobbly legs.
Most observers did not expect Ortiz to make it. This was, after all, the same round he basically quit against Maidana. However, he did more than try to run out the clock after being dropped. Ortiz fired back whenever he could, and by the end of the round he had regained enough of his legs to punch with authority.
Berto, in pursuit of what he must have felt was a sure KO victory, was careless enough to lunge into a right hook that dropped him on his side and drove fans at the Foxwoods Resort and those watching on TV into a frenzy.
Again the warriors were tied 2-2 for knockdowns.
Both had answered questions about their ability and resolve, and both continued to fight with all of their heart, but Ortiz seemed to want it more on this night. He continued to press Berto against the ropes where he outworked the 27-year-old Florida native over the second half of the fight.
Ortiz’s aggression and activity was rewarded by the judges, who scored the fight 115-110, 114-111 and 114-112 in his favor. However, Berto boxed well enough in spots down the stretch of the fight to narrowly outpoint Ortiz in the opinion of many respected boxing writers on press row that night.
Berto, who bounced back with a fifth-round stoppage of IBF beltholder Jan Zaveck, did not complain about the close loss to Ortiz. He knew he would get another shot at the southpaw and he’s confident that he’ll exact revenge when they meet in their scheduled Feb. 11 rematch.
Ortiz, who suffered a bizarre fourth-round KO to Floyd Mayweather Jr. after the Berto fight, is being doubted once again.
However, even Ortiz’s biggest critics concede that the rematch should be a good fight thanks to the respect he and Berto earned on April 16.
Photos / Emily Harney-Fightwireimages.com
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