by Cliff Rold
29-year old former Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight titlist Robert Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KO) of Gilroy, California, made it 2-0 in the Welterweight division on Saturday night with a gripping, physical win over 29-year old former WBC and IBF Welterweight titlist Andre Berto (28-2, 22 KO), scoring knockdowns in the first and second rounds en route to a unanimous decision on Saturday night at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. Guerrero retained his WBC interim belt at Welterweight and positioned himself for a possible fight with WBC and lineal World Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather.
Both men came into the bout just below the 147 lb. limit, Guerrero at 146 ¾ and Berto at 146 ½.
Guerrero came out measured behind his southpaw right jab, Berto defensive behind a tight left shoulder. Loading up with big, fast shots, Berto fired one at a time while Guerrero kept his hands moving and touching. The men stepped close together and Guerrero fired a perfect left down the pipe. It didn’t look like it landed too hard, but Berto was visibly shaken. Berto tried to tie up and Guerrero cupped his head with his right glove, landing three more short lefts to drop Berto for a count. Berto beat the count and went to the corner shaking his head.
Berto would be down again early in the second on a ripping Guerrero left hand. Rising, he showed a nasty swelling around the right eye, replays showing later to be produced by a clean shot. Berto held on near the ropes when action resumed, Guerrero working him with the free hand and refusing to let Berto stifle the action. Berto weathered the storm, firing occasionally but stuck largely in survival mode.
It stayed a nasty inside fight in round three, both men taking turns locking up and ripping with the hand left free. As the round progressed, Berto started to find some hard offense even as Guerrero stayed more active.
The signs of life Berto showed late in the third continued to pulse in the fourth, the former Haitian Olympic representative ripping some solid power shots as Guerrero pressed. Guerrero maintained his posture, but with less output, digging to the body and looking for lefts to the face.
The fifth round remained physical, Berto warned for two naked rabbit punches with the right hand as Guerrero attempted to maul him into the ropes. Another warning came in the closing seconds as referee Lou Moret spent copious amounts of time breaking the two fighters throughout three minutes.
The clean punching picked up in round six, both men landing in center ring exchanges even as they continued to contest on the inside. Berto worked in some strong left uppercuts while Guerrero stayed hooking to the body. A right, left, and right landed for Berto in the closing seconds, and then added another, Guerrero appearing stunned for the first time.
Guerrero dished it right back in the first minute of round seven. A left uppercut wobbled Berto along the ropes and Guerrero added more power shots, Berto holding and leaning enough to get his bearings. A minute later, Guerrero landed a left hook and ended up eating a combination upstairs. It was phone booth warfare for the final sixty seconds, the crowd roaring their approval as both men took turns blasting away. Just before the bell, a Guerrero left sent Berto backwards to the ropes and the follow up sent him back to the corner on shaky legs.
Round eight opened up with Guerrero bulling Berto to the ropes, shoulder down and both hands digging over and over to the belly. He stayed on top of Berto for much of the round, Berto able to endure and shake off some of the cobwebs he picked up at the end of the previous round.
Round nine was a gutsy display from Berto as he used Guerrero’s willingness to stay inside against him better than he had all night. Ripping right uppercuts, and a notable left to the body, Guerrero legs wavered but the game Californian refused to back off. Berto came over the top with a right late, and struck twice to the body before the bell, a hint of a tide shift in the air.
Coming out for the tenth, it was Guerrero’s right eye swelling, both men now operating without their full field of vision. They stayed shoulder to shoulder, using each other’s bodies to fell their way to offense like a two-way homage to Sam Langford-Tiger Flowers. A Berto chant broke out, a Guerrero chant countered and it was trench warfare throughout.
Another savage round unfolded in the eleventh, both men saving the best of the drama for last. Guerrero rocked Berto with a left in the final thirty seconds and Berto shook it off to wave Guerrero back in, his chance for victory relying on contact. He fired back, landing a big left in the closing seconds and eating a left to the face just before the bell.
The crowd rose for the start of the twelfth as Berto and Guerrero stepped forward to finish their intense contest for the championship of each other. Well behind, Berto need a knockout and he was trying. Guerrero was still trying for the same. Blood was drawn from Berto’s nose, Guerrero continuing to bleed from the nose as he had for many rounds. Neither man would give. Fittingly, Berto was rocked one last time just before the bell. Guerrero, on fire, just kept winging, three hard shots landing well after the bell before the action, the beautiful violence, could finally be halted.
The result was little in doubt, coming in at a firm 116-110 for Guerrero. The former Featherweight raised his hands in victory, questions answered about his suitability for the Welterweight division.
“I did tell Andre I was going to beat him down and I had to be a man of my word,” Guerrero said to begin his post-fight comments before giving Berto praise for the night. Looking to the future, Guerrero made his hopes clear. “I want to fight the best. I want Floyd Mayweather. Pretty Boy, let’s do it.”
Berto stated he felt handcuffed by the referee and he and Guerrero ended up continuing to scuffle in post-fight interviews, Guerrero arguing he’d suffered warnings in the bout as well. Berto walked away saying, “If he wants to do it again, we can do that.”
Few would argue with a return but Guerrero has a potentially bigger option at hand. As the interim WBC Welterweight titlist, he stands now as a potential mandatory for Mayweather who still sits as the WBC’s actual Welterweight champion. Mayweather, expected to return to the ring in 2013, could also opt to stay in the Jr. Middleweight division where he won a title against Miguel Cotto in May of this year.
Guerrero’s immediate fate, and checkbook largesse, rests in Mayweather’s hands.
The televised opener featured a rising face in the Jr. Middleweight division, 24-year old Keith Thurman (19-0, 18 KO), 151 ¼, of Clearwater, Florida, walking through faded 36-year old veteran Carlos Quintana (29-4, 23 KO), 152, of Moca, Puerto Rico, in four rounds. Quintana was dropped by a body shot in the first, never got into the fight, and suffered the fourth stoppage of his career.
A sleepy first round woke up in the closing moments when Thurman landed a heavy body shot. Quintana dropped hard to his knees, his face full of pain. Sucking in air, Quintana pulled himself up just in time and nodded that he could go on. Referee Jack Reiss concurred and Quintana covered up for the ten seconds or so remaining, even managing to land a slinging southpaw right as Thurman gave chase.
Staying the aggressor, Thurman stayed on top of Quintana for most of the second, assaulting the body with two more hard body shots in the final thirty seconds. Looking like a man who had absorbed all of the many tough rounds he’s endured over the years, Quintana fought wary in rounds three and four as Thurman stalked. Late in the latter, a left hook from Thurman badly rocked Quintana and the end grew near.
Pursuing Quintana into the corner, Thurman let loose with a bevy of power shots as a foggy Quintana tossed arm punches in hope of survival. A blasting power shot sent him tripping across the ring. A final Thurman blast was enough for Reiss to make a call, saving Quintana at 2:19 of round four.
Quintana, off camera, reportedly announced his retirement following the bout. The former WBO Welterweight titlist is best remembered for upsetting an undefeated Paul Williams for that crown, losing it via first round knockout in the rematch.
The loquacious Thurman called out the entirety of the Welterweight and Jr. Middleweight divisions in his post-fight interview. Quintana came into the bout rated #15 by the WBC, #6 by the IBF, and #4 by the WBO. Thurman can expect to be rated soon based on this performance, a step closer to his goals.
The card was televised in the U.S. on HBO as part of its “World Championship Boxing” series, promoted by Golden Boy Promotions.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]