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Mayweather-Berto: Other great fighters and easy nights

05
Aug

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So Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s Sept. 12 has been selected and this reporter is yet to encounter a single fan who is happy with the choice. The reigning pound-for-pound champion will meet Andre Berto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Mayweather’s RING, WBA and WBC welterweight titles will be at stake.

So what do we know about Berto? The Floridian of Haitian descent is 30-3 (23 knockouts), a two-time welterweight titleholder who has won seven of eight championship bouts and his up-and-down affair with Victor Ortiz was THE RING “Fight of the Year” for 2011. Not exactly the credentials of a poor opponent but the situation here is a lot more complex than that.



First, Berto has lost to the aforementioned Ortiz and Robert Guerrero, opponents Mayweather swept aside easily, as well as Jesus Soto Karass. Second, those three defeats form half of Berto’s previous six outings and wins over Jan Zaveck, Steve Upsher Chambers and Josesito Lopez have hardly struck fear into the welterweight ranks.

Mayweather, on the other hand, is unbeaten at 48-0 (26 KOs) and is now rubber-stamped as the finest boxer of his generation. Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao, the last remaining barrier, was turned upside down over 12 rounds on May 2 and all remaining critics were silenced with his unanimous decision defeat. Yeah, sure they were! With Pacquiao down, Mayweather is now receiving fan-made challenges from WBA middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin and UFC bantamweight women’s champion Ronda Rousey.

People want to see Mayweather, largely perceived as the most unlikable of fighters, beaten and Berto, a 16/1 underdog, is capable of winning no more than a round or two. There are plenty of other welterweights who could have provided a sterner challenge: IBF titleholder Kell Brook, Amir Khan and Keith Thurman among them. It just wasn’t meant to be, I’m afraid, but the real sticking point is the $64.95 pay-per-view price tag.

This reporter was in Las Vegas for Mayweather versus Pacquiao and Floyd succeeded in turning off all the neon on the strip as well as Pacquiao’s aggression. The fight was an absolute dud and people aren’t likely to forget that for a very long time. Don’t the fans deserve something in return? Obviously not, appears to be the answer.

Over the decades, five transcendent figures in boxing all took on opponents who were deemed unworthy. The two Sugar Rays – Robinson and Leonard – Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya all touched gloves with prey that was considered bottom of the food chain before a punch was even thrown. The majority of the time, their decision to do so was understandable but, what is interesting is Berto, at least on resume, is vastly superior to every B-side listed.

That said, none of these great champions were planning to exit the sport on an unpopular pay-per-view card that is being derided by fans and media alike.

 

Here we go

Sugar Ray Robinson TKO 6 Chuck Taylor
Date: Dec. 19, 1947
Venue: Olympia Stadium, Detroit, Mich.

Photo courtesy of Detroit News Wire

Photo courtesy of Detroit News Wire

The Story: Who is Chuck Taylor? A game boxer from Coalport, Penn., Taylor was 23-8-2 (7 knockouts) when he challenged Ray Robinson for the welterweight title. Despite the fact that this was only Robinson’s third championship bout, his record was an incredible 83-1-1 (56 knockouts). “The Sugar Man” had been denied a title fight because he refused to cooperate with the mafia, who ran top-flight boxing at the time, but he was already a legend. Taylor was competitive early but two knockdowns were decisive and he was stopped in the sixth. Coming in, the 25-year-old challenger had lost three of his previous six fights. Does that sound familiar?

Why this isn’t Mayweather-Berto: Robinson beat Tommy Bell for the welterweight title a year earlier and finally reached the top of the mountain. In those days, it was customary for champions to earn money by staying busy in non-title bouts and Robinson had four of them, against undistinguished opposition. His first title defense was against Jimmy Doyle, who tragically passed away due to injuries sustained in that contest and Robinson was deeply affected by the experience. Subsequently Robinson took part in a series of benefit bouts with the proceeds going to Doyle’s family before his next title defense against Taylor. It’s also worth taking into account that, in his next four championship bouts, Robinson would take on Kid Gavilan, Bobo Olson, Rocky Graziano and Joey Maxim across three old-style weight divisions – from welterweight to light heavy.

 

Muhammad Ali KO 5 Jean-Pierre Coopman
Date: Feb. 20, 1976
Venue: Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Photo credit: Associated Press

Photo credit: Associated Press

The Story: Who is Jean-Pierre Coopman? This 29-year-old heavyweight plodder was 24-3 (15 knockouts) and had been a professional for less than four years when he was selected to take on “The Greatest.” Coopman had only competed outside of his home country of Belgium once (in Norway) and lost to an opponent with only one professional fight. Ali, by this stage of his career, was already a two-time heavyweight champion and the most famous athlete in sports. He landed at will against Coopman, barely took a punch in anger and mercifully ended the bout in the fifth. The story goes that Coopman, who made $100,000 for his efforts, was sipping champagne between rounds.

Why this isn’t Mayweather-Berto: This bout took place almost five months after Ali-Frazier III – “The Thrilla in Manila” – and if you can forgive the expression, “The Greatest” still had plenty of “smoke” in his lungs. There was no way Ali could come back against a tough opponent, after what he endured in the Philippines, although Coopman was perhaps safer than safe. Ahead of Ali in 1976 were tough assignments against Jimmy Young and Ken Norton, both of which ended in controversial decisions in his favor. Also, in the ’70s, Ali’s biggest battles were shown at closed-circuit cinema locations around the world. The Coopman bout was free to air on CBS in the United States. Does that sound familiar?

 

Sugar Ray Leonard TKO 3 Bruce Finch
Date: Feb. 15, 1982
Venue: Centennial Coliseum, Reno, Nevada

Image coutesy of Bettmann/CORBIS

Image coutesy of Bettmann/CORBIS

The Story: Who is Bruce Finch? Finch was a reliable sort who carried a record of 28-3-1 (19 KOs). The Ohio native had done little of consequence in an eight-and-a-half-year professional career and his three defeats had come against opponents that the great Leonard had halted: Pete Ranzany, Larry Bonds and a novice version of Thomas Hearns. The new “Sugar Man” was defending the undisputed welterweight title and, although his timing was slightly off, he battered his opponent to the canvas on three occasions and scored an easy third round stoppage. Finch would lose six of his next seven outings before retiring in 1985.

Why this isn’t Mayweather-Berto: Check this out: In the two-and-a-half years preceding the Finch affair, Leonard had beaten Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns. Do we need to go any further? If ever someone was due a walk in the park, it was Sugar Ray Leonard. The Finch bout aired on HBO and, at that point, the welterweight king had his eyes on Alexis Arguello, Aaron Pryor, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and a rematch with Benitez. Tragically, a detached retina would scupper all of those bouts, with the exception of the Hagler super-fight, which took place five years later.

 

Mike Tyson DQ 1 Peter McNeeley
Date: Aug. 19, 1995
Venue: MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada

Photo credit: John Gurzinski/AFP/Getty Images

Photo credit: John Gurzinski/AFP/Getty Images

The Story: Who is Peter McNeeley? The 36-1 (30 KOs) McNeeley brought into the pay-per-view battle with Mike Tyson isn’t just deceiving, he’s almost fraudulent. The so-called “Hurricane” had fought a hailstorm of nobodies and his lone defeat was to a journeyman named Stan Wright, who had lost five of 13 fights. Tyson had been released from an Indiana prison five months earlier and this was his first piece of paid work in four years. Again, there’s safe…then there’s Peter McNeeley. When the bell rang, Tyson remained in his corner, as his opponent charged in with a crude barrage of hooks. Tyson moved his head, bided his time and crunched home a well-placed counter right that decked his man inside the opening 10 seconds. McNeeley rose, took some punishment and went down again on the end of a nice right uppercut. As the stricken novice staggered woozily to his feet, trainer Vinnie Vecchione decided he wanted to be part of the story and entered the ring when referee Mills Lane was content to let action continue. Vecchione’s intrusion resulted in a disqualification win for Tyson.

Why this isn’t Mayweather-Berto: Let’s be fair; this one is actually a whole lot worse. Following an almost identical period of inactivity, Muhammad Ali returned against a top contender in Jerry Quarry, who was at the peak of his powers. Granted, Ali had not been in prison but he accepted that fight on six weeks’ notice, an audacious choice, given everything that was on the line. McNeeley would have been open for criticism had he been selected for sparring duty against a peak version of “Iron” Mike. Nope, this main event was a dud and the live crowd and pay-per-view audience were appalled at both the lack of action and the ending. Even a Don King undercard couldn’t save this one, despite featuring fan favorites such as Terry Norris and Julian Jackson.

 

Oscar De La Hoya TKO 7 Luis Ramon Campas
Date: May 3, 2003
Venue: Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada

Photo credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Photo credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Story: Who is Luis Ramon Campas? Well, he is more commonly known as “Yori Boy” Campas and is the only B-Side on this list who held a legitimate world title. A feared knockout artist, Campas amassed an incredible 56-0 (50 KOs) record before being annihilated by a prime Felix Trinidad in 1994. Three years later, he won the IBF junior middleweight title at the expense of Raul Marquez and defended that strap on three occasions before being stopped in seven by fast-rising star Fernando Vargas. That loss seemed to suck some of the ambition out of Campas but although he suffered two more defeats prior to the De La Hoya fight, they came against top level talents in Oba Carr and Daniel Santos. De La Hoya was leagues above on the night and landed an incredible variety of punches on a ridiculously easy target. The result was a one-sided, seventh round stoppage.

Why this isn’t Mayweather-Berto: De La Hoya was in the process of attempting to unify the junior middleweight division. He had claimed the WBC title from Javier Castillejo two years earlier and then stunned Fernando Vargas with a sensational, 11th round stoppage to claim the WBA version. Also, factor in that De La Hoya had already agreed terms to face fellow Californian Sugar Shane Mosley in a rematch, the following September, and maybe Oscar deserves a break here. The Campas fight was held on Cinco de Mayo weekend and given the fact that the opponent was Mexican and Erik Morales appeared on the undercard it was, at the very least, a great reason to party. A more cynical outlook deems this as one of the weakest of several De La Hoya pay-per-view shows.

 

Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing

 

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