This past weekend welterweight Roberto Guerrero 31-1- (18) won a hard fought unanimous decision over Andre Berto 28-2 (22) to capture the interim WBC welterweight title. Actually, the fight was much more deserving than a shoemaker title with the word interim attached to it. Well, so be it because that's the boxing world in which we live as of 2012.
Over the years it's been written how so many elite pros of today don't know how to fight on the inside and avoid body punching. It's easy to decipher why body punching is a lost art - and that's simply because it's not taught at the amateur level and by the time fighters turn pro they've adopted the mindset that headhunting is the only path to victory. As for infighting, well, that too is not stressed today in many pro gyms, especially in the United States. However, there's another reason why we don't see much infighting today, and that's because referees are too hands-on and have to break the fighters every time they're against the ropes or are tied up.
Look at the three Ali-Frazier fights. Fights I & III are considered among the top five or six greatest title fights in history. Yet their rematch, which was actually an outstanding fight fought a a brisk pace, is considered the only dud of the three. What was the difference? As we know, both Muhammad and Joe aged together and both should've retired after their third fight in Manila.
Fights I & III were actually wars of attrition and both fighters were damaged physically afterwards. On the other hand the rematch was more of a chess match and Ali was unmarked after and Joe was also less marked up after this fight than he was after fights I & III. And the reason for that is, both referee Arthur Mercante in fight I and Carlos Padilla in fight III let Muhammad and Joe fight it out on the inside instead of breaking them as soon as one of them didn't have a free hand.
During their second fight, referee Tony Perez allowed no infighting and separated them every time Ali tried to pull Frazier in or tie him up. This totally nullified Frazier's strategy and style. Just look at the first and third fights when Ali tried to manhandle Frazier and hold. Joe worked his way out and forced Ali to either fight or move. Mercante and Padilla allowed them to wage the fight on the inside without being so hands on.
As a result of the good referees (Mercante Sr. and Padilla) letting the fighters fight on the inside and in the corners, two of the greatest title fights in boxing history were realized, whereas a quasi-good referee Tony Perez was too hands on and eventually became part of the post fight conversation. And in addition to that, his antics prevented the fight from ever having a chance to become a memorable one.
Carlos Padilla also allowed Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard to wage a lot of their first fight on the inside. And because of that, Leonard was forced to fight Duran off of him instead of having the luxury of having Roberto's momentum interrupted every time he started to smoke. In the interim we found out that Ray Leonard was every bit the body puncher Duran was. And as it turned out Leonard-Duran I was also a great fight fought at warp speed.
Which brings us back to Guerrero-Berto. I salute referee Lou Moret for working the fight like an adult and true professional. There were plenty of times where Moret could've intervened and broke apart Robert and Andre, but he didn't. As a result both fighters flourished. We found out just how tough and gritty Guerrero is, along with being a first rate somewhat dirty/roughhousing fighter. And we also saw that Berto has a quick pair of hands on the inside and was capable of getting off in tight quarters.
Sure, Moret may have let Guerrero hold behind Berto's head and pull him into punches more than he perhaps should've, but it is fighting and both guys were bending the Marquis of Queensberry rules - it's just that Guerrero was a little more sophisticated and Hopkins-esque at it than was Berto. Everybody loves Hopkins' roughhousing tactics, and since I'm not a hypocrite I find no fault with Guerrero's. Last I checked, it was fighting and all fighters will take whatever they can get once inside the ring. If you doubt that than you haven't fought in the ring or been around many elite pros.
The Guerrero-Berto fight was an outstanding borderline great fight in terms of action. Both fighters gave as good as they took. There was no controversy surrounding the decision because referee Lou Moret let the fighters settle it and didn't touch them every time one of them didn't have a free hand. So in turn the fighters were forced to decide it, and they did. And on this night Guerrero proved to be the better man.
When it was all said and done it seems that boxing was the winner. We saw a terrific action packed fight between two top pros. We saw a referee conduct himself like an adult and professional and both fighters will emerge better as a result. Guerrero earned another well deserved big fight and Berto will no doubt be a harder out for his next opponent. Andre probably learned more during the 12 rounds he fought Guerrero than he did in his other fights combined.
Thank you, referee Lou Moret!
Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com