by Peter Owen Nelson
At 9:06 p.m., a little over 48 hours from Andre Berto’s showdown with Victor Ortiz Saturday night at the Foxwoods MGM, the two narrowly missed each other in the hotel elevators. The welterweight champion had just left the spa from his final workout, while the 3-1 underdog Ortiz returned to the casino from his own at a gym outside the hotel.
For the 27-year-old Berto, the light late night workout consisted of 1.8 miles on the treadmill, three rounds of mitt work with trainer Tony Morgan, and extensive banter from a half-dozen onlooking members of his family. (A few dozen more are expected to arrive by fight night.) After the mitt work, Morgan, who has trained Berto since he was 10 years old, said, “Andre sees everything, and he’s going to see Ortiz’s one-two [jab-straight left hand] coming from a mile away.
Just as Berto’s work concluded and the group headed to the elevators, Ortiz headed up to his room with his coaches to check his weight before Friday’s weigh-in. Getting off a phone call, the Kansas native looked down at his phone, which for the past two months has had one image on the wallpaper: Berto’s green WBC welterweight belt.
Across the Atlantic in Manchester, England, earlier in the day, trainer Freddie Roach predicted the outcome at the M.E.N. Arena Saturday of his charge Amir Khan (24-1) against unheralded European champion Paul McCloskey (22-0): “Amir will knock him out in one round — unless he decides to carry him for a round and then knock him out.” The oddsmakers have it not much different, with Khan a near 10-1 favorite.
Berto predicted himself Khan by knockout and Ortiz echoed the sentiment, saying, “I like Amir and I hope he wins.” (Ortiz and Khan had faced each other years ago in the amateurs, with Khan stopping the southpaw.) Roach added that he likes the underdog’s chances in the fight at Foxwoods, saying, “I’ve seen Victor spar at my gym several times, including against Manny Pacquiao. When he was trying to make 140, he never was as strong. I like the move up to welterweight for him.”
If Ortiz’s camp has been any indication, carrying his punch up to welterweight will be no problem for the 24 year old: in heavily padded 16 ounce Winning training gloves (twice the size of the 8 ounce gloves worn fight night), Ortiz went through six sparring partners, dropping two of them. “I told them that I’d pay them extra if they dropped me, so dropping them was only fair,” Ortiz said of the work in his hotel room while snacking on some cashews and watching an episode of Family Guy.
Despite Berto being the champion and Ortiz having fought at the smaller weight, it was Ortiz who headhunted Berto for this fight, after surveying the junior-welterweight landscape and not seeing a title fight happening anytime in the next year. After Ortiz let his promoters know that he wanted the undefeated slick welterweight champion, he said, “Everyone was like, ‘What the hell is wrong with this kid?’ But I want Andre Berto. I’m going to knock him out.”
Saturday night, we will see if Ortiz can be the first to dethrone the welterweight champion or if he has simply jumped into too much weight against too much class too soon. After Ortiz nearly knocked out Marcos Maidana only to be knocked out himself in 2009 for an interim title, another near-miss for the former prospect of the year at the championship level could push his next title shot a few more years away. For Ortiz, the stakes could not be higher.