When: Saturday, Sept. 3
Where: Biloxi, Miss.
TV: HBO, 10:30 p.m. PT (delayed) / ET (live)
Weight: Welterweight (147 pounds)
Title(s) at stake: Zaveck’s IBF welterweight
Also on the card: Gary Russell Jr. vs. Leonilo Miranda, 10 rounds, featherweights; Thomas Oosthuizen vs. Aaron Pryor Jr., 12 rounds, super middleweights; Randall Bailey vs. Yoryi Estrella, 10 rounds, welterweights
Height: 5-7½ (172cm)
Hometown: Magdeburg, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany (from Ptuj, Solvenia)
Nickname: Dejan Zavec
Turned pro: 2003
Record: 31-1-0 (18 knockouts)
Trainer: Dirk Dzemski
Fight-by-fight: Click here
The Ring rating: No. 4
Titles: IBF welterweight (2009-current)
Biggest victories: Issac Hlatshwayo, Dec. 11, 2009, TKO 3 (won title); Rodolfo Ezequiel Martinez, April 9, 2010, TKO 12; Rafal Jackiewicz, Sept. 4, 2010, MD 12; Paul Delgado, Feb. 18, 2011, KO 5 (most-recent fight).
Loss: Rafal Jackiewicz, Nov, 29, 2008, SD 12
Height / reach: 5-8½ (174cm) / 72 (183cm)
Hometown: Winter Haven, Fla.
Turned pro: 2004
Record: 27-1 (21 knockouts)
Trainer: Tony Morgan
Fight-by-fight: Click here
The Ring rating: No. 3
Titles: WBC welterweight (2008-2011)
Biggest victories: Miguel Angel Rodriguez, June 21, 2008, TKO 7 (won title); Luis Collazo, Jan. 17, 2009, UD 12; Juan Urango, May 30, 2009, UD 12; Carlos Quintana, April 10, 2010, TKO 8; Freddy Hernandez, Nov. 27, 2010, TKO 1 (most-recent fight).
Loss: Victor Ortiz, April 16, 2011, UD 12 (lost title)
Skills: Both stocky welterweights are strong, aggressive boxers who work off the jab and counter punch well. Berto is a little more accurate with his power shots and is a better body puncher. However, Zaveck has better timing, technique, balance, and footwork. The 35-year-old veteran also puts his punches together more consistently than Berto, who sometimes falls into the habit of loading up with single power shots.
Power: Berto, the younger and presumably stronger man, is the puncher in this matchup. The 27-year-old contender has a much healthier KO percentage than Zaveck (75 to 54.5) and has stopped more notable opponents, including former titleholder Carlos Quintana and normally durable fringe contenders Freddy Hernandez (TKO 1) and David Estrada (TKO 11). However, Zaveck has respectable power. It should be noted that he was the first fighter to stop former beltholder Isaac Hlatshwayo (TKO 3).
Speed and athletic ability: Berto is clearly the superior athlete in this matchup. The explosive former titleholder defended the WBC belt fives times often relying more on his athletic ability than his boxing skills. Berto has faster hands, quicker reflexes and more power than Zaveck. Their hand-eye coordination is appears equal.
Defense: Neither fighter is known for his defensive prowess. Both Zaveck and Berto tend to square up in front of their opponents which leaves them open for straight punches from the outside and uppercuts when they are in close. However, Berto appears to be the easier of the two to hit cleanly. His potent mix of speed and power often leads to recklessness and occasionally getting caught with flush shots. Zaveck tends to be a little more measured in his attack and he keeps his guard up better than Berto does.
Experience: Zaveck has more fights (32 to 28) and more rounds (215 to 144) than Berto, but the younger man has faced a slightly higher quality of opposition, including Victor Ortiz, former beltholders Quintana, Luis Collazo and Juan Urango. Zaveck has fought two RING-ranked contenders Rafal Jackiewicz, who he’s split two close fights with, and Hlatshwayo.
Chin: Zaveck has reportedly never been down as a pro. Berto can’t say that. He was down twice against Ortiz and once against Cosme Rivera. Berto was also rocked in the first round against Collazo.
Conditioning: Both fighters prepare well for their fights, knowing that their style is to often dictate the pace of the bout. Zaveck has fought the 12-round distance five times and has never faded in the late rounds. Berto has fought the 12-round distance four times and only faded in the late rounds of the Ortiz bout, which was a brutal fight-of-the-year candidate. His distance bout with Collazo was also a fast-paced barnburner, and he closed that one well. The boxing world will find out with this fight if working with controversial conditioning/nutrition guru Victor Conte enhances Berto’s stamina.
Wear and tear: Berto has been in the tougher fights (Ortiz and Collazo) but the hunch here is that the combination of Zaveck’s age and total pro rounds fought (71 more than Berto) amount to more wear and tear on his body.
Corner: Both fighters have young, talented trainers who have guided them their entire pro careers. Zaveck is trained by Dirk Dzemski, a former European-ranked middleweight from Magdeburg, Germany (where he now trains fighters), who also coaches super middleweight titleholder (and former stable/gym mate) Robert Stieglitz. Berto has been trained by Tony Morgan since he was a 12-year-old amateur. Morgan, who also trains welterweight prospect Joseph Elegele, does not have the pro boxing background that Dzemski has, but he knows his fighter very well and he’s a good strategist. Dzemski, who also shares a close bond with his fighter, is probably better at instilling proper technique.
Outcome: This will be a hotly contested fight between two top-five welterweights. Zaveck, who claims to be in the best shape of his career, will take the fight to Berto using intelligent pressure. Zaveck will beat Berto to the jab in the early rounds, but the challenger will land the harder punches, usually countering from an angle or punching on the fly. By the third round, Berto will learn that he can catch Zaveck with uppercuts and hurt the titleholder with body shots. However, he will also find that the Slovenian veteran is more than willing to fight through adversity. Zaveck will get on his toes and utilize in-and-out movement in the middle rounds, occasionally snapping Berto’s head back with well-timed one-two combinations. The IBF beltholder will land his best punches of the fight when he’s able to maneuver Berto to the ropes, which he achieves in rounds seven, eight and nine. Although Zaveck will rock Berto with accurate two- and three-punch combinations a few times, the former titleholder will land his share of counter right hands and uppercuts off the ropes that bust up Zaveck‘s face. Zaveck presses hard in the championship rounds and is met with a strong rally from Berto who buzzes the titleholder with uppercuts and hooks. The two slug it out on even terms until the bell in the final round.
Prediction: Berto wins a close, perhaps controversial, decision.