by Kieran Mulvaney
Boxing fans have much to be thankful at any time of the year. For all its occasional frustrations and controversies, boxing is a sport like no other. There is no thrill more visceral than that moment before a much-anticipated title fight, when the ring empties, the crowd roars, and two combatants stare at each other from their respective corners, ready to do battle.
So it’s fitting that this Thanksgiving weekend, we have a contest that seems, on paper at least, inherently incapable of being a turkey. (Sorry.) Each of the two men involved poses tremendous risk to the other, and yet both men accepted the fight, not because they were mandated to, not because boxing politics forced it to happen, but because they wanted it.
At first glance, Robert Guerrero would seem to be risking the most. Although he holds a welterweight belt, this will be only his second outing at 147 pounds. Before his division debut, a hard-fought win over Selcuk Aydin, his previous bout had been at lightweight, fully two divisions lighter. As recently as 2009 he was a super-featherweight; and the year before that he was a featherweight, 21 pounds lighter than he will weigh on the scale on Friday.
Yet he moved up to welterweight because he wanted the challenge, wanted the opportunity to fight for big money against big names; in Andre Berto, he is facing one of those big names. And while Berto is the naturally heavier man, having fought his first seven professional bouts at middleweight or junior middleweight before settling in to the welterweight division, the downside of defeat is perhaps even greater for him than for Guerrero.
Two years ago, almost to the day, Berto annihilated Freddy Hernandez inside a round to remain undefeated and on course for a big-money fight. That marquee matchup arrived in April 2011 against Victor Ortiz, a sensational encounter in which Berto was knocked down in the first round, rallied to drop Ortiz hard in the sixth and then was dropped to his back as he moved in for the kill. Berto ultimately lost a unanimous decision in one of the best fights of the year. A rematch with Ortiz, scheduled for earlier this year, evaporated when Berto tested positive for a banned substance – a test that the California commission was satisfied was likely the result of a tainted supplement.
For Berto, then, this Saturday is about the rehabilitation of a reputation, as well as a need for victory. For Guerrero, Berto is standing in the way of him reaching the next level. For the winner, riches and bigger fights await. For the loser, the only likely prize is a trip to the back of the line.
While both men are accomplished technically, neither likes to take a step backward. For as long as it lasts, this will likely be a real fight, in which both boxers dig deep and fire fusillades at each other with limited interruption. At the end of the night, it seems certain that both men will have more than earned their money and the chance for a belated holiday weekend.
And for that we, as fans, should be thankful.