“A real champion doesn’t hold his title hostage." - Dejan Zaveck
This Saturday in Biloxi, Miss., Andre "The Beast" Berto (27-1, 21KO) is looking to bounce back against his devastating loss to Ortiz and regain a world title by taking on IBF champion Dejan Zaveck (31-1, 18KO).
People are already writing Berto off in this fight as taking on another "bum" and even though he's bound to win convincingly against his Slovenian opponent, he's still not good enough for his ranking in the welterweight division.
People are also writing Zaveck off as an unworthy opponent who only defends his title against less-than-qualified opponents in his home country of Slovenia. If you look at his record, you'd think that was true. He fought and defeated Paul Delgado, who looked like he shouldn't be anywhere near a championship bout. Zaveck also defeated Rafal Jackiewicz, the only man to have blemished Zaveck's record.
Personally though, Zaveck is doing more than the other European welterweight champion is doing (WBA's Vyacheslav Senchenko) by taking on Berto in the United States when he didn't have to. Randall Bailey was the mandatory challenger, but he allowed this fight to happen so he could be the mandatory challenger to the winner.
This will be Zaveck's debut in the United States and he looks to make a very good impression on the American crowd, just as he did with his European fans.
Now, let's look at what each fighter has to gain and to lose.
Personally, I think Andre Berto has a lot to gain from this fight. This isn't just another fight to build back his confidence and standing, this is a world title bout. Berto wants to be a world champion again and try and get back into the Pacquiao/Mayweather sweepstakes. With a win here, he has leverage again to try and get into a big fight—a championship bout.
If Berto were to win, a possible Pacquiao/Mayweather fight could be in store for his future along with a rematch with Victor Ortiz. Also, since Amir Khan plans to head to the welterweight division next year, if Kell Brook hasn't already won the WBA belt from Senchenko, then Berto would be an option for a championship.
All of those are big-money fights, and all of them await Berto if he wins.
Just as Berto has a lot to gain from winning, he has that much more to lose from defeat. Now, if he was to lose his fight against a 35-year-old champion from Slovenia who not a lot of American fans have heard of, his chances of landing a big bout would be finished. His small fan base (which is small enough already) will become even smaller along with his "crowd-drawing" ability.
Now, I know he's only 27 years old and would still have time, but he'd have to work extremely hard to get back into talks for those big fights.
Zaveck sees this fight as his golden opportunity to become huge in the boxing world. I believe that he's certainly right for thinking so. Look what happened when Ortiz beat Berto: He got a shot against Mayweather right afterwards.
Now, that's a completely different case, but Zaveck would have the same opportunity to face higher quality opposition for more money in the future if he beats Berto. He'll have a name to add to his list of defeated opponents that tops his hardest opponent so far, Jackiewicz.
Also, Zaveck is just like any other person in welterweight—he wants a shot against the two most profitable PPV stars today. You never know, a couple of fights after Berto to raise his stock and it may be a possibility if either men decide to go belt-hunting. Zaveck isn't getting any younger and a fight with either men would have him set for life.
Like I said earlier, Zaveck isn't getting any younger. He's 35 years old, almost 10 years senior to his opponent Berto. Berto is going to not only be one of the best opponents he's ever fought, but also one of the most powerful.
At Zaveck's age, he might retain more damage after the fight than he would have in his younger years. Also, if he loses the fight and his belt, I think retirement is in the future for the Slovenian. He could continue fighting lesser opponents in Europe to make money, but his dreams of landing a big-money bout in America would be pretty much over.
I'm not going to sell Zaveck short. I think that he's going to give Berto a fight and have people know who he is when it's all said or done—whether he wins or loses. Zaveck has been training since March and coming in as the virtual unknown will have people in for a surprise when the bell rings.
Zaveck is no stranger to being the underdog. When he had to travel to South Africa to face the favored Isaac Hlatshwayo, Zaveck knocked him down three times on his way to a third-round TKO.
Berto, on the other hand, has been working just as hard. He still has the bitter taste of defeat in his mouth from Ortiz and will stop at nothing to win a world title again. He teamed up with controversial ex-BALCO figure, Victor Conte, to work on his conditioning and training. Berto is making sure he is prepared in the best possible way and not undermining the champion one bit.
Whatever happens on Saturday night, both men will look to prove to everyone watching that they both deserve their Top Five ring rankings and that they deserve to be the IBF champion.
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