Will a Win Over Urango Bring Berto Out From the Shadows?
By Coyote Duran, DoghouseBoxing.com (May 30, 2009) Photo © HBO  
The strength of each of boxing’s weight classes tends to wax and wane over years, depending on the division. However, the welterweight division has been consistently strong and entertaining while, at the same time, less one genuine World Champion.

Since former RING magazine World Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. left the division for a brief retirement, welterweight (if it was a single, living entity) didn’t lose any sleep. It just went on living. Moving on, enhancing its own life, not once missing the one-time pound-for-pound king. In fact, even with the lack of championship clarity, the division looks even better now; despite of and because of having as many titlists at the head of the pack.

Andre Berto, the current WBC welterweight titleholder, is one of that pack. Although perhaps overshadowed by WBA titlist Shane Mosley, WBO titleholder Miguel Cotto or even recently stripped IBF titlist Joshua Clottey, Berto’s seventh round TKO win over Miguel Angel Rodriguez in June 2008 placed him in that exclusive club of sanctioning body kingpins. What he does with it will determine the strength of his title reign and how much prestige his reign will carry.

It’s somewhat reasonable that Berto, 24-0 (19), would be ranked sixth in THE RING welterweight ratings (seventh in the WBC’s welter ratings). It also can be argued that Berto be ranked higher than the likes of third-rated Antonio Margarito or fifth-rated Carlos Quintana; based on their respective shortcomings at 147 (Margarito’s January TKO loss to Mosley and Quintana’s TKO loss to Paul Williams in June of last year). Unless you’re asking a WBC official, Berto’s almost in a rankings purgatory.

What kind of sucks is should Berto successfully defend his strap this Saturday night against IBF junior welterweight titleholder Juan Urango (live from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; broadcast on HBO’s ‘Boxing After Dark’), he might still be regarded as a middle-of-the-road titlist. But Urango, 21-1-1 (16), is an ideal opponent. This isn’t saying ‘Iron Twin’ is playing the walkover role. He’s strong, powerful, with but a single loss to his record. And Urango has experience at 147, albeit in fights back in December of 2004 and August of 2005, against Ubaldo Hernandez (TKO 2) and Andre Eason (TKO 7), respectively.

But Urango’s junior welterweight tested to a fine degree; based on the state of the division over the last three years. A twice-crowned IBF titlist, Urango first defeated Naoufel Ben Rabah in June 2006 for the strap vacated by former World Junior Welterweight Champion Ricky Hatton. Urango lost the belt in his first defense when Hatton returned after beating Luis Collazo for the WBA welterweight title in May 2006.

After Hatton vacated the strap for a second time, Urango was once again in the running to fill the vacancy; beating super-tough Herman Ngoudjo by unanimous decision four months ago.

Compared to the welterweight division, junior welterweight must seem like slim pickings to Urango. Or maybe he just doesn’t feel like rattling new champion Manny Pacquiao’s cage just yet. But is Andre Berto less dangerous a proposition than ‘Pac-Man’? It’s easy to say yes, but even in comparing a young, strong welter like Berto to a seasoned division-hopper like Pacquiao, ‘yes’ is probably the right answer.

Or perhaps Urango sees inspiration in everything the pound-for-pound king has accomplished in the past six years and sees himself, at age 28, as a fighter who desperately needs to take the next step to legendary status. Jumping to welterweight and decisively defeating Berto would be a good start; especially since someone named Mayweather has decided to lace up once again.

What’s the threat to Berto? When gauging either man’s skill set, probably not as much as Urango thinks. Berto’s skills are getting better at the expense of his few flaws. But that’s what makes fighters better. No one who truly tests himself can emerge perfectly every time and Berto’s second defense against former WBA titlist Luis Collazo in January was proof of where a test can take you.

In a fight that could’ve spelled the end of Berto’s brief title reign, depending on how you viewed and scored the bout, the WBC titleholder gave as good as he got; and although judge Bill Clancy scored the bout 116-111, judges Gary Ritter and Larry Ingle both shared more realistic scorecards of 114-113. Knowing how potentially close he was to losing his strap, Berto might see Urango as the best of both worlds: A naturally lighter fighter with a good chin and a powerful left hand while not being the grade of fighter Berto is.

The most important thing about Berto-Urango lies on how Berto wins; not how Urango loses. Should Berto decision Urango (which seems the likeliest outcome), the 140-pound titlist can go back seven pounds south where he’s more effective. If Berto can focus on his excellent body attack and regain the KO mustard he failed to spread on Collazo or former IBF junior lightweight titleholder Steve Forbes (in Berto’s first title defense), then, like Hatton, after his first loss (a KO against Mayweather)…well… then Urango can go back seven pounds south where he’s more effective.

Of course, the mention of Mayweather, so numerously, may come off as an affront to the validity of Berto, Mosley and even Clottey as titlists since so many fans see Mayweather as an undefeated linear welterweight champion. At the very least, it’s disturbing the peace.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. returning to the welterweight division is very much like Steve Urkel disturbing the peace at the Winslow house. Urkel, however, didn’t hunt down the sickest and weakest member of the family when he was hungry. He’d just wait in line until Waldo Faldo finished raiding the fridge.

In Mayweather’s latter years, he’s made no bones about hunting down the sickest and weakest in a division. 2009 will be no different based on his comeback fight alone. World Lightweight Champion Juan Manuel Marquez is nowhere close to a natural welterweight but that doesn’t matter to ‘Money.’ Floyd will just pretend Marquez is one.

Because Mayweather deems either division jumpers or past-their-prime veterans as prized scalps, in his eyes, nothing short of Berto’s domination of Urango will validate a Mayweather-Berto contest. This isn’t saying Mayweather wouldn’t challenge Berto if the latter squeaked by Urango. He’d still excuse up the fight somehow. At the least, there’s a WBC belt on the line and, historically, Floyd digs the green belts.

But for now, the true focus remains on Andre Berto. Defeating Juan Urango won’t exactly push Berto higher in the welterweight ratings but it will prime him for the next logical step: Defending against consistently legitimate threats; should the WBC not step in with an absurd mandatory (although a Collazo rematch is more than acceptable) defense. Perhaps then we’ll see the true potential of an underrated, overshadowed contender. It can only enhance such a top shelf division in the near future.

After all, sometimes settling for consistently strong and entertaining can be more gratifying than having a genuine World Champion who might as well have stayed retired.

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