Three of the four headliners on HBO and Showtime Saturday night have given us something less than what we wanted from them. Victor Ortiz was hailed as a potential superstar, but then Marcos Maidana made him cry “uncle” and a comeback attempt has seen Ortiz fall flat on his face with his foot in his mouth — a kind of reverse, self-administered curb stomp. Andre Berto has some of the elements of superstardom, but for too long he’s not faced the kind of opposition he should have been facing by now, and rather than grow in popularity from the few hundred tickets he was selling per fight to say, one thousand, he’s actually gone in reverse in popularity. And Juan Manuel Lopez is widely beloved, but you can’t entirely overlook how he has spent the past three years not fighting the opponents everyone wanted him to fight, first Celestino Caballero and now, Yuriorkis Gamboa.
For Berto and Ortiz, that could change as of Saturday. They will try to make brighter futures against one another on HBO. This is Berto’s least objectionable opponent since Luis Collazo, and the toughest opponent of Ortiz’ comeback. And it figures as a match-up that could produce high-level action: Ortiz is a power guy with speed, while Berto is a speed guy with power. Ortiz is moving up to 147 for the fight, making the challenge even harder for him, although you could knock this fight on Berto’s end for taking yet on another junior welterweight. Maybe, just maybe, the winner garners some respect. Considering how low an opinion many boxing fans have of both men, the loser, on the other hand, is going to be in dire shape after this.
For Lopez, only an unexpected loss Saturday on Showtime can change perceptions of the all-action Puerto Rican featherweight. No matter whether he wins or loses, his style means he ought to maintain his popularity. But his team behaves as though one loss will end his career, and as such he’s taken a series of respectable opponents but no one perceived as a serious threat to beat him since his coming out party against Daniel Ponce De Leon. Enter Salido, a tough but limited opponent who already lost to would-be rival Gamboa. Is an unexpected loss in the cards? It depends on how much you worry about Lopez getting so fat between this fight and his last. Lopez can beat guys like Salido all career long. If he doesn’t do it Saturday, then we’ll wonder how good he really is — unlike if he faced and was defeated by an elite opponent, when he might get a pass for losing.
(Our Andrew Harrison will have a preview of the junior welterweight fight between Amir Khan and Paul McCloskey, by the way.)
ANDRE BERTO-VICTOR ORTIZ
For all the enmity these two have acquired separately, the fight between the two has received a surprisingly positive reception. Everyone seems to recognize this is a dangerous fight for both men and a match-up that could produce some sparks.
Berto is coming off an easy 1st round knockoout win over Freddy Hernandez, but before that he had spots of trouble with the speedy, tricky but faded Carlos Quintana en route to a stoppage win. Maybe some of that had to do with a bicep injury, but it does make you wonder if he has trouble with fleet-footed types, since Collazo came within a hair of beating Berto. The only other fight he had since Collazo was an ugly decision win over hard-punching junior welterweight Juan Urango.
Ortiz was the Prospect of the Year before Maidana beat him up, made him quit and prompted a regrettable interview where he questioned whether he was cut out for the sport. In coming back, he worked through a series of faded veterans — Nate Campbell, Antonio Diaz and Victor Harris — who each would test some aspect of his readiness, albeit at low risk. He exhibited a more boxing-oriented style, but got outboxed plenty in his last fight, a draw against Lamont Peterson in his most threatening post-Maidana competition.
Berto is no Campbell, and Ortiz is no Hernandez. Ortiz is fast and powerful enough to connect on Berto and do damage, and vice versa. At issue is who does what first, and who can stand up to it when the damage comes.
Berto is faster — that much is clear, even though Ortiz is very fast himself. It’s not clear who hits harder. Ortiz might have more natural power, but we haven’t seen him use it extensively at the welterweight limit. And while Ortiz moving up in weight should win the “size” category for Berto, that’s not a dead giveaway, either. Ortiz is listed taller and Berto is listed with the longer reach, and Ortiz standing next to Berto doesn’t look like a physical mismatch.
Something else that’s clear is that Ortiz has a greater history of getting hurt in fights, and we know at least from the Maidana fight that he is capable of quitting when the going gets tough. Berto has been hurt before, but he’s always surged back with zest afterward. Technique-wise, I think it’s a bit of a wash. Both are pretty good offensively and mediocre defensively. Ortiz seems to mechanically stick to the gameplan, while Berto freelances a bit more by getting sucked into what his opponent is doing — neither of which are ideal.
Speed and toughness edges are enough for me to side with Berto in this one. I anticipate Ortiz having stretches of competitiveness, and maybe even joining with Berto to produce a Round of the Year candidate early. I bet Berto scores a stoppage victory late, though, perhaps after Ortiz takes a prolonged beating to prove he’s not a serial quitter; his corner, or the referee, will probably save him. If Ortiz guts it out under those circumstances, maybe he’ll earn some grudging respect. Maybe Berto’s win will be minimized by those who argue all he did was beat another smaller man. But however reluctant the fans may be to embrace Berto, a definitive win over Ortiz ought to do something for him.
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ-ORLANDO SALIDO
Lopez is arguably a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter, but he’s never gotten a win over a fellow elite fighter. His best win might have been over De Leon, a crude but powerful junior featherweight, or over Steven Luevano, a crafty but slow and light-hitting featherweight. Salido is slow and tough, a notch below the likes of De Leon or Luevano. On paper, he shouldn’t present much trouble. In reality, he might.
Salido has done well with himself given his limitations. He’s ranked #4 in his division even coming off the YURIORKIS GAMBOA! loss, perhaps because he was competitive with the Cuban sensation and even dropped him once. He also beat Cristobal Cruz and Robert Guerrero, although his win over Guerrero was changed to a no contest after he failed a post-fight drug test. His early knockout losses are a distant memory, although Gamboa — one of the best punchers on the planet — did knock him down a couple times. There are better 11-loss fighters than Salido, but the list is exceedingly short. He does it with grit and persistence.
Lopez’ most noteworthy encounter with grit and persistence came against the even cruder Rogers Mtagwa, and he was lucky to escape with a win in that one. Mtagwa dragged him into a brawl, and Lopez, who really believes in his power, was happy to oblige. Problem was, he couldn’t get rid of Mtagwa the way he had dismissed so many others, and Mtagwa did some damage of his own. If you’re looking for a reason Lopez might lose, this is one of them — although, it must be said, that Lopez has said he is trying to shift to a more boxing-oriented style.
Another reason Lopez might lose is that he reportedly got very plump between his last fight, a definitive win over Rafael Marquez where Marquez nonetheless gave Lopez a spot of trouble. Lopez explained away his difficulties against Mtagwa by saying he had trouble making weight for that fight. If he had trouble making weight for a fight against Mtagwa — who’s not as good as Salido — then having to drain a bunch of weight for this fight isn’t a good sign either.
In the end, Lopez is a better fighter in literally every way, except maybe his chin, but that’s debatable. Is a tough, determined opponent facing a potentially diminished Lopez good enough to pull off the upset?
I say “probably not.” Lopez would have to really be dragged into a brawl, and while I question whether he has the discipline to avoid it, I have to imagine it wouldn’t take long for him to wise up in a fight he was losing against Salido. If he wants to, he can throw straighter punches between Salido’s and get his guard back up when he’s not. Give me Lopez by an entertaining decision, albeit slightly less so than usual. Then, next, we get Lopez-Marquez II, and then, next, not Gamboa.