By Jake Donovan
If the rumors were true, then Andre Berto would’ve clutched onto his alphabet welterweight title, settling for a badly faded name opponent for his next title defense while watching the parade go by.
Despite serving in the most lucrative weight class in the sport today, it seems that the big fight have managed to elude Berto thus far. Skeptics hardly view this as an accident, insisting that he prefers the path of least resistance and will be exposed the moment he steps to any of those bigger names.
Had that been true, than Berto would still be an alphabet titlist, looking at a mandatory defense against declining former titlist Randall Bailey during the first quarter of 2012.
Instead, the Floridian has pursued a fight that he believes is necessary if he is to be taken seriously as a major player in the welterweight division.
An announcement came late last week that Berto opted to vacate his alphabet title, in the wake of HBO’s declaration that the fight they’d much rather prefer airing is a rematch with Victor Ortiz. The two threw down earlier this year in what was hailed at the time as a serious contender for Fight of the Year, scoring two knockdowns apiece including both hitting the deck in a sixth round that will surely be remembered come year-end awards season.
“I’m excited about it,” Berto (28-1, 22KO) gleefully confesses of the chance to avenge the lone loss of his career. “I appreciated my IBF title and holding for as long as I did, but it looks like a big situation going on in 2012. I have to go after it.”
At first glance, the perception is that Berto is simply following company orders, that it’s easy to make a move when a bigger fight is in your back pocket.
Here’s the rub: such a fight has yet to be finalized, and with some key elements still being worked out. Chief among them – the proposal of mandatory random drug testing in the weeks leading up to the bout while both are in training camp (or at least supposed to be training).
“I’m not sure if it will be included. We’re still negotiating that,” Berto states. “It’s to a point, I personally know from people in the boxing circles that guys are using. I just feel that when I step into the ring, I want it to be clear cut. A lot of people don’t have the natural ability to do their job, so they need that edge. I just want an even battlefield.”
The topic of random drug testing was just one of the many issues that caused delays in the dream matchup between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao from becoming a reality. Pacquiao’s side has since changed its stance, insisting that they’re open to such drug testing, but the fight still hasn’t since evolved any further than the negotiating table as the boxing public grows sick of hearing excuses.
Certainly Berto wouldn’t want his own rematch with Ortiz to suffer a similar fate, but at the same time there’s nothing wrong with removing all doubt especially at a time when performance enhancing drug use/abuse has run rampant in the sports world.
His own recent association with BALCO founder Victor Conte rose more than a few eyebrows, but is wide open to any test made available by anyone in the sporting world to prove he’s 100% natural, much like Nonito Donaire and Andre Ward – both of whom also use Conte in their training camps.
Berto gives a considerable amount of credit to Conte for his most recent win – a fifth round stoppage of visiting Jan Zaveck this past September in Biloxi, Mississippi. The association came after Berto’s loss to Ortiz, as he was in search of ways to improve stamina, and training in general.
“Victor was the main benefit of winning,” Berto insists. “Getting so much knowledge on all of that stuf. I’m old school, just training hard every day. He educated me on what a lot of athletes are doing, and of his own new school methods that don’t require any of that nonsense.”
With the fight against Zaveck only lasting five rounds, it was hard to tell what effects the training camp with Conte along for the ride affected Berto. Perhaps further proof will be offered in the pending rematch with Ortiz, assuming the fight gets made.
For Berto’s sake, the results better match the risk taken. He’s already left without an alphabet belt, which – for a fighter who has yet to establish a ticket-buying audience anywhere – can prove to be a major bargaining chip he wound up sacrificing.
Berto doesn’t see it that way, but instead the view that several fans have taken in recent years – that the fight far exceeds the hardware at stake.
“I think the fight with Ortiz holds enough clout to where it’s a big fight,” Berto believes. “It was the Fight of the Year, so I think it will carry itself. At the same time, people understand it’s not about the title, but about two guys wanting to make exciting fights.”
One mistake Berto promised to avoid the second time around is premature speculation of what lies ahead with a win. He went into the fight with Ortiz having already been forced to leave on the table a planned January ’10 fight with Shane Mosley due to a hurricane ravaging his native Haiti.
Also on his mind was what went wrong in negotiations with Manny Pacquiao, whose promoter Bob Arum even publicly acknowledged that Berto’s price demand was a fair one, that the Haitian-American did not at all price himself out. Still, Arum instead opted to go with Mosley, leaving Berto to try to find a fight in the interim.
He accepted assignment against Ortiz, who was rising in weight from 140. Berto noted Ortiz’ performances against Lamont Peterson and Marcos Maidana, and figured it wouldn’t take much to beat the Californian, by way of Garden City, Kansas.
He figured very, very wrong.
“That was my mistake the first time, looking past Ortiz. That won’t happen ever again. If I don’t get this one, I can’t get anywhere.
“I expect the Ortiz of the first fight. He pretty much will move around and not just stand there. It is what it is. Styles make fights, he tried a different tactic (against Mayweather) but it didn’t work. It was a crazy fight, and indecisive fight with how it ended up. I want to do it clear with no mistakes.”
Even in giving up his title in order to secure this fight, Berto firmly believes he’s one fight away from simply challenging for another one anyway.
“It puts me back in the mix,” Berto says of a rematch win over Ortiz.”I took a break and came back like I never left. I can’t let it affect me. I went right back to work. This puts me right where I need to be.”
Where he believes that spot lies, is atop the welterweight rankings – and given present company, the pound-for-pound ratings as well.
Where he doesn’t believe he’s been, is anywhere but as close to the top without actually surpassing Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao – at least not until he hits the lottery to score an assignment against either of them.
“I didn’t go anywhere,” Berto insists. “It was a minor setback for a major comeback.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]