Tonight we’ll see two of the most highly skilled gatekeepers in the sport. Andre Berto, whose inexplicable progression through the ranks largely went unimpeded by his mediocrity, will take on Shawn Porter, who was rushed to the top of the division after avenging a draw with Julio Diaz. I saw Porter summarily extinguish Pauli Malignaggi’s attempt at a return in 2014. He certainly looked impressive in that fight, but he had a few elements of chance working in his favor. For one, he had a 7-year age advantage, but more importantly, Malignaggi’s style was perfect for him. Porter handed Devon Alexander his second loss, and most recently, triumphantly defeated the boorish Adrien Broner. All these fighters should be counted as significant victories for anyone, but they’re also all clearly below the elite level. The two shots Porter has had at the top of the division, against Keith Thurman and Kell Brook, were just short of disastrous. While Porter adapted to Brook’s style well, the disparity in skill was unmistakable, and even more so with Thurman.
Andre Berto, on the other hand, never really had any significant wins to compare to Porter’s. He’s solidly stuck between the middle and the top, and yet not quite at the level of other gatekeepers. If I went by memory, I’d have been tempted to say Porter and Berto are at equal skill levels, but taking a look at Berto’s BoxRec stats puts things in perspective. He was thrust into tough competition after ostensibly proving himself by beating a group of opponents beginning with David Estrada. That group of four known fighters, upon which Berto built his reputation, all share a common pattern in their careers. Estrada, Luis Collazo, Juan Urango and Carlos Quintana were all hot prospects at the time and seemed to be progressing quickly in the highly competitive welterweight division until they came up against a skilled opponent. Before they ever fought Berto, all these fighters were hot prospects who had flown too close to the sun. Estrada had been incinerated by Shane Mosley, Collazo by Mosley and Ricky Hatton, Urango also by Hatton, and Quintana by Paul Williams and Miguel Cotto. After three losses to middling opponents at best (Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass) Berto managed a win, albeit a big one, over Josesito Lopez, and suddenly he’s signing a fight with Floyd Mayweather? Granted, it was a good pick for Mayweather for a stay-busy opponent, but what a mismatch. It was the only Mayweather pay-per-view I ever skipped without any trepidation (though if they sign Mayweather-McGregor, that’ll make two). Since then, the only fight Berto’s had (already a full year ago) was when he avenged his loss to Victor Ortiz. Great that he can beat an aging Ortiz, but why he’s still getting in there with upper-level competition is beyond me, especially with these long layovers between fights.
We can expect Berto to start out strong and look sharp with his punches, possibly even pushing Porter back as they feel each other out and establish a rhythm. Likely, though, by round three, the skill disparity will be evident. Berto will begin throwing wide, looping shots and leaving his hands down after throwing. Porter will be obliged to throw straighter punches, and he’ll connect more frequently than Berto. Porter’s defense will be stronger, though he’ll probably stand and trade more than he should, a behavior Berto tends to elicit from his opponents. I think that’s because they’re so shocked at the audacity of an opponent to come forward square, flat-footed, throwing looping shots like a scene from Road House. Whatever the reason, we’re likely to see the two sluggers trade at some point in the fight, and that may make the whole thing worthwhile. It ought to be a showcase for Porter, and a good name to put on Berto’s resume even though it’ll probably have an ‘L’ in front of it. It might seem more filler than killer, but after this transition fight we’ll have a better idea of where Porter sits in the division. If he dominates Berto, he may be in line for a rematch with Brook or even Thurman (if Thurman’s feeling unambitious), a shot at Danny Garcia, or any of the other top welters.