There are few happy endings in boxing.
Miguel Berchelt, who rose from obscurity to have a magnificent career, is about to find that out.
There’s no reason for the former WBO and WBC super featherweight champion to fight once again. He was repeatedly beaten to the punch Saturday at Resorts World in Las Vegas by Jeremiah Nakathila. He was knocked down once by a jab and he made Nakathila, a good but hardly sensational fighter, look like the reincarnation of Alexis Arguello.
Referee Russell Mora, on the advice of the ringside physician, halted the bout after six rounds. Mora has been around for years. He knew. You don’t have to have watched boxing closely for decades to see that Berchelt’s ability to take a punch has been severely compromised. His legs are no longer sturdy underneath him.
He’s got a big name, and he’s going to become target practice for ambitious and rising young stars who would love nothing better than to have the man who held a version of the 130-pound title for more than four years on their résumé.
The arc of most boxers is similar, though Berchelt is one of the lucky ones in that he made it to the top and made a good amount of money. He’s not going to leave boxing, whenever he makes that choice, a millionaire hundreds of times over like Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson and a few others did.
But this engaging young man from a poor and humble family in Mexico did more than all right for himself and is going to be able to live comfortably.
Very few boxers turn professional with much fanfare or notoriety. They have to fight, sweat and bleed just to get noticed. They’re often used as cannon fodder in practice by older, more experienced fighters preparing for big fights, the extra money they receive as a sparring partner so important to their ability to eat and pay the rent.
Most never get past the four-round stage. For those who do, there begins the climb. You hope to gain the attention of a powerful manager and a prominent promoter. You need both of those to be matched properly, to get the right fights, to make sure you’re getting what you deserve financially and to help you get attention from the public and the media.
A small percentage of those graduate to contender status. Most, though not all, have the manager and have the promoter, but they need to attract the interest of television networks or streaming services. They fight increasingly difficult bouts, being matched many times with opponents more experienced and, at that stage, more talented.
If they survive there, they head to the championship stage. If they are talented enough and, yes, lucky enough to win a world title, they can expect to make some decent money. But they’re now fighting the best fighters in the world and they do it with a target on their backs. They become the Super Bowl for every other fighter in the division.
So the fights become harder, both because the quality of opponent rises and because said opponents will battle more fiercely because of what’s at stake.
Less than one-tenth of one percent of fighters are gifted like Mayweather or Andre Ward, fighters who took relatively small amounts of punishment compared to their peers because of their smarts and their physical skills. They also entered the sport from a big platform and are among the few who got the right opponents at the right time.
Most of them through the contender stage and the championship stage are fighting killers, pit bulls who are trying to fulfill a dream — theirs or someone else’s — of having a belt wrapped around their waist and their arm raised high to the sky.
Berchelt has lost his last two fights. He was 38-1 with 32 knockouts, but got viciously and violently knocked out by Oscar Valdez on Feb. 20, 2021, then again on Saturday by Nakathila. He left the arena for the second time in a row on a stretcher, slipped into an ambulance and made the trip to a local hospital for a safety examination.
Yet, from the sound of it, he’s not giving up.
“I’m going to get up. I’m going to rise from this,” Berchelt said afterward. “The great champions are not the ones who fall. The great champions are those who rise, and I will go home, spend time with my family, visit with them, get some rest, and I am going to come back stronger than ever.”
It’s a nice sentiment, but the odds against that becoming the truth, like so many who came before, are overwhelmingly against him.
His reflexes have been slowed by all of the battles he’s been in. His chin is no longer the same. It was unforgettable how, in 17 rounds over two knockout wins against Francisco Vargas, he ate big shots and kept menacing forward, throwing his own scary punches.
Those shots he took and shook off at the time add up and at some point, the body says, “No more.” Most ignore it and go on and into the final stage, when they lose fight after fight and get knocked out repeatedly.
Their names on a billboard or on a poster still have some value. They get fights if they want them against young up-and-comers who need a recognizable name on the résumé. People remember them, see the record and think maybe they can once again produce some magic.
More often than not, it doesn’t happen. In the final arc of the fighter’s career, the cheers are for someone else. The punches hurt more. The concussions are real. The reflexes are gone. The paychecks decrease. The risk of significant brain damage increases.
That’s where Miguel Berchelt sits right now. He can walk away and save himself and his family a lot of pain and heartache. He’s been a great champion who has had some mesmerizing moments.
He has nothing left to prove.