It may be time to dial back the expectations for Andre Berto, the 2004 Olympian, who many have pegged as the best prospect in the game today.
Whereas he looked like he was ready to meet a Baldomir type fighter last year, and would soon vault to a title fight against a top tier welterweight, Berto looked like a solid 'B' level prospect rather than an 'A' level future superstar against gatekeeper Cosme Rivera in Saratoga, NY on Friday evening. The bout was the featured attraction of ESPN's Friday Night Fights.
Not to diminish Berto's accomplishment, as Rivera is a game vet, and the younger fighter shook off a knockdown to carry the night, but Berto may well need more seasoning before he's ready to sign for a fight against a top fiver.
The Floridian Berto went to 19-0, 16 KOs with the win, a unanimous decision, while Rivera dropped to 30-11-2, 22 KOs.
The scores were 97-92, 98-91, 98-91. The Mexican Rivera has lost four of his last six, but is still a competent measuring stick sort.
In the tenth and final round, Berto started strong, but Rivera's head movement was still there. The vet wasn't looking merely to finish on his feet. Berto's energy level was solid here, and he several times waved Rivera towards him, encouraging him to step forward. A sharp right uppercut closed out the round nicely.
In the ninth round, Rivera came out busy. But his cracks lacked steam. Guest analyst Bill Parcells said Rivera's confidence was higher than it was before, but I didn't see that. His punches were thrown without any zing. The blood from the cut over his right eye continued to drip down onto Rivera's face, but Berto didn't press the issue as much as one might hope to see in a highly touted prospect.
In the eighth, the cut over Rivera's right eye continued to stream blood into his face and the ref asked the doctor if he could see OK. Berto was in closing mode now. The cut bothered Rivera, as he pawed at it, while Berto landed two mean rights. Rivera tossed back but his energy looked to be ebbing away.
In the seventh, Rivera looked to press the advantage, but Berto's cobwebs from the previous roujnd's knockdown had cleared. By the end of the round, the tide had turned back. A gash opened over Rivera's right eye in the last third of the round. A left hook did that deed.
In the sixth, Rivera looked to steal the round, as he put his veteran tactics and skills to use. He slipped punches well, making Berto look a half step behind. With 15 seconds to go, Rivera went southpaw, froze Berto with a feint, and then blasted him with a left uppercut for a knockdown. The youngster's hand touched the canvas as he tried to stay up and a standing eight was administered. Berto got extra time after the round to replace a busted glove.
In the fifth, Berto stalked Rivera, but didn't cut him off at the pass. By the end of the round, Berto was backed into a corner.
In the fourth, Berto came out fiery. He pumped the jab more, and put more punches together. Another hint that he was in another mode--he grunted more as he delivered. But his accuracy didn't pick up appreciably.
In the third, it looked like Berto could be more effective at cutting off the ring. Rivera began to initiate clinches, and it looked like Berto was off his game.
In the second, Rivera looked to be a bit spooked, as he got on his bike. Berto bounces, crackling with pent up energy, and he always looks ready to uncoil. Teddy said that Berto should work the torso, to take away Rivera's legs. He also said that he thought the TV cameras were working on Berto's head, making him overanxious.
In the first, Berto established his jab. His handspeed, his most glaring attribute, was on display, but Rivera, the vet, wouldn't be an early victim.
Philly fighter Chazz Witherspoon, on the short list of next generation heavyweights to watch, met Talmadge Griffis in the opening bout of the broadcast. The next generation 'Spoon--you'll recall his uncle Tim was a standout heavy in the 80s and 90s--is a well schooled youngster, who gained that much more experience acting as a sparring partner for Wladimir Klitschko recently.
He didn't get off to a raging start, preferring to peck away and find his range early on. Griffis, a loser in six of his last nine, got bolder in the third and 'Spoon still didn't get fired up.
Teddy Atlas didn't seem impressed as he offered his take in the eighth, but Witherspoon (19-0, 13 KOs) did seem to be looking to close impressively. Griffis (24-6-3) got stung as he worked smart in tight, tossing more than 100 shots in the frame. Spoon stopped his man in the ninth, as referee Ken Zimmer stepped in as Griffis was back on his heels, not answering as Witherspoon piled on the punishment. The end came at 1:08 of the ninth.
Hall of Fame lock Bill Parcells joined Tess and Teddy in the arena, and chimed in periodically with sweet science analysis. Tuna offered his top 5 fighter faves. PBF was fifth, Duran was four, Carlos Monzon was three, Ali was second and Sugar Ray Robinson took the top honor. Parcells also offered his top three bouts. Ali/Frazier I was third, Gatti/Ward I was second and Corrales/Castillo I landed in first.
SPEEDBAG Berto, from a critic's perspective, could stand to go the body more. He has short arms and will need to work inside as he moves forward. He will not be able to jab from the outside against taller fighters. Also, his hands are fast but perhaps he could consider taking something off his punches to increase his connect percentage. On the plus side, he shook off a knockdown, showing that he won't get too rattled when things get rough later.
Who wins the WBO Middleweight title fight Dec. 19th?