Last night at the Citizen's Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif., Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero retained his WBC interim welterweight title by winning a bruising unanimous decision over Andre Berto, 116-110 on all three cards. Guerrero knocked Berto down in both of the first two rounds and outworked him most the rest of the way.
It was a fight that could have taken place in the proverbial phone booth, a brutal war waged at close range with both fighters employing rough, borderline legal tactics. Referee Lou Moret was largely content to stand back and watch the two go at it.
As HBO broadcaster Max Kellerman noted at one point, both men were looking to hurt each other. and neither was afraid to get hurt.
It was a fight that will be on everybody's short list for 2012 Fight of the Year.
Going into last night there were legitimate questions about whether or not Guerrero truly had the physical ability to stand up to an explosive, world-class puncher at welterweight. Nobody can question him now. The former world champion at 126, 130 and 135 pounds demonstrated that he belongs among the elite of the elite at 147.
Guerrero should walk away from Saturday night's victory finally getting the sort of recognition that he has deserved but largely gone without over the past few years.
Honestly, I don't know how competitive this fight would actually be. The elusive Malignaggi has never shown anything like the kind of physical power that Guerrero displayed Saturday night against Berto.
Malignaggi is also coming off of a split-decision win over Pablo Cano last month that even some members of his hometown Brooklyn audience booed. I actually thought he deserved the win, CompuBox numbers be damned.
But it's not as if he looked like an elite welterweight either.
Nevertheless, he holds the WBA 147-pound belt and is an extremely experienced veteran who has consistently come back when much of the boxing world was writing him off. He would present Guerrero with a completely different challenge than Berto.
The Magic Man would look to stick and move on the outside, employing his quick feet to stay out of the way of the southpaw Guerrero's straight left. Personally, I don't think he could do it.
Guerrero has tremendous footwork, and despite the heroic trench warfare effort he put on against Berto, he is every bit as dangerous fighting at long range. This would be especially true against a relatively light hitter like Malignaggi.
Still, Paulie Mags is one of the big names in the division, a charismatic showman. At 29, Guerrero should have plenty of fights left in him, and a clash with Malignaggi would be worthwhile for him in terms of payday and collecting belts.
Since capturing the WBO welterweight title from Manny Pacquiao last June in a fight that almost nobody thought he deserved to win, the undefeated "Desert Storm" has struggled to secure another big-name opponent. Pacman himself has rejected a rematch with Bradley in favor of a fourth clash with longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez.
Now that Guerrero has emphatically put himself into the mix at welterweight, Bradley's own options are improved.
To me this is an intriguing matchup. I would not expect to see Guerrero fight at the same range he did against Berto. In his post-fight interview with Max Kellerman, Guerrero acknowledged that he had made a tactical decision to crowd Berto and take away his explosive hand speed.
Bradley doesn't have Berto's explosive middle-distance punching. The compact and extremely strong WBO champion is most dangerous on the inside where he can muscle his opponents into position and deliver short, jolting uppercuts and hooks.
Guerrero has the skill set to fight successfully at any distance. If he ended up in a chest-to-chest slugfest with Bradley, he would be in danger of getting bullied around and beaten up.
But the southpaw Guerrero has the kind of footwork that could potentially confound the awkward Bradley, allowing him to turn Bradley and score with his tricky straight left from the outside.
I see this as a competitive 12-round battle. It might not have exactly the same kind of excitement as Guerrero-Berto had, but for fans of tactical boxing, it could be very enthralling.
Now that the Ghost has bested one of the two participants of 2011's Fight of the Year, why not match him up with the winner of that bout, Victor Ortiz?
Ortiz has been stopped in two straight fights, so he is definitely in a career slump. He was knocked out by Floyd Mayweather in September 2011 when he failed to protect himself in that infamously bizarre exchange when he tried to hug Mayweather only moments after deliberately fouling him with a flying headbutt. Last June he had his jaw broken by Josesito Lopez and was forced to quit after the ninth round in a fight that he was winning on the cards.
Ortiz remains one of the biggest names in the welterweight division, a physically gifted and powerful specimen with a very strong technical background. Still, I'm inclined to believe that Guerrero would beat him. I think he has the skill set to negate Ortiz's physical advantages.
But Guerrero's true advantage would be between the ears. Frankly, I just don't think Ortiz is mentally tough enough to hang with the Ghost, who is as gritty and determined as they come.
To me, the real story on Ortiz isn't that he has lost two straight, it is that in both fights he displayed clear signs of frustration when things got tough. His headbutt against Mayweather came at a point when he had Mayweather trapped on the ropes and was still finding it impossible to land on the pound-for-pound king.
Against Lopez, he delivered a flagrant rabbit punch that should have cost him a point. It came at a moment in the fight when the hard-nosed Lopez was starting to establish himself as a game opponent who wasn't about to go away. Though badly hurt, Lopez shook it off and took control of the fight going forward.
Against Berto, Guerrero displayed an absolute mastery of what are euphemistically called "veteran" tactics, the sort of borderline roughhousing that Ortiz has clearly been frustrated by in the past.
Guerrero's unanimous-decision victory over Andre Berto was exactly the sort of epic war that always justifies a rematch. Guerrero's two early knockdowns meant that the cards were pretty far apart, but from the third round on, the two battled on pretty even terms. Brutally even.
As mentioned in the introductory slide, referee Lou Moret was not exactly active last night. Guerrero's first-round knockdown was set up by a beautifully timed straight left. But the Ghost finished the exchange with some very flagrant holding and hitting.
Perhaps even worse, when it was clear that the fight was developing beyond his control, Moret asserted himself in a somewhat puzzling, arbitrary manner. His warning for rabbit punching on Berto was puzzling given the manner in which the fight was being contested; Guerrero should have been viewed as responsible for exposing the back of his head by ducking away in close.
Moret's warnings for holding on both men were random.
Berto made reference to the poor refereeing in his post-fight interview with Kellerman. Guerrero was quick to break in and object. The conversation between the two did not exactly get heated, and Berto ended his comments by saying, "At the end of the day, Robert fought a great fight and he won."
But Berto made it clear that he would relish another chance at Guerrero. Guerrero is not the type to duck anybody and after Saturday night's thrilling battle, the fans would welcome a sequel.
If Guerrero can't get any fights that will do more for his career, expect to see Guerrero-Berto II in 2013.
When Robert Guerrero jumped two weight classes to capture the vacant WBC interim welterweight title against Selcuk Aydin last summer, it made him the mandatory No. 1 for Floyd Mayweather's regular WBC belt.
Guerrero has been calling out Mayweather ever since, and he doubled down after beating Berto. A pay-per-view date with Floyd Mayweather is the sort of payday that can set up a fighter and his family for life. Obviously Guerrero hungers for this kind of opportunity.
On a media call I participated in last week, Guerrero was asked about his more unspoken nature over the past year or so. The formerly more soft-spoken Guerrero acknowledged that speaking up has been a deliberate choice in order to advance his career.
"That's not me," he said. "But sometimes in boxing you can get overlooked if you don't speak up."
Guerrero is clearly determined not to let that happen to him. After years of dedication in the gym and a well-documented family struggle with his wife's cancer outside the ring, Guerrero has become the sort of determined fighter who is not content to sit back and wait.
When Guerrero first started calling out Mayweather, I think most people simply viewed him as one more voice in the wilderness crying out. Everybody wants to fight Money Mayweather. It's the best way possible to make a whole lot of money.
But after the way he handled Berto, Guerrero should move way up the list of qualified candidates.
I'm firmly in the camp that believes Mayweather-Pacquiao is just never going to happen. If I were handicapping favorites for the next Mayweather opponent, at this point I'd go with Saul Alvarez. In terms of pure PPV revenue and gate, that would be one of the biggest boxing events of recent years.
The fight I'd really like to see Mayweather take is with Sergio Martinez at 154, if Martinez can still make the weight.
Depending upon how he looks against Austin Trout, I think a return bout with Miguel Cotto is also not entirely out of the question for Mayweather.
But Guerrero has to be viewed as a possibility now too. He has the sort of backstory that would make for one of the most compelling 24/7 series ever. He would be a heavy underdog, but he is so well rounded and gritty that I would love to see how he would do.
I would look forward to it more than I have any Mayweather fight in recent years.