Two of the world's top welterweights are in action this evening at Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, MS as IBF titlist Jan Zaveck puts his strap on the line against ex-WBC kingpin Andre Berto.
35 year old Zaveck of Slovenia won the vacant belt in December, 2009 with a surprising third round stoppage of Isaac Hlatshwayo following a six year career fighting mostly in Germany, highlighted by narrow split decision loss to Rafal Jackiewicz for the European crown in 2008.
Zaveck, 31-1 (18), got his revenge against Jackiewicz two years later, posting a well earned majority decision to retain the IBF title and followed that up with a fifth round KO of American veteran Paul Delgado this past February.
Tonight's bout against Berto, 27-1 (21), is Zaveck's fourth defense of the IBF and is likely to be his most difficult professional fight to date
27 year old Floridian Berto enjoyed a rather meteoric rise in the paid ranks after turning pro in late 2004, winning the NABF belt in 2007, defending once before caging the vacant WBC trophy by halting Miguel Angel Rodriguez a year later.
Over the next two years, Berto racked up five successful defenses by defeating Steve Forbes, Luis Collazo Juan Urango, Carlos Quintana and Freddy Hernandez.
But the run of success hit the wall this past April as Berto was outslugged in a punishing war against Victor Ortiz, who took Berto's WBC title by unanimous decision after both fighters were downed twice.
This will be Berto's first appearance in the ring since that time, which is either an indicator that Team Berto considers Zaveck a tune-up fight or that they want to maximize their charge's revenue potential should the post-Ortiz fight Berto prove to be damaged goods.
The outcome of tonight's contest will likely hinge on Berto's condition; if he's fine and showing no lingering effects, Zaveck will have a very difficult time holding onto his title.
If Berto isn't the same fighter as before the Ortiz loss, then Zaveck has a chance to walk out of the arena with a career best victory.
Zaveck is a strong, methodical boxer who likes to close in on opponents behind the jab and fire off right hands with the occasional left hook.
Berto prefers to keep distance where he can use the jab as a rangefinder for quick and powerful right hands, a punch Zaveck has proven to be susceptible to' The fighter who wins the battle over the distance this bout is waged from will also likely win the fight.
If Zaveck can erase the distance between himself and Berto and force the former WBC champ to either fight on the inside or off the back foot, he could win the fight, although he would have to prove he can handle Berto's power when the shots land.
But if Berto can stand outside and wing right hands without being put under pressure or if the referee allows Berto the favored tactic of throwing a right hand and then holding, we could see a new IBF champ.
Also on tap in Biloxi is an IBO super middle title contest between reigning champ Thomas Oosthuizen, 15-0-1 (11), and challenger Aaron Pryor, Jr, 16-3 (11), in a battle of towering 168 pounders.
Southpaw Oosthuizen will be making his first appearance outside his native South Africa while Pryor is coming off an upset of former world title challenger Librado Andrade.
Ex-WBO light welter titlist Randall Bailey, 41-7 (36), goes against Yori Estrella, 10-5-2 (7), over ten rounds at welterweight while highly touted featherweight prospect Gary Russell, Jr, 17-0 (1), goes against Leonilo Miranda, 32-3 (30).