On the surface, Andre Berto facing Jan Zaveck Saturday night at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi seemed inevitable. Zaveck is relatively anonymous and has a trinket. Berto is looking to regain hardware and respect.
Many boxing fans were giddy as they watched Berto, 27-1 with 21 knockouts, get thrashed along the ropes by Victor Ortiz four and a half months ago. It was viewed as comeuppance for a fighter undeserving of the years of subsidy received from HBO, treatment that would ideally be reserved for special talents or ticket-sellers. To call Berto a special talent would require unconditional enough infatuation with speed and flash to ignore ‘nuances’ such as defense, in-fighting, and durability. To call him a ticket-seller is concretely false. To call him a potential special talent is a reach.
So while Ortiz serving as the opponent that put Berto’s weaknesses on stentorian display was a surprise, the weaknesses themselves were long exposed despite attempts at concealment. In previous bouts, he’s resorted to grappling to compensate for his lack of know-how on the inside. To his credit, he didn’t spend much of the Ortiz fight clinching, which made it more eventful than anticipated. But his alternative to holding was idly laying on the ropes–another sign that he’s far from comfortable on the inside–and with average head movement accompanied by a loose guard, the 27-year-old was used as a punching bag for long stretches of the bout.
That Berto’s drive towards retribution begins against a relatively unknown European titlist is undoubtedly predictable. How the fight plays out is less than predictable.
Jan Zaveck, 31-1 with 18 knockouts, uses stereotypical European ear muffs as his primary defense, but is far more aggressive than the likes of Andriy Kotelnik, Felix Sturm, or Arthur Abraham. He has a strong motor, punching in combination while looking to respond every time he gets hit with a flush shot. Fears that we’ll see 12 rounds of Berto swatting at a listless opponent that has forearms pasted on their forehead should be palliated within a few rounds. If history is any indicator, Zaveck won’t hesitate to throw his hands.
While not a murderous puncher, the 35-year-old has decent pop, disposing Isaac Hlatshwayo¬–best known for two give-and-take battles with Delvin Rodriguez–within three rounds in 2009. Hlatschwayo went on to get knocked out in short order by Naoufel Ben Rabah, calling into question how much he really had after his fights with Rodriguez. But Zaveck followed that eye-opening knockout win with an impressive performance in a return bout against Rafal Jackiewicz, reprisal for what many felt was a dubious split decision loss in 2008. Ruled a majority decision because of a judge incompetent enough to be selected for the next Devon Alexander fight, Zaveck lost no more than three rounds throughout the rematch, outworking his adversary and landing most of the telling blows.
Still, despite his weaknesses, Berto possesses exorbitant speed with a fair amount of power, the type of natural ability Zaveck’s never been in with. Zaveck isn’t as slow as previous Berto victims Michel Trabant, Miguel Rodriguez, or Freddy Hernandez, but he’ll be at a sizable speed disadvantage, even while he’s fairly responsible defensively. What happens when Berto places an undetected right cross directly on Zaveck’s chin is unknown.
If Zaveck walks through those flashy blows and remains durable enough to shrug off the Florida native’s incandescence, we’ll be in for a good scrap Saturday night, one that may resemble Berto’s 2009 battle with Luis Collazo. Zaveck is the type to rush forward after getting touched by showy uppercuts and lead right hands in order to compensate for any impressions made on the judges. Meanwhile, Berto is cantankerous enough to make for a memorable fight against the right opponent. And undeserving titlist or not, Zaveck looks to be the right opponent–with the tools to spring an upset if Berto dares replicate the middling resistance he showcased against Ortiz’ onslaught in April.
Consecutive losses could provide enough incentive for HBO to crowbar themselves off of Berto’s jockstrap and end a legendary run of entitlement. In that sense, the stakes are real, and involve a real opponent.