Berto's Entrance Exam
By Nat Gottlieb Courtesy Of HBO.com
Andre Berto wears a championship belt but one without significant notches. Luis Collazo is a former world champion and is still ranked in the Top Ten. Untested, immensely talented, Berto needs to beat Collazo to prove he's an elite fighter.
Up to this point, the best fighters Berto has faced were trial horses. In Luis Collazo he's taking on a genuine thoroughbred still in his prime who will give him a trial by fire. If Berto can get past Collazo, it will open the gates to fights against the biggest names in the welterweight division. But Berto's promoter Lou DiBella knows that Collazo will not be easily moved aside.
"This is definitely the toughest fight Andre has had," DiBella says. "Collazo is experienced, elusive and has a little pop. He's a very dangerous opponent for Andre."
Ricky Hatton found that out in his American debut in 2006. The Brit moved up a division to welterweight to challenge Collazo for his championship belt. The tricky, sometimes awkward southpaw gave then unbeaten Hatton (40-0) all he could handle, losing a unanimous decision by the slimmest of margins -- 113-115 twice, and 113-114. Many felt the decision could have gone the other way. So tough was Collazo that Hatton announced shortly after that he would no longer be fighting at 147, although he did make one more foray into the division to fight and lose to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2007.
Unbeaten Berto (23-0, 19 KOs) has won 82 per cent of his fights by knockout but will be hard-pressed to stop Collazo (29-3, 14 KOs). Just once in his career has Collazo lost by knockout (in 2002), and he maintains the stoppage was uncalled for. Hard-hitting Colombian Edwin Cassiani hammered Collazo with a four-punch combination in the third round. Collazo didn't go down, but referee Jay Nady immediately jumped in and stopped it. Collazo insists he wasn't even staggered and does not know why Nady halted the fight. Worth noting is that Cassiani was a 6'1 rugged welterweight who would retire two years later with 21 knockouts among his 25 victories.
At 5'8 1/2 Berto is not as tall as Cassiani, but he has a middleweight's upper body and lots of power to test Collazo's chin. Shane Mosley, who may be stronger than Berto, tested Collazo's whiskers in a 2007 matchup, and while Shane came away with an easy, unanimous decision, he never put Collazo down.
It would seem likely then that this fight will go the distance, which is where the 27-year-old Collazo's edge in experience could become a factor. Collazo has fought almost double the number of rounds as the 25-year-old Berto, 180 to 99, and has won 15 of his last 17 fights. Berto has had to go 10 rounds or more just three times, but he is always superbly conditioned and a grueling 12 rounds should present no problem for the former Olympian.
Collazo also has deceptive pop in his punches. While he only has 14 knockouts, one of them demonstrated that his power is not to be taken lightly. Defending his welterweight title against Miguel Angel Gonzalez in 2005, Collazo stopped the Mexican in the eighth round. Only once before in a career spanning 57 fights was Gonzalez stopped, and that was by power-punching machine Kostya Tszyu. Oscar De La Hoya could not put Gonzalez away when he beat him in 1997, and a year later neither could Julio Cesar Chavez, who had to settle for a draw.
Berto, meanwhile, possesses a good chin, but he knows that if he leaves himself open he can be knocked down, as tough journeyman Cosme Rivera demonstrated to him in the sixth round of a 2007 fight. DiBella says Berto has worked hard on his defense since then. "He's become a more patient fighter. He learned a big lesson when he got dropped by Rivera. Andre was doing everything he wanted with him and left himself open."
Berto's biggest edge in this fight is that while Collazo probably has reached his full potential, the champion has not. Touted as a can't-miss prospect from the time he turned pro in 2004, Berto appears to be just starting to come into his own, although he knows there are still skeptics out there. "Andre reads the internet and he knows they're saying he has the belt but is untested," DiBella says. "Collazo is a definite test."
Berto has the skills to pass that test. With the addition of improved defense, Berto is almost the complete package. "He's a very intelligent fighter, very controlled and has good ring generalship," DiBella says. "He doesn't waste a lot of energy in the ring. He's a throw-back, a big, strong fighter with a lot of different punches. The one thing he can improve on is to throw more jabs. He has a real good jab, but doesn't always use it."
One other flaw Collazo could take advantage of is that Berto doesn't move his feet very much and tends to fight flatfooted. Collazo on the other hand, has excellent footwork. The Brooklyn-born fighter likes to get in and get out, score points and move away. "If Collazo runs, Andre will have to cut off the ring and get Collazo moving backwards and make him pay," DiBella said.
So far in Berto's career he has not demonstrated the kind of footwork that could easily corner a Collazo. With this fight likely to go the distance, Collazo's hit and run offense could earn him more than a few rounds, which is the one thing Berto has to fear most.
Should Berto win, DiBella is prepared to put him in with the best of the division. "The fight we would like to have him get next is Mosley, but Shane's fighting Margarito (Jan. 24). Zab Judah would be an interesting opponent, and we'd love to fight Miguel Cotto."