On Saturday night at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio, Showtime hosted a night of potential redemption for three big-name boxers looking to regain their once blue-chip status.
Of the three fighters on the comeback trail, Andre Berto, who kicked off the night, has spent the most time away from the limelight. His promising career was sidelined by back-to-back defeats against Robert Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass, a dirty drug test result, and a long layoff due to shoulder surgery. It has been over a year since he last stepped into the ring.
For some, his matchup in Cincinnati against Steve Upsher was merely to show that his shoulder did not present any lingering issues. For others more cognoscente of just how far Berto is in the arc of his career and the wars he’s fought in the ring, Berto had to do much more. Against middling competition like Upsher, Berto should have shown that he’s fixed some of the serious flaws in his game — namely, a penchant for slugging when he should box, a terrible tendency to square his shoulders (leaving him open to every punch imaginable) and a consistently low right hand that leaves him open to hard hooks.
Berto’s performance was vintage, and not in a good way. He ground out a victory against an opponent who, despite pockets of smart movement, mostly refused to throw punches. Berto was fast, explosive and characteristically loud when throwing punches, but his shoulders and defense remained much as they always were. Given how much time he’s spent with master trainer Virgil Hunter, the lack of significant improvement might signal that Berto has simply reached his peak. Although his name and powerhouse manager Al Haymon virtually guarantee Berto a big-money fight soon, it’s doubtful Berto will ever regain the high praise he once enjoyed.
Lucas Matthysse also looked like his old self on Saturday. However, his vintage performance resulted in a second-round knockout against the undefeated Mexican Roberto Ortiz. Matthysse was fighting for the second time since his loss to Danny Garcia and showed that he remains a devastating puncher.
The knockout was not without controversy, however. Although Matthysse landed a left hook to the liver that sent Ortiz to the canvass, and compelled Ortiz to spit out his mouth piece, there was some question as to whether Ortiz beat the count. The referee, Benjy Esteves, counted Ortiz out even though Ortiz seemed to lift his knee off the canvass at a count of nine and a half. Despite the technical mistake, the error is likely only academic. The chance that Ortiz would have survived the onslaught that Matthysse would have unleashed are slim — even with only 15 seconds left in the round. For those who have trouble seeing why, they should take a look at the closing moments of Matthysee’s last fight against John Molina.
In that fight, Molina had put Matthysse down in the second and fifth, landed hard punishing shots over the course of 11 rounds, and even so, the second Matthysee hurt Molina, the Argentine known best as “La Maquina,” “The Machine,” unleashed an unsurvivable fury.
Matthysse is a finisher. When he smells blood, God help you.
The same cannot be said of Adrien Broner, the headliner on Saturday. Broner’s time as a dominating force in the boxing world came to an abrupt halt when he faced Marcos Maidana last December. Before that, however, there were already glimmers of what has been cemented since: Broner lacks the power to intimidate or knock out fighters above lightweight.
Leading up to Saturday’s fight against Emanuel Taylor, he boasted that he’d deliver another knockout in his hometown — the last being against Vicente Escobedo in July 2012 at super featherweight (130 lbs). With the exception of a 12th-round knockdown, Broner was never even close to a knockout. At times he showed flashes of brilliance with his incredible hand speed that reminded viewers exactly why only a dozen or so months ago, Broner seemed to be the next big thing in boxing.
Those moments, however, were few and far between. More often, Broner did as he’s always done above the lightweight division: He was immobile, stayed in the pocket where he could be hit flush, and kept his output at a rate where he’s unlikely to knock out many fighters because each individual punch is lacking in power.
Broner’s reluctance to use his legs as a defensive tool will pose an enormous obstacle for him should he actually land a fight with Lucas Matthysse, who he called out repeatedly leading up to the fight and then again in the post-fight ring interview.
Matthysse, who has knocked down every fighter he’s faced except for three, is an incredibly determined fighter with a chin that matches his superlative punching power. That’s a terrible combination for Broner, who has shown even against lesser competition like Taylor that pressure flusters his defensive stance — not to mention that Broner’s minimal output makes it difficult to discourage a fighter like Matthysse.
Since Danny Garcia convincingly defeated Matthysse, the chances that Matthysse will get a rematch anytime soon are slim. He might just have to settle for a flashy knockout of any flashy fighter. And if he were taking notes from his fellow countryman, Marcos Maidana, he’d know that putting a beating on Broner can be the launching pad for much bigger and better things.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.