By Jake Donovan
Seriously, enough is enough.
Far too often, who made a fight happen and what is at stake is wrongly taking precedence over the fight itself.
Sometimes, it’s important to understand the “why.” More often than not, we should just be content with the “what.”
However, a good thing on its own is never quite enough for some. With that, the industry once again manages to distract itself with a series of sidebars rather than simply focus in a good TV fight this weekend when Andre Berto squares off against Jan Zaveck in a battle of once-beaten welterweights.
It seems that the mere mention of Berto’s name seems to bring out the worst in people, which is a shame considering that the fighter himself is among the classier members of the boxing fraternity. However, what’s associated with a fighter’s career often dictates how he is judged.
So rather than being viewed as a talented welterweight who almost always makes for entertaining action whenever he’s on screen, Berto (27-1, 21KO) is instead among the first that comes to mind when the discussion turns to things that are wrong with the sport.
He’s identified as your garden variety pampered boxer – advised by Al Haymon, repeat appearances on HBO even when against competition that doesn’t warrant the showcase, and a previous title reign that began in a vacant title fight against a fighter whose ranking speaks volumes of everything that’s wrong with the sanctioning bodies today.
In that regard, most of the criticism is warranted. But it shouldn’t serve as an indictment against Berto, who merely accepted the opportunities with which he was presented after unable secure more desirable fights.
He had a fight lined up against Shane Mosley, only for his training camp to be cut short due to the tragic earthquake suffered in his parents’ native Haiti, the nation he proudly represented in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Rather than cheat the public and still go through with the Mosley fight while his heart and mind were elsewhere, Berto had the decency to admit that he was no longer able to fully commit to the fight, and instead broke cap to tend to those who suffered during the tragedy.
A more decent society would label him a hero; the boxing fraternity instead accused him of sidestepping a tough challenge, ignorance that resurfaced when he returned to the ring that April to face Carlos Quintana, three weeks prior to Mosley stepping up to face Floyd Mayweather Jr.
This year began with Berto pursuing a fight with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. So badly did he and his handlers want the fight that they made sure to submit a purse request that didn’t suggest his pricing himself out of the fight. Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum even admitted as much, which is saying a lot considering his underwhelming desire to do business with any Haymon-advised fighter.
The fight would never materialize, with Top Rank instead steering its cash cow towards Mosley. Somehow, blame was placed on Berto for not pushing hard enough for the fight as he instead turned his attention towards his next challenge – a showdown with Victor Ortiz.
As a man’s reputation often precedes him, Berto’s handlers accepting assignment against Ortiz – a junior welterweight moving up in weight – as yet another handpicked opportunity. It instead turned out to be an instant classic and a Fight of the Year contender, with both fighters hitting the deck and Berto showing heart and will even in suffering the first loss of his professional career.
A rematch was discussed, but didn’t go very far as Ortiz was already being sought as the opponent of choice for Mayweather’s latest comeback. That fight happens on September 17, two weeks before Berto’s own return to the ring this weekend when he faces Zaveck (31-1, 18KO) in what is billed as a welterweight title fight.
Because Zaveck isn’t immediately known to the average stateside boxing fan, questions are already being asked as to why this fight is on HBO. Promoter Lou DiBella did his best to defend the fight, accusing critics of ignorance for not doing their homework on the defending alphabet titlist, born in Slovenia but now based out of Germany.
Zaveck is hardly anything flashy, but is active from bell to bell and is an odd defensive riddle in that he’s not very hard to find but often hard to catch clean. His resume will never be confused for that of a Hall of Fame fighter, but for the moment he can claim to have beaten everyone he’s ever faced. His lone blemish – a November ’08 split decision loss against Rafal Jackewicz – was avenged two years later, in fact exactly 52 weeks ago by the time he faces Berto in what will serve as his stateside debut.
The last part is featured in the list of complaints surrounding HBO’s main event this Saturday. Because Zaveck is a beltholder based out of Europe who has yet to fight in the states, he is immediately dismissed as yet another handpicked opponent by Team Berto. His alphabet status – and not his credentials as a formidable welterweight – is suggested as the driving force behind this bout serving as this weekend’s televised main event.
Sadly for the sport – though perhaps fortunate for Berto as proof that he’s not being singled out – the welterweight fight is bookended by events where similarly distracting storylines somehow received top billing over what actually takes place inside the ring.
Alexander Povetkin won his first significant heavyweight fight in more than three years with a unanimous decision over former titlist Ruslan Chagaev. The bout itself was the rarest of commodities these days – a relevant heavyweight fight that actually proved to be entertaining. As an added bonus, the event – which took place in Germany – was aired live in the United States on premium cable network EPIX.
Instead, the fight was prefaced by some in the media with yet another rant against the sanctioning bodies.
Harsh criticism was offered over the suggestion of the bout being contended for a vacant heavyweight strap. Thanks to alphabet politics, titles are made vacant – or are even invented – on a whim, sometimes for no other reason than because a promoter put in a request for a fight to be sanctioned in such a capacity.
This particular bout received championship billing due to a title being unified, therefore its claimant becoming a super champ. Under such rules, a “regular” version of the title can be formed, which means two (or sometimes more) champions can exist under the same sanctioning body within the same weight class.
If you’ve managed to read all that, and find it as interesting as the fight itself, then perhaps there is cause for media members to continue to stress out over stuff like this. Otherwise, it’s time to leave it alone and just focus on what actually takes place in the ring.
Such should be the headline for next weekend’s featherweight crossroads bout between Yuriorkis Gamboa and Daniel Ponce de Leon.
As recent as a couple of months ago, this could have been billed as a featherweight title fight. Instead, it’s “just” a featherweight fight, with nothing at stake other than the winner getting to bang his chest over having defeated a top contender.
Here’s the thing: belts don’t need to be at stake to describe a fighter like Gamboa as championship-level talent. Given that the fight was signed well after Gamboa was declared an ex-champion thanks to alphabet shenanigans, belts don’t necessarily need to be at stake in order for Ponce de Leon to say “yes” to a tough fight against arguably the best featherweight on the planet.
Sometimes, a good fight is just that – a good fight. The reasons for it happening, or the appetizers that come along with it don’t always need to become part of the story, much less serve as its central theme.
Belt or not, Haymon-advised or not, HBO-televised or not, this weekend’s showdown between Andre Berto and Jan Zaveck is a solid showdown between Top 10 welterweights. That it is made available to viewing audiences around the world – and on a weekend when stateside premium networks traditionally go dark - should be looked upon as a good thing.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .