by Cliff Rold
27-year old Welterweight Andre Berto (28-1, 20 KO), of Winter Haven, Florida, struggled with accuracy for most of the night but landed the shots that mattered, opening cuts over each of the eyes of 35-year old IBF Welterweight titlist Jan Zaveck (31-2, 18 KO), and forcing a corner retirement at the end of round five on Saturday night at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. For all of the fifteen completed minutes of action, fans in the Casino and watching on television got their money’s worth.
Zaveck, of Slovenia and fighting out of Germany, suffered the first stoppage loss of his career and first defeat of any kind since a debatable split decision defeat on the road in 2008. Berto captures his second major title at 147 lbs. just one contest after losing a WBC belt in April. Berto weighed in at a fit 146 ¾, Zaveck lighter at 146 ½.
Berto, who entered the ring with Spock’s Mirror Universe goatee, came out with bad intentions in an early flurry but it was Zaveck who was landing, his overhand right shaking Berto a couple of times before a minute was gone. Berto responded with a vicious combination to the ribs of Zaveck, slipping his shots beneath the high guard of the titlist. Zaveck responded to the body of Berto and, in a series of shots, was able to work a left hook around the guard of Berto. Berto landed his own straight right to the face. Both men landed hard in the final ten seconds, a Zaveck left hook sending a shake through Berto, Berto firing back with another combination to the body.
Zaveck blocked a bevy of Berto blows after a body shot to start the second, and before the first minute had passed both men were toe to toe. Berto’s speed was evident but didn’t obscure the strength of Zaveck’s left hook. As the round wore on, it was also hard to obscure that Zaveck was often landing the cleaner, harder blows, more consistently in frenzied exchanges. The third round was all Berto early but, in the second half, Zaveck began to work his way back, Berto answering with spot flurries.
Round four was the first time either man had clearly dominated a frame and it was Zaveck who came out ahead. Blocking most of Berto’s occasional flurries, Zaveck landed thudding shots repeatedly and had Berto heading back the corner with a look of fatigue.
It would be his highlight in defeat.
The fifth was closer and both men were looking the part of actors in a true ring war, Berto’s right eye swollen underneath and Zaveck’s doing the same with cuts over both eyes to boot. Those cuts turned out to be the end of the night. With Zaveck begging his corner to let him go on, for just one more round, the towel was thrown in on his behalf and the now defrocked beltholder sunk to his knees in grief.
It was an unfortunate end to what had developed into a fantastic battle and, while truncated, served as a tribute to the fighting guts of both men. Berto rated his performance “so-so” in the televised post-fight interview but made clear he wants to avenge his lone defeat, suffered earlier this year to Victor Ortiz for what was Berto’s WBC belt. Berto showed great class in thanking the fans of Zaveck, many of them having traveled from Slovenia to boost their man. Berto can now look ahead a couple of weeks to the contest between Ortiz and lineal World Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather with fingers crossed for a big date in the future.
Having been through crowd pleasing wars in both his 2011 contests, the next Berto appearance will surely be welcomed.
Zaveck felt things might have been different without the injuries but gracefully stated that he understood injuries were a part of sport. He made an impression on foreign soil and would sure be welcome back after a good show.
In the televised opener, 23-year old Featherweight and 2008 U.S. Olympian Gary Russell Jr. (18-0, 10 KO), 127, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, rocked and rolled over rugged 28-year old Leonilo Miranda (32-4, 30 KO), 127, of Sonora, Mexico, over eight rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory. Russell, a southpaw, used a piston like right jab, sharp lead right hooks, bodywork, effective pressure against a Miranda who stayed in the pocket, and on his feet, through a sustained beating. Final scores favored Russell at 79-72 and a pair of perfect 80-72 scores.
Russell, who did not compete in Beijing in 2008 after a failure to make weight, increasingly looks like he may be the first member of that squad to reach the championship level as a professional. Time will tell as Russell progresses from eight round affairs to the ten and twelve round level.
The card was televised in the U.S. on premium cable network HBO, promoted by DiBella Entertainment.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]