“Watchman Falls Victim to His Devotion to Duty.” Andre Breton
Two of the biggest enigmas in boxing—Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz—face off on Saturday night at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, in a bout that ought to be held at the Overlook Hotel or, perhaps, in the broom closet of an odditorium. Both men are prime examples of modern boxing hocus pocus, where a largely unremarkable form of abracadabra is achieved simply by fooling increasingly gullible television network executives and the readers of leastsideboxing.com.
With nearly 60 starts between them, Berto and Ortiz have faced less than a handful of quality fighters combined. In fact, only Luis Collazo, Carlos Quintana, and Marcos Maidana can be considered topnotch opponents, with Juan Urango trailing behind and accompanied by an asterisk. Berto, 27-0 (21), has beaten Collazo, Quintana, and Urango. Ortiz, on the other hand, lost to Maidana via brutal TKO in a thrilling shootout that ended when Ortiz quit in the ring.
Since being publicly humiliated in his loss to Maidana, Ortiz, 28-2-2 (22), has spent nearly two years on a “rebuilding” program sponsored, in large part, by HBO. A steady stream of shot veterans and wall-eyed trialhorses has kept his wallet fat and television viewers perplexed. Ortiz even got to steamroll haywire Vivian Harris for a hefty paycheck to the delight of sadists across North America.
His last bout, a sloppy draw against Lamont Peterson, was a step up, but Ortiz, 24, looked like a fighter suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that night. After dropping Peterson twice in the third round, Ortiz seemed to lose heart and his reluctance to press his advantage allowed Peterson back into the fight. Somewhere along the way, Ortiz has also become reluctant to mix it up, at times simply circling around the ring or, worse, hopping to and fro without any apparent purpose. This new development in his style, a certain skittishness, cost him dearly against Peterson. Now Ortiz, Oxnard, California, faces his first live opponent since June 2009, and he moves up to welterweight for the chance.
Despite the fact that Berto, 27, has been featured on HBO eleven times—eleven!—the public is none the wiser for it. Neither, it appears, is Ross Greenburg. Berto, Winterhaven, Florida, was last seen earning roughly $900,000 as the chief undercard support for the Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis firefight. He knocked out completely overmatched Freddy Hernandez in less than a minute. Like many young fighters on the HBO subsidy program over the last few years, Berto is on a two-fight a year schedule against soft opponents for big money. How a fighter who has never garnered ratings and who once drew 985 1/4 paying customers to a hometown title defense has managed such a swindle is difficult to say. Logic, like water in the desert, is a limited commodity in boxing, and the career of Andre Berto is a reminder that prizefighting is often less a sport than a series of surreal shell games.
As for the fight itself, the number of riddles surrounding it gives the bout an air of intrigue not often found on HBO these days unless you count “Boardwalk Empire” and “Big Love.”
Neither man has been in a serious fight in years. Berto struggled early against Quintana, but took over within a couple of rounds; Ortiz did not look particularly good against Peterson, but it was his nerves—and myopic judges—that cost him a win that night.
These days, Ortiz is footloose between the ropes, which might be of some use against a flat-footed Berto, and he also has the advantage of being a southpaw. On the other hand, Ortiz is often clumsy and off-balance when throwing combinations, seems to have difficulty implementing a game plan, and enters the ring with a chin shaped like a question mark. For his part, Berto has developed some bad habits in the ring—mincing with his jab, keeping his hands low, and hugging on the inside—perhaps the byproducts of knowing that there is usually more danger in climbing the ring steps than there is in swapping punches with his opponents come fight night.
Both fighters are hopeless on the inside, with Berto, in particular, looking like a man snuggling up to a leggy blond in the clinches. Even Carlos Quintana, a crafty southpaw boxer, roughed up Berto in close, dropping The Human Bermuda Triangle of Boxing with a short blow to the side of the head within two minutes of the opening bell. Referee Tommy Kimmons chose to ignore the knockdown and then made the existential decision to favor Berto every chance he could that night. Berto looked like the biggest crybaby in the world against Quintana in the opening round, perhaps the sign of a man who has gotten too used to having it easy in the ring.
Even so, Berto has faster hands, hits harder, and can be creative with his offense, particularly with a sneaky right uppercut. He is also used to taking shots from smaller men moving up in weight class. In the battle between two walking conundrums, Berto seems slightly less mystifying than Ortiz at this point. He ought to be able to hurt Ortiz somewhere along the way and stop him with a follow-up blitz, although nothing can ever be certain when entering the boxing equivalent of Wonderland.