Written by Nick Tylwalk
It's another good Saturday night to be a boxing fan curled up in front of your (hopefully) giant HDTV with a pair of fights on HBO and another on Showtime. All three bouts have clear favorites but contain some risk, and I'll run them down in descending order of danger.
That means Andre Berto-Victor Ortiz gets the spotlight first. As Dan Rafael pointed out Friday night on ESPN, it's a bout with a lot on the line for both men, with Berto seemingly just a step away from realistically thinking about a shot at Manny Pacquiao and Ortiz desperate to prove he's a different fighter than the one who quit two years ago against Marcos Maidana.
What's interesting is that many of the assumptions one could easily make about this fight are wrong. Berto is seen as the more seasoned boxer since he's older, but the truth is that Ortiz actually edges him out in terms of pro fights and actual rounds in the ring. Berto's competition has been better, but the difference is marginal.
Ortiz is the one moving up in weight, making his first appearance at 147 pounds. Yet he carried the extra pounds extremely well at the weigh-in, to the point that you may have thought he was the long-time welterweight had you just seen both men for the first time. he's also a tad taller.
My guess is that Berto has the quicker hands and may move a little bit better as well. Ortiz and his team have repeatedly pointed out that Berto is no defensive wiz, but the Maidana fight is proof that Victor has much to learn in that area himself.
Berto hits hard but hasn't proven to be a murderous puncher against his best opposition to date. Ortiz probably has more one-shot power, but it's hard to know exactly how that will translate as he steps up a division. Recent boxing history has shown that it's possible to show less punching power (examples too numerous to mention), stay roughly the same (like Pacquiao) or even show more (Juan Manuel Marquez, at least in my eyes) while moving up a weight class, and Ortiz's youth makes him even more unpredictable.
And who knows what to make of Victor's recent switch from smiling, good-natured kid to cocky trash talker? No one would argue that he needed a self-confidence boost since 2009, but he may be taking it a bit too far.
In the end, what sways me toward Berto is that we've already seen him win fights by brawling and by boxing. Until Ortiz shows that same kind of adaptability, I can't pick him when he's in as tough as he is here.
The fight should be exciting, and I would not be shocked if both men touch the canvas, but my gut feeling is Berto will win a tight but unanimous decision.
On Showtime, Juan Manuel Lopez continues to have his career intertwine but not intersect with Yuriorkis Gamboa as he battles Orlando Salido, whose most recent loss just happened to come at Gamboa's hands.
Salido is a sturdy type who throws good hooks and is patient enough to counter well. He gave Gamboa a few problems, but it wasn't the same Gamboa we saw tear through Jorge Solis a few weeks ago.
Juanma at his best is more like that Gamboa, which is why hardcore fight fans want them to meet. He is fighting in front of his home fans in Puerto Rico, where Bernabe Concepcion managed to drop him in Round 1 before getting stopped himself a round later last summer. But Concepcion was willing to throw all caution to the wind in the hopes of pulling off the upset, and I don't expect Salido to do the same.
Lopez always offers the possibility of an adventure of some sort, but I expect him to be locked in tonight. I like Juanma by mid-round TKO.
Last and perhaps least in terms of anticipation will be Amir Khan taking on Paul McCloskey, brought to us in the U.S. by the magic of tape delay on HBO. I should say that it's not highly anticipated here, because both fighters should have plenty of fan support in their native U.K.
Khan is approaching must-see status thanks to his blend of talent and charisma. It also helps that he has trainer Freddie Roach, taking a short break from training Pacquiao to offer his wisdom from the corner.
It counts for something that the 31-year old McCloskey is undefeated, but how much is tough to say. He has never fought outside the U.K. and his list of previous foes is short on recognizable names.
Khan's chin counts as a legitimate Achilles heel, but you'd like McCloskey's proverbial puncher's chance more if he had more KOs on his resume (just 12 in 22 wins). Even without much familiarity with his work, I'm skeptical that he can out-box Khan.
There's no shame in that, but there is probably a loss coming. I see McCloskey behind early and getting battered enough to ensure Khan wins by late stoppage.