Fate has a way of lining up nicely for a fighter as talented as Andre Berto. The Florida welterweight was stunned when Floyd Mayweather exited boxing, and left his WBC welterweight belt behind. But 24-year-old Berto quickly gathered his senses, and embraced fate with both hands, as he dispatched Mikki Rodriguez at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennesse on Saturday evening with a patient, workmanlike performance.
Berto pounded away at Rodriguez in the seventh round, smacking him to the floor twice and forcing the referee to step in a call a TKO for the former prospect turned champion. Of course, it must be said that fate can get nudged along in the fight game with some smart politicking and matchmaking, and both those came into play with the choice of Rodriguez, who had fought just once in 2006, and once in 2007, and whose best win came against James Webb. Credit Lou Dibella, Berto's promoter, for taking the smart, slow road to this destination.
Mexico City's Rodriguez (29-3 23 KOs), age 31, weighed 145 pounds, and 162 in the ring, while the Floridian Berto (22-0, 19 KOs) weighed 146 pounds at the weigh-in, and 162 in the ring. Presumably, Rodriguez had heavy motivation coming in to the ring; the Mexico City police fired Rodriguez, a telegenic lad with slicked back hair not out of place in the 1950s, for taking too much time training. If he were to win, he said, he'd get a call welcoming him back.
In the first, Berto came out sharp, popping the jab. Rodriguez wasn't overwhelmed by the big stage, though, and ripped a right hand that served notice he was in it to win it. It was a patient, feel 'em out round for each.
In the second, Berto landed a mean right against his opponent, who stood straight and tall, perhaps too much so. The Floridian whacked Rodriguez more regularly as the round progressed. He got warmed up, bad news for Rodriguez. The crowd gave a collective “ahh” when Rodriguez hit with a straight right, as Berto backed up straight, a no-no.
In the third round, Berto looked to savor his massive handspeed advantage. But Rodriguez got busier, and still didn't look like he felt in over his head.
In the fourth, Berto chipped away, rather than looking to land bombs that would stop the bout in a hurry. It looked like he was trying to use techniques and strategies honed after getting scared by Cosme Rivera three fights ago.
In the fifth round, Rodriguez was still around, which is about three or four rounds longer than many thought he would be. He even grinned at Berto as they faced off in center ring.
On to the sixth. Berto came out zesty. He tends to adhere to a round on, round off schedule in some fights. He banged to the body, and I saw the first signs that Rodriguez was bothered. Berto finished the round with five hooks in a row.
In the seventh round, Berto scored a knockdown with a blistering right uppercut. Rodriguez got up, smiling, and fought on. Berto stalked him, but got smothered by the canny Rodriguez. Not for long. A combo (right-left-right) sent Rodriguez to the floor again, and ref Laurence Cole stared at him long and hard when he arose. The boxer took out his mouthpiece to get more air and re-inserted it himself before clashing again. Berto swarmed him, and ref Cole went with a quick hook. Berto went to his corner and knelt, offering a prayer of thanks. Rodriguez didn't complain much about Cole's choice. The official time: 2:13 of the seventh, via TKO. Berto had the edge in punches landed (163-79).
Berto entered having kayoed 16 of his last 17 foes.
In the TV opener, 220-pound Philadelphian Chazz Witherspoon (23-0, 15 KOs) met 239-pound Californian Chris Arreola ( 23-0, 21 KOs) ) with the WBC Continental Americas crown up for grabs. In a different time, two American heavyweight prospects facing off at this juncture, with undefeated records, would have drawn buzz. Not so much today. One had to hope that someone would send a message that buzz was deserved.
Chazz started off with a stiff jab as Arreola sized him up. But Arreola got aggressive quickly, looking to land right down the middle. Chazz traded, not a good idea as Arreola landed a right cross that hit the mark in the waning seconds. But Chazz kept his legs, and went back to his corner to hear trainer Wade Hinnant tell him to stay mobile. “Stay smart, do not get into a war,” the coach counseled.
Arreola found a home for a sneaky-quick left hook in the second. Meanwhile, Chazz seemed predicatble, throwing one jab at a time. It looked like Arreola wasn't fearing his power at all.
In the third, Chazz hit with some uppers but Arreola landed a left hook and right hand follow that just had more mustard on them than anything Chazz tossed. Chazz hit the deck, absorbing a downward thrusting right, with a minute to go, and arose. But he didn't move, or grab, to buy some time. Backed into a corner, Chazz looked ready to go but he slithered out , only to get dropped at the end of the round, by a right hand. The bell ended but the ref didn't notice, and so he waved them together again. But ringsiders told the ref Randy Phillips that the three minutes had elapsed. That was immaterial, anyway, as the fight was stopped, because the Witherspoon corner supposedly entered the ring early. I say that's a ticky tack call (corners often put in a , IF they indeed did, but I do think Arreola would've notched his twelfth straight KO anyway in the fourth. Chazz was groggy, almost out on his feet, and Arreola has a shark's propensity for finishing.
The end, officially a DQ, came at 3:00 of the second. By the way, this doesn't happen often but the platinum throated one, Michael Buffer, screwed up. He said the stoppage came at the end of the second round. Chazz' uncle Tim Witherspoon applied ice to his relative after the stop, and no doubt will be able to offer him solace, and sharp advice on how to pick up the pieces.
Talking to Max Kellerman, Arreola tipped his cap to Chazz after, for being a warrior and trading. He said he'll do whatever advisor Al Haymon and promoter Dan Goossen cook up for him.
Chazz disputed the DQ to Max, and said his corner didn't enter the ring until the bell rang. “It was my stupidity for fighting his type of fight,” he admitted.