Written by Nick Tylwalk
In the opening segment of this past week's edition of Friday Night Fights, the theme was how several prospects have already seen their undefeated records fall by the wayside in 2011. Little did we know that the same trend was going to start spreading to some much more established fighters as well.
Yet that's exactly what we got on Saturday, a night when boxing was at its dramatic, unpredictable best. First Andre Berto dropped a decision to a determined Victor Ortiz in a slugfest that featured one round (the sixth) that became an instant classic. Just a short time later, Juan Manuel Lopez was stopped in front of his home fans by Orlando Salido.
Taking the least surprising loss first - though admittedly that's relative here - it's no secret that Juanma has flirted with disaster more than once while winning his first 30 pro fights. It's actually been part of his charm, I think, that he is talented and charismatic and yet still vulnerable.
With that in mind, no one discounted the idea that Salido would pose a threat. We're talking about a veteran with boxing ability and toughness, someone whose only career losses were a unanimous decision to Juan Manuel Marquez (no shame there!), a split decision to Cristobal Cruz and last year's decision to Yuriorkis Gamboa - a fight in which he knocked Gamboa down.
Naturally that last loss was the one in everyone's mind, as the careers of Lopez and Gamboa have been circling each other for a while. Juanma's performance on Saturday was always fated to be compared to Gamboa's as fans and writers tried to figure out which guy was truly the top dog.
Salido ended that discussion for the time being (and Gamboa's blistering performance in taking out Jorge Solis a few weeks ago is the icing on the cake). He also put the Lopez-Gamboa bout that Bob Arum has been dreaming about as a major attraction some time down the road to sleep for now. Lopez can and should be able to bounce back from his first defeat, but he's switched positions with Gamboa from a few years back as he's now the one who needs to prove he's worthy of the match-up.
Some members of the boxing media questioned whether Juanma's head was in the right place considering the recent turmoil in his personal life, and it's quite possible that was indeed a factor on Saturday. Whatever the case may be, we're about to learn something about him as he moves on with his career.
Speaking of learning things about fighters, that goes double for the Berto-Ortiz fight. It's rare that two boxers are put in the crucible at the same time, but that's exactly what happened as the two men tested each other early and often.
Ortiz answered any questions about his heart and mental toughness during that scintillating Round 6. After he hurt Berto early, flashing his appropriately vicious punching power, he looked like he had the fight right in the palm of his hand. Berto looked wobbly for several rounds, trying to compose himself on the ropes while Ortiz threw the vast majority of meaningful shots.
That was until Berto struck gold in the sixth, landing what was probably the hardest shot in a bout full of serious bombs. Ortiz hit the canvas, beat the count, but then immediately found himself under attack as Berto believed (probably correctly) that his best chance to win was to go for broke.
The Ortiz we saw against Marcos Maidana two years ago would have folded under those circumstances. Hell, he may have taken a knee as Berto backed him into the ropes and tried to finish him off. But Ortiz hung tough and dropped Berto again right before the end of the round, regaining all of his lost momentum in the process.
Now it's on to more big fights for Ortiz, who apparently was always a welterweight despite fighting at lower weight classes. He's got some things to work on defensively, and those killer head shots might be even more effective if he went to the body more often. His revisionist history concerning the Maidana fight and its aftermath is also getting tiresome very quickly.
He's the one with the gold now, though, so he's earned the right to say whatever he wants. You can easily picture Oscar De La Hoya's trademark cheesy grin in the background as he dreams up Ortiz's next big fight.
And Berto? He obviously didn't ace the biggest test of his career to date, but he didn't completely flunk it either. I'm not so sure he loses that fight had he not been hurt so early on, and he proved he was a survivor, gutting out some rounds until he could land a near home run shot in the sixth.
The fact remains that he looked unprepared to handle Ortiz's aggressiveness and power right from the opening bell, and he wasn't too effective at keeping Victor off of him, generally being forced to grab and hold at close range. Berto will have to do some soul-searching and figure out whether he needs a different trainer or just some changes to his routine before his next fight.
It goes without saying that he can forget about Manny Pacquiao for now (though Pac-Man haters may argue the loss actually increases his chances). There's the common thread between Berto and Juanma: Both saw not just their undefeated records but also lucrative potential fights go up in smoke.
That's what happens on a night as wild as Saturday was.
Other assorted boxing thoughts that floated through my head this weekend:
* I have little to say about the Amir Khan-Paul McCloskey boutother than to commend British boxing fans once again for their enthusiasm. I think I need to see a big fight between two Brits in front of their home fans at least once before I die. The fight itself was pretty uninteresting and ended in depressing fashion. As our Uatu pointed out, McCloskey looked like he was trying to fight a Roy Jones style without Roy Jones talent. He wasn't the first and probably won't be the last. I don't care if Khan fights Timothy Bradley next, but he has to fight someone legit.
* To paraphrase Jack Nicholson as The Joker, where did you get that wonderful hair David Diamante? Seriously, I did not know a hairdo like that was even physically possible.
* I'm a fan of the work of MMA fighter Nick Diaz, and I respect his desire to get the kind of payday that he deserves but isn't getting under the current structure of his sport. I'd even enjoy seeing him take on a boxer to see how he'd do. But come on man - Sergio Martinez? That's just crazy talk.
* Uh, that doesn't mean that I think Lou DiBella is crazy for trying to put that fight together, because it would make money. Also, please do yourself a favor and follow @loudibella on Twitter, because he is entertaining on a regular basis.
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