An undefeated boxer's first loss often becomes a defining point for the rest of his career. Some bounce right back; others are never quite the same. That's why Andre Berto's return to the ring after a stunning lost to Victor Ortiz will be under intense scrutiny when he faces Jan Zaveck on Sept. 3. "Really, everything is at stake for Berto in this fight," says his promoter Lou DiBella.
Among the things up for grabs are potentially lucrative mega fights with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao and even a rematch with Ortiz after their "Fight of the Year" candidate last April. But first Berto must overcome a couple hurdles, including a rugged European fighter and world champion in Zaveck (31-1, 18 KOs). "Zaveck is a very technically strong boxer, a really good fighter and has a lot of experience and a good defense," DiBella says.
Berto will also need to demonstrate he is suffering no ill effects mentally from his first defeat after 27 straight victories. Word out of his camp is that Berto has bounced back strong, but only when the bell sounds will he and his team know for sure.
Some even think Berto (27-1, 21KOs) will actually be a better fighter because of a major change he made in his training and conditioning routine. After a blood test showed Berto had been suffering from anemia the last two years, his team brought in controversial strength and conditioning coach Victor Conte, who also currently works with Nonito Donaire, Andre Ward and Zab Judah. "Conte diagnosed that Berto has major problems in his conditioning program and made changes," DiBella says. "Fans are going to see a better version of Berto."
There were certainly signs that Berto was having stamina problems in his fight with Ortiz, including laying against the ropes to rest in the middle rounds and looking sluggish throughout the night. Anemia could have caused those things, but they could also have been the effect of Ortiz's powerful punches, two of which sent Berto to the canvas.
Berto will need to be fully recovered and confident if he is to get by Zaveck, a relative unknown in the U.S., but a name brand boxer in Europe, especially in his native Slovenia, where he has achieved rock-star status as the only fighter from that country to win a world title. While Zaveck doesn't have the one-punch power of Ortiz, he is an aggressive pressure fighter capable of knocking out an opponent, as he did in four of his last five fights. In two of those bouts he got the knockout in the 12th round, showing he has strong stamina and can gradually wear an opponent down and then take him out.
Zaveck has been labeled by some as a typical standup European fighter, but that is only partially true. He doesn't dance around the ring like a graceful Judah or Devon Alexander, but his feet are quick and enable him to make fast changes in his angle of attack. A case can even be made that Zaveck actually moves better than Berto, who tends to be a plodding fighter who generally stands in front of his opponent. What makes Berto so devastating, however, is not footwork, but the high-quality boxing skills he has, his two-fisted power and very fast hands.
Like Berto, Zaveck attacks both the body and the head, liberally mixing in hooks and uppercuts. If Zaveck has one weakness it is his tendency at times to throw wide, looping punches, which would leave him vulnerable to a swift counterpuncher like Berto. But in his first title fight against reigning champion Isaac Hlatshwayo in 2009, Zaveck threw nothing but compact punches en route to a third-round TKO, an indicator that perhaps he is more careful against dangerous opponents. Zaveck can also take a punch, and while this will be his first fight in the U.S., he won his title in Hlatshwayo's native South Africa.
One indicator of how seriously Berto is taking Zaveck is that he has assu;med an uncharacteristically low profile in his Florida training camp. Where once he was on Facebook constantly, including multiple daily postings in the weeks leading up to the Ortiz fight, Berto has posted just twice since May, both times on Aug. 19. The first was to ask for fan support for this fight; the second was to link his followers to an article about his anemia and hookup with Conte (who was jailed in 2005 for illegal use of steroids on pro athletes).
If Berto was indeed anemic against Ortiz, DiBella sees a lot of positive coming out of that fight. "Obviously Ortiz was his toughest opponent, but he still put up a great fight when he wasn't 100 per cent. The fight might have done more to help his career than hurt it, because he gained a lot of fans by the entertaining way he fought. It was a gut check fight and he responded well. There is no questioning Berto's heart."
Posted 12:00 AM | Aug 30, 2011
HBO BAD - Sept 3, 2011
Gary Russell, Jr. vs. Leonilo Miranda
Tell us what you think about HBO GO. Sign up now to participate in the HBO GO Advisory Panel to share your opinions and for a chance to be entered into HBO sweepstakes and contests.