The ring is sport’s ultimate proving ground, where athletes risk everything in one-on-one combat. Saturday’s dual-site HBO doubleheader is no exception as WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto meets Victor Ortiz in Connecticut and WBA junior welterweight king Amir Khan duels Irishman Paul McCloskey in Manchester.
Ascending to a new realm while beating the odds (Berto a better than 4-1 favorite while Khan is a better than 10-1 favorite) is the prize for Ortiz and McCloskey while Berto and Khan aim to improve their standing among current champions. Who will achieve their objectives? Their respective CompuBox histories provide these factoids:
Left is Right for Berto: In Ortiz, Berto will meet his fourth southpaw in five fights. His numbers against Carlos Quintana, Juan Urango and Luis Collazo are excellent, for he out-landed each of them (172-146 against Quintana, 243-180 versus Urango and 266-222 against Collazo) and was the more accurate fighter (38.1 percent-32.9 percent against Quintana, 37.1-24.3 against Urango and 39.0-27.3 against Collazo).
Berto’s power punching accuracy was particularly impressive as he connected at a 49.8 percent rate against Quintana, 48.9 percent against Collazo and an eye-popping 66.4 percent against Urango.
Finally, Berto proved he can jab against southpaws – a bugaboo for right-handers – as he landed 26.2 percent (Quintana) and 23.6 percent (Collazo), close to the 24.3 percent welterweight average. Urango’s peek-a-boo guard limited Berto to 17.6 percent, but that was offset by Berto’s 69-9 bulge in jab connects.
Doing more with less: Despite his high-octane reputation (22 KO in 28 wins), Ortiz’s offense is sparse but economical. He averaged 45.7 against Lamont Peterson (D 10), 50.3 against Nate Campbell (W 10) and a paltry 30.3 against Vivian Harris – markedly below the 60.5 junior welterweight norm.
Ortiz’s success is twofold. First, his power accuracy is impressive. He landed 54.3 percent against Harris, 42.1 percent against Hector Alatorre and 45 percent against Marcos Maidana. Second, he lulls opponents into fighting at his pace. Peterson, who averaged 95 per round against Rob Frankel, 82.9 against Lanardo Tyner and 63.8 against Timothy Bradley, was held to 33.3 against Ortiz. Harris could only muster 16.3 per round and Campbell, who unleashed 95.4 against Juan Diaz, averaged 43.5 against Ortiz, who out-threw each man.
Unlike Berto, Ortiz’s jab is a non-factor. He was a mere 2 of 121 (1.7 percent) against Peterson, 3 of 45 (6.7 percent) against Harris, 13 of 184 (7.1 percent) against Campbell and 17 of 216 (7.9 percent) against a very tentative Alatorre, who averaged just 18.8 punches per round in losing a 10-rounder.
Prediction: Size and skills matter. Berto is a better all-around fighter and the naturally bigger man while Ortiz is taking a big leap in class in his welterweight debut. Berto has the more reliable chin and Ortiz’s stamina is questionable given his second-half fade against Peterson. Berto by late-round TKO.
Sharpening the Tools: Under Freddie Roach Khan has become a better, sharper fighter. Since teaming up six fights ago Khan throws less (62.8 per round overall, 32.7 jabs, 30.1 power now; 77.4 overall, 37.6 jabs, 39.7 power then) but lands more (21.0 per round now to 19.1 then overall, 8.6 to 6.7 jabs and 12.4 each in power shots). Khan also connects at a higher rate (33.4 to 24.7 percent overall, 26.2 percent to 17.7 percent in jabs and 41.2 percent to 31.3 percent for power) when comparing with seven pre-Roach bouts.
Khan’s newer style worked well against Paul Malignaggi. He out-threw (653-531 overall) and out-landed (259-127 overall, 108-70 power) Malignaggi, landing 39.7 percent overall, 38 percent of his power shots and 41 percent of his jabs. Meanwhile, Khan held Malignaggi to 24 percent (overall), 20 percent (jabs) and 28 percent (power).
Keeping Khan Busy: One McCloskey option is keeping Khan busy defensively. In stopping Ivan Bustos he unleashed 73.5 punches per round to Bustos’ 50.5 and against Giuseppi Lauri (KO 11) and Barry Morrison (KO 7) he averaged 72.8 and 60.6 respectively. While he landed 39.6 of his power shots against Bustos, his volume took a toll on his power accuracy (33.4 percent against Lauri, 25.8 percent against Morrison and 28.6 against Colin Lynes). Boxing is all about trade-offs and McCloskey will have to make tough strategic choices to shock the world.
Prediction: McCloskey is at his best when he’s able to control distance and pace against short plodders but the taller, lightning-fast and more powerful Khan is anything but. Fighters who are forced to comprehensively change their styles in their biggest fights don’t usually win – especially at age 31. Khan by mid-rounds KO.