If Saturday’s welterweight bout between interim titlist Robert Guerrero and former belt holder Andre Berto served as a de facto audition for a shot at pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., consider Guerrero an intriguing candidate.
The former lightweight and featherweight titlist, who spent nearly his entire career at or below 135 pounds, transformed Saturday in just his second bout at 147 pounds from a slick southpaw boxer to a mauling and aggressive welterweight.
Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KOs) defended the title he won from Selcuk Aydin in July with a grueling -- and often dirty -- unanimous decision win (116-110 on all three scorecards) in a crowd-pleasing main event at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. ESPN.com scored the bout 114-112 for Guerrero.
The bout resembled a street fight, not merely because both exhaustedly traded heavy punches at close range despite badly swollen eyes, but because of how liberally it was officiated by veteran referee Lou Moret, playing perfectly into Guerrero's hands.
The native of Gilroy, Calif., overcame speed and power advantages from the talented Berto by consistently smothering him against the ropes -- often leading with his head -- and bullying him with body shots and short hooks.
"I told Andre that I was going to beat him down so I had to be a man of my word," Guerrero told HBO's Max Kellerman after the bout. "He defended himself like a true champ. I knew I had to turn it into [a brawl] because he has those fast hands and that hard punch."
While Guerrero proved he carried his power well after moving up two weight classes by knocking Berto down twice in the opening rounds, it wasn't without a bending or two of the rules. Guerrero held the back of Berto's head with his right hand and clubbed him with a series of lefts -- including some to the back of the head -- in the sequence that led to the first knockdown.
Berto (28-2, 22 KOs) did his fair share of holding, as well, which led to the majority of the bout being contested in a phone booth, with Guerrero bulldozing forward and Berto backed up to the ropes. But it appeared Berto was the only fighter receiving consistent warning from Moret, partially due to some veteran tactics taken from the Bernard Hopkins playbook by Guerrero.
"It's just ridiculous, man. I was real timid to do a lot of things like throw punches on the inside because the referee kept warning me for doing things that I didn't have any control over," Berto said. "I just didn't understand it. He was coming in grabbing and holding me, and every time I got off, the referee kept warning me."
Berto, whose right eye was nearly swollen shut after a rough first round that foiled his plans to box, rallied back in the middle rounds to land the heavier shots, including a right uppercut that staggered Guerrero in the sixth. But Guerrero, who returned the favor by nearly stopping Berto to close the seventh, was simply too busy to be denied.
Guerrero, who outlanded Berto 258 to 182 according to CompuBox, won the bout by controlling the pace and consistently answering Berto's power shots with instant combinations of his own.
For Berto, it was not only his second career defeat, but it might prove to mark the second time he came up just short in an all-action fight with a shot at Mayweather on the line. Berto held a piece of the welterweight title for three-plus years before losing a close decision to Victor Ortiz in a 2011 fight of the year candidate (with Mayweather in attendance). A June rematch with Ortiz was scrapped when Berto tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
That leaves Guerrero as a possible candidate for Mayweather, who turns 36 in February and is coming off a three-month stint in jail. And if Saturday’s victory was truly an audition for the 29-year-old, he might have upped the ante with his performance.
Known as "The Ghost" for his ability to box, moving in and out with precision, Guerrero switched gears in Saturday's nasty brawl with an even more aggressive game plan than the one effectively carried out by Miguel Cotto, who frustrated and roughed up the undefeated Mayweather in a May defeat.
"I want to fight the best; I'm looking for Floyd Mayweather next," Guerrero said. "'Pretty Boy,' let's do it, you know? I'm here. This is my second fight at 147 pounds and a unanimous decision against a great champion who is no joke. I came and showed up and did my thing."
Saturday wasn't the first time Guerrero went public regarding his desire for a financially friendly -- and potential career-making -- spot as the co-star in a Mayweather fight. But it almost certainly marked the first time the rest of the boxing world was listening.