By Jake Donovan
The big stage is hardly a new setting for Robert Guerrero. The Bay Area boxer has frequented HBO and Showtime for the majority of his still-promising career. Yet this weekend carries a different feeling than past fights for the rising star.
Guerrero faces Andre Berto on HBO Saturday evening at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. At stake is more than the alphabet belt that currently resides around his waist. A win over Berto not only further proves his worth as a player in the welterweight division, but goes that much further towards lending credence to past demands of fights with boxing’s very best.
More than a year went by without Guerrero actually stepping foot in the ring – the exact time span was from Apr. ’11 to this past July. Yet in those 15 months, the fighter’s name must’ve appeared in headlines seemingly every week, mostly demanding a showdown with unbeaten pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The tactic was viewed as both annoying yet ingenious.
A large faction of fans and disgruntled media questioned aloud how Guerrero – with one career fight at 140 lb. at the time after a career spent at 126, 130 and 135 – dare demand a welterweight showdown against the very best in the sport. The move was dismissed as a publicity stunt, or a get-rich-quick scheme on the off chance he actually landed the fight.
With that comes the genius in the strategy, thought those who saw the forest for the trees.
Guerrero obviously never landed the shot against Mayweather, which instead went to the far more notable Miguel Cotto. Instead, he returned to the ring this past July against Selcuk Aydin.
On the surface, the fight marked little more than his welterweight debut. Given the year’s worth of publicity gained by taking advantage of Mayweather taking months before naming an opponent, more attention than ever was paid to Guerrero’s next move.
All he had to do was back up his words.
It was no easy task. Guerrero (30-1-1, 18KO) had to dig deep in order to escape the HP Pavilion – fittingly also known as “The Shark Tank” in honor of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks – with a split decision over Aydin.
“It was reassuring.” Guerrero said of the decision to take the fight to test the welterweight waters. “You have a tough guy like Aydin who is a hard puncher with both hands. When he hits you, it’s going to hurt. One of the things everyone knows now is that I can take a punch in that ring at 147 lb.”
The fight made Guerrero the mandatory challenger of sorts to the alphabet welterweight belt in Mayweather’s possession. It didn’t necessarily mean he would get next.
This weekend might.
A win over Berto would help remove any lingering doubters, given the ex-champion’s fighting style. Whereas Aydin was far more reserved with his offense, Berto (28-1, 22KO) brings speed, power and workrate to the table, in addition to his having served as a true – if smallish – welterweight for the majority of his career.
Even more so than what he endured in July, Guerrero could find himself in deep waters at some point this weekend. Just don’t tell him that, though – or at least don’t expect a panicking response.
“Aydin did come and take some punches. But he wasn’t a punching bag, he was a punching wall,” Guerrero detailed in what it took to survive a major test this past July. “He’s a strong guy and was determined to win. The one thing that’s hard to stop is a determined man.
“Andre Berto is a different fighter and styles make fights. I’m happy with the style I bring to the ring. I can bring a bunch of stuff to the ring, knowing that I can fight at 147. I got that step out of the way.”
Getting acclimated to the weight was a huge step for Guerrero, whose frame always suggested an eventual leap in weight. The past few years have been a struggle to find a home after spending so long at featherweight. Title wins (interim or otherwise) at 130 and 135 look good on his resume and trophy case, but little was done to establish himself at either weight.
Rather than marry to a particular weight class, Guerrero instead pursued the biggest available fight. Wins over Joel Casamayor, Vicente Escobedo and Michael Katsidis were all designed to prove that his willingness to take on all comers, regardless of weight. So too was the plan to move up to 140 to take on Marcos Maidana last summer.
Injuries got in the way of that plan materializing. By the time Guerrero was healed up and ready to return, it was decided that 147 lb. was going to be his final destination. The move makes sense, since it’s where the biggest paydays reside.
How well he performs against Berto will determine whether or not he’s worthy of cashing in on any of those existing opportunities.
“I feel real good at welterweight. But who knows. I have to take care of business here in this fight,” Guerrero acknowledges. “If I do, then who knows? I want to be the best and in order to do that you have to fight the best. Right now I have Andre Berto in front of me, and that’s the next best opponent for me. All of the focus is on Berto and I have to take care of that.”
A win by Berto – and he’s a surprising 3-1 favorite in some circles – would muddy the waters a bit. Where Guerrero is at a size disadvantage, his ring return in July after a 15-month inactivity period gives him an edge in that department on Saturday.
Berto hasn’t fought since last September’s win over Jan Zaveck. That bout was his first since losing to Victor Ortiz earlier in the year. A rematch was planned twice this year, but pushed back due to injuries and then a failed random drug test by Berto.
A reinstatement hearing with the California State Athletic Commission helped clear the fighter’s name, one that Guerrero looks to add to his already impressive resume. From there, he hopes to once again pursue the sport’s big guns.
“My goal is to push it as far as I can push it and get the best fighters in the ring,” Guerrero states. “Right now my focus is on Andre Berto because if I don’t take care of Berto then it puts a stop on what we’re training for. We’re going pedal to the medal from start to finish. That’s the way I’m going to fight. We’re coming in hard.”
The past several months have also seen Guerrero talk hard. Once upon a time, he’d allow his promoters to handle his business and for his fists to do the talking, though he always longed for the biggest fights possible. The only difference between then and now is that he was no longer willing to settle for the fighters his handlers were able to put in front of him.
“I’m always feeling like that,” Guerrero admits. “The thing is, a lot of people seem befuddled because I’m speaking up. Before I just did my job and sat back, waiting for things to come my way. Unfortunately in this business, if you don’t talk then nothing gets done.
“I’m starting to speak up now. I’ve won six world championships (in four weight classes); it’s time to take that next step so I’ve called everyone out. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and make things happen.”
Stepping out of his comfort zone led him to the welterweight division earlier this year and again this weekend. Now it’s up to his fists to make the rest happen.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox