Berto Barely Beats Collazo

BERTO BESTS COLLAZO…BARELY

Undefeated WBC Welterweight Champion Andre Berto made the second defense of his title against his toughest opponent yet – slick southpaw and former WBA Champion Luis Collazo – and barely escaped with a victory after the judges awarded him a controversial but unanimous decision.

Berto used his speed to control the opening minute of the first round, scoring with straight right hands to the body and head of Collazo. But the challenger answered with a hard one-two that snapped Berto’s head back and sent him stumbling into the ropes. Collazo tried to follow up with a body attack, but Berto clinched to avoid further damage. When Referee Keith Hughes urged Berto so stop holding and box, Berto answered the call by countering a left hand with a solid right to the head of Collazo. Berto then opened up with power shots from both hands against the ropes, trying to erase the picture Collazo had painted earlier. Then, it was Collazo’s turn to come back with left hands to the body and head, retaking control of an entertaining first round.

Berto started the second round in control once again until Collazo landed a three-punch combination and a straight left to the body. A straight left to the head followed, again stinging Berto momentarily. Berto responded by unleashing a rally of his own, catching Collazo with a hard left-right combination to the head. Berto banged in another left hook and an uppercut before appearing to buckle the legs of Collazo with a straight right, taking the second round and evening up the fight.

Collazo came out and ripped Berto to the body to start round three and finished with a three-punch combination to the head. When Berto grabbed him around the waist, Collazo resorted to the dirty tactic of clapping his gloves over the sides of Berto’s head. Berto complained to no avail and took a right hook from Collazo. Hughes instead told Berto he would get no more warnings for holding, but Berto ignored him and threw a shot at Collazo. Suddenly, both men elected to stand and trade at close range, with Collazo getting the best of it, cracking Berto with hard left hands and right hooks upstairs. Collazo scored with an uppercut and a right hook over the head that sent Berto stumbling away on shaky legs. Berto desperately clinched but got nailed by a body shot and a left hand to the mouth. Collazo then landed a straight left but ate a hard counter right across the mouth that turned his head. He impressively took the blow and even opened his mouth to say something to Berto. Berto added an uppercut, but both men proved able to take the other’s punch. When the wild third round ended, the fans had already gotten more action than anyone could have expected given the styles match-up.

Berto immediately held to begin the fourth round and caught a punch to the face from Collazo when he tried to insist to Hughes that the challenger was the responsible party. Once again, the boxers went toe-to-toe, with neither man able to land many flush shots. Collazo eventually landed a big uppercut, but Berto showed no effects and continued to clinch while taking punches until Hughes finally took a justified point from Berto for excessive holding. Collazo landed two hard right hooks as Berto tried to engage him when the action resumed. Two left hands to the head and an uppercut followed as Collazo was beginning to make Berto look bad.

Everything changed in round five when, seconds in, Berto landed a crisp counter straight right hand across Collazo’s face that instantly dislodged his mouthpiece. Berto stepped back and allowed Hughes to fetch the piece and restore it to the challenger before landing a one-two to Collazo’s mouth. The champion then started letting his hands go more, landing little of significance but keeping Collazo from getting much done. He tagged Collazo with an overhand right and a sharp, head-snapping jab. Berto claimed to have taken a headbutt right at the bell, gesturing to his head and telling Hughes about it. Sure enough, he sported a cut over his right eye in the corner after winning an important, confidence boosting round.

Berto started cracking Collazo with blazing combinations in the sixth round as Collazo seemed to be going into more of a shell. He landed a good uppercut when Collazo overextended himself on a jab. The champion must have tired after taking it to Collazo most of the round because he tried to lean on the challenger against the ropes and caught some sharp left hands to the head for his troubles. Berto responded by saying something to Collazo, dodging a left and banging in a counter right to the head of the challenger. They started trading at close quarters again where Collazo excelled and landed the better punches, including a vicious rally of body punches, followed by a jarring right-left combination to the head of the champion. Collazo’s success in the trenches appeared to edge him the closest round of the fight.

Berto scored a three-punch combination on Collazo early in the seventh round, followed by another one shortly thereafter, his speed slowly but surely proving too much for Collazo when in the center of the ring. Both began looking extremely winded around the midway point, Collazo going so far as to drop his gloves after taking some hard body shots. Berto wisely measured the defenseless Collazo with his jab before landing a straight right to the head. Berto’s response was to grin at Collazo for his antics, but the challenger kept his gloves down the rest of the round, sizing Berto up and pot shotting, which seemed to befuddle the champion, who shut down his offense momentarily. When he did throw, Berto caught Collazo with a sharp uppercut and a one-two. Portions of the crowd chanted, “Luis,” trying to urge the challenger to action, but he more or less took the round off with his posing. The “Berto” chants picked up in force between rounds, his fans realizing he needed a strong finish to keep his title and undefeated record.

Round eight was all Berto, who was again first to throw, opening up with both hands. Collazo gestured to his hip, suggesting a kidney shot and looking more and more like he didn’t want to fight with each passing round. Collazo again dropped his hands, seemingly giving the round away again. Near the end of the round, Berto landed a big right to the jaw and beat Collazo into a corner of the ring, the most dominant round of the fight by far. To worsen matters for the fading challenger, Collazo also sported a cut after the round; his, over his left eye. The cut must have motivated the challenger, who attacked Berto with a two-fisted volley in round nine and briefly pummeled him into the ropes. Even in the center of the ring where Berto had previously dominated, Collazo kept firing punches and winning the brawl. The final twenty seconds of the round were particularly brutal as each man snapped his opponent’s head with hard hooks, but it was Collazo who showed his grit by winning a hard fought round.

With his fans voicing their support, Collazo again tore into Berto in round ten, hell bent on edging another round or two and taking the champion’s title. He relentlessly battered Berto with combinations to the head and body, leaving Berto with no choice but to resort to holding again. They continued slugging until Collazo punched himself out and grabbed onto Berto. Berto, not used to being on the receiving end of a clinch, tried to thrust Collazo off; instead, he toppled backward onto the canvas, with Collazo standing tall over him, looking ready to collapse himself. Berto landed a solid uppercut before the bell, though he lost the round and appeared too far behind to win without scoring a knockdown or two.

Collazo came right after Berto to begin the eleventh round, and Berto quickly resorted to clinching. The crowd was heavily into the action by that point, alternating on cue between chants of “Luis” and “Berto.” The champion scored with an uppercut and a left hook to the head of Collazo, who began to slow as the round progressed, allowing Berto to step up his power shot count. The challenger caught a hard straight right on the jaw and dropped his hands against the ropes, allowing Berto to beat on him until the bell to take a round he badly needed.

Both men headed into the twelfth round, bleeding around their eyelids and wearing the marks of a terrific fight. Berto saved his best combination for the last round, slamming Collazo’s head about with a hard right-left. From there, Berto began firing wildly at Collazo, landing enough to keep the challenger from fighting back. They took the war to the center of the ring, and Berto was clearly winning that battle with the harder shots, though both men were tiring quickly. Berto went to the body next, landing some crushing blows that slowed Collazo, backed him off and had him holding on. Collazo even slumped to his hands and knees as Berto pulled away, but Hughes ruled it the result of a slip in a tough call. Back on his feet, Collazo was in survival mode, taking punches and trying to clinch his way to the finish line. He made it and appeared to have done enough early to win a close decision, if only by a point.

Both men were hoisted up by their corners and saluted the crowd with their gloves after a terrific fight to start 2009, but the point deduction would force the judges to decide on a winner one or the other.

But every great fight begets a bad decision somewhere, and this tandem just happened to occur in the same fight. Berto retained his WBC title and undefeated record with a unanimous decision, the scorecards coming as an inexplicable 116-111 and two justifiable cards of 114-113. Bill Clancy was responsible for the atrocious 116-111 card than cannot under any circumstances be justified, considering Berto could have won no more than seven rounds on even the most generous of scorecards.

After the fight, Berto agreed to give Collazo a rematch, which is exactly what needs to happen following such a close and somewhat controversial decision. It could benefit Berto in the long run if he is able to utilize his jab more and fight a more controlled fight. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was criticized for barely edging Jose Luis Castillo back in 2002 and immediately granted Castillo a rematch, where he won in an almost dominant fashion. Berto is often compared to Mayweather and owes a rematch to Collazo within the year. It would be a way to get in another defense while waiting for the other welterweights to battle it out, give him more experience and strengthen his fan base by giving fans what they want and need to see happen.

Collazo has now been on the big stage of boxing three times and has come away with three losses, but none of them anything to be ashamed of. In each of them, he has taken on world class opposition and come up just short on two of them. The fact that a faded Mosley so easily handled Collazo two years ago suggests Berto is not quite ready for the real big dogs at welterweight. Then again, there were injury reports regarding Collazo’s hand on that night, which could mean Berto is already in the same company as Collazo’s other conquerors.

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