“At the end of the day, I like substance. But style matters. It’s not just whether you win, but how you go about doing it.”
Larry Merchant

Some fighters get it, some don’t, but those that get it typically get paid a little bit more than those who don’t.

Fighters who realize that they are entertainers, that the way they perform their duties is almost as important as the outcome of their bouts, can expect to be in demand that much more than clutchers, grabbers and runners, who don’t necessarily care how they achieve the W.

On Saturday night, viewers watched Andre Berto, the WBC welterweight champion, take down Juan Urango, the WBC junior welterweight champion who went north a division for a title shot.

A majority of commenters on message boards didn’t embrace the way Berto went about his business. They would’ve preferred less clinching, and more trading and more combos, from the 25-year-old Floridian. Count HBO analyst Larry Merchant among those who would’ve liked to see Berto go about his scrap in a different fashion.

“He was running and holding a guy who moved up from a lower division to fight him,” Merchant told TSS. “It suggested he was unwilling to take serious risks.” TSS is with Larry on this point—-when a fight fan senses a boxer has a serious distaste for trading or risk taking, that fighter’s fan club usually isn’t brimming. For example, Wladimir Klitschko’s fights always provoke heavy message board activity, as watchers weigh in with their stance that they don’t care for his risk averse style. Berto’s showing provoked some of that same criticism.

Merchant continued his critique.

“His jab was feeble, and that’s putting the best face on it. He has no concept of fighting on the inside, but that’s not unusual these days. He gets by by fighting what I call a ‘brilliant amateur style,’ on his athleticism.” Merchant realized that he was coming down a bit hard on a fighter who did in fact get the win. “I like the kid a lot,” he said. “There’s much to recommend him.”

“He decided to win boxing smart, and if that’s what we’ve got, then we’ve got a sort of facsimile of Mayweather. But I was disappointed on how he went about it. He had a long amateur career and he’s 25, and this is who he is? I hope I’m wrong.”

I hesitated to pose this question to Merchant, because these sort of questions can perpetuate themselves, and snowball, and maybe influence a decision that could cost a man his job. But…might Berto be well served to replace Tony Morgan, his coach since he was an amateur, with a better-known tutor?

“I don’t know his trainer,” the analyst said. “What I said stands for itself. It has got him this far, and maybe with the right opponent he looks sensational.”

Berto has wanted a bout with Shane Mosley since last year, and he should be applauded for seeking out such a stern test. Would Merchant like to see that?

“They’ve said, ‘Mosley doesn’t want to fight me!’ But Mosley shouldn’t want to fight him, money aside. Hey, maybe I’m being too hard on the kid, being hypercritical, but this fight said to me, he’s not ready.”

Kermit Cintron notched a win on the same card, and Merchant liked his work a bit, just a bit, more than Berto. “He was fighting the same way as Berto,” Merchant said. “A lot of running and grabbing, but he did throw punches in combos, and there it wasn’t one punch, and then fall into a clinch. That raises a memory of John Ruiz.”

Merchant boiled it down for us. “If you’re not a crowd pleasing fighter, but you knock the guy out at the end, OK, there’s a method to your sadness…but if you run all the way to the bank, then you’re open for criticism. I was less disappointed in Kermit than Berto, but maybe my expectations were lower.”

Looking ahead, Merchant gives Ghana native Joshua Clottey a decent shot at upending Miguel Cotto on June 13. I do not; probably not much more than a 20% chance. To me, Cotto is a top five pound for pounder, if we’re going to by the reasonable supposition that Antonio Margarito enjoyed the usage of super-charged gloves when he and the Puerto Rican tangled in July 2008, and Clottey is not. Top 30, yes, top 5, not to this point.

“Clottey is a tough guy, and comes from a tradition that has produced quality fighters like Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey,” Merchant said. “An unknown here is how Cotto will respond to a guy who attacks him, as Margarito did. I believe as most people in boxing do that Margarito had loaded gloves when he fought Cotto, so I give Cotto a pass for that loss. I put an asterisk on it. I like Cotto, and think he has a chance to make up for that loss.” Merchant figures Cotto, a smart pugilist though he didn’t fight the right strategy against Margarito some would argue, will fight smarter against Clottey, whose power has never suggested that he’s employed any foreign agent to fortify his fists. Clottey should hope camp and family distractions lessen Cotto’s concentration.

Then, on July 18, Merchant will work the Floyd Mayweather/Juan Manuel marquez tussle. He gives Marquez less of a shot at an upset than Clottey.

“I don’t think Marquez will beat Mayweather,” Merchant said. “Unless Mayweather has lost more than anybody knows. If he’s 95% of his old self, then he’s a decisive winner.”

Merchant was set to travel to Germany to see if Wladimir Klitschko could make David Haye pay for having zee temerity to wear attire featuring the severed heads of he and his brother on it. But Haye has a hand problem, and pulled out of the scrap, so the June 20 date is up in the air for HBO. Ruslan Chagaev wants to fight Wlad, apparently, but would HBO want to show that bout? “I think Wladimir versus Valuev is a better attraction, but I don’t know if Valuev wants it,” Merchant said. Considering Valuev didn’t want to risk all his marbles against potential stand-in Kali Meehan, do you think he’ll take up the Wlad challenge on such short notice? Zee chances are slim, aren’t zey?