By Thomas Gerbasi
Andre Berto has lost before. He hates it, but he also knows that it’s part of the sport he’s chosen. But this loss was this different, because it had nothing to do with the man across the ring from him. This time, it was his body that rebelled against him, that let him know that there would be no more boxing.
“I had those times when I thought that my shoulder was never gonna be right like it needed to be,” Berto said this week in Cincinnati. He’s in town to fight for the first time since July of 2013, a 10-round bout against Steve Upsher Chambers that opens up the Showtime tripleheader featuring Adrien Broner vs. Emanuel Taylor.
At this point, just days away from his 31st birthday, Berto doesn’t care who he’s fighting, where he’s fighting, or on what network. Fighting is enough for now after a year recovering from surgery on his right shoulder.
“It was tough enough just getting through a fight with the torn shoulder, but going through the surgery and the rehab process for several months, it was torture,” he said. “It was something that I never went through before, so it was definitely a tough situation. But it came back, I’m blessed, and I’m excited to get in there and perform.”
Against Jesus Soto Karass a little over a year ago, Berto tore a tendon in his shoulder, but he kept fighting, eventually getting stopped in the 12th round. It was a typical gutsy performance from the 2004 Haitian Olympian…times ten.
“I grew up tough,” said Berto with a chuckle. “We grew up where quitting wasn’t an option. That’s what my dad always instilled in us and that’s how he raised us. Even in the (Robert) Guerrero fight, people asked me the same thing. ‘You got thumbed in your eye and both your eyes are shut from the second, third round, and you kept going. Why?’ I come from humble beginnings and the only thing we know is to fight.”
He’s not exaggerating either. His father Dieuseul competed in UFC 10, his brother James Edson and sister Revelina are mixed martial artists as well, but Andre took his fists to the boxing ring, and after the Olympics, he raced out to a 20-0 record before winning the WBC welterweight title in fight 21 by stopping Miguel Angel Rodriguez in June of 2008.
Berto defended the belt five times before losing it to Victor Ortiz in 2011, but by that time, he was receiving more than his fair share of abuse for the way he was being moved by uber-adviser Al Haymon, a relationship that got him televised on premium cable on a regular basis. What folks forgot during this time though, was that every time Berto got in the ring, regardless of opponent, he put on a fight.
And it wasn’t until the Ortiz fight, then the Guerrero fight, and finally the Soto Karass fight that people were starting to appreciate what the Florida slugger was bringing to the ring night in and night out. He was there to entertain, and he did just that. Unfortunately for Berto, it took losses in those three fights to get that stubborn segment of the fanbase on his side, leading many to wonder whether his return now is an ill-fated one.
“Of course I’ve been unfortunate with my last two fights with the injuries to my shoulder and my eyes, but people know what I can do, they know what I’m capable of, and they’ve been watching me for years,” Berto said. “Some people get frustrated because they want to see the Andre Berto that they’ve always seen. I’m looking forward to giving them a glimpse of what they’re used to seeing.”
This time though, he hopes that it’s a glimpse with a twist, as he finally has a full training camp under his belt with coach Virgil Hunter. Hunter is known for his work with Andre Ward and Amir Khan, but getting Berto back to a championship could be his greatest project, and it’s one the former welterweight titleholder is eager to be a part of, so much so that when he was getting his shoulder back in working order, the first trip was out to the Bay Area and Hunter’s Oakland gym.
“The first one (training camp) we only had six weeks together, so we couldn’t really do too much, but this one here, after the first five, six months of rehab, the doctor gave me the clearance to just walk into the gym and I could go but not work out,” he said. “I found a therapist in the Oakland area, and I wanted to just be around it. I wasn’t even punching anything. I just sat there and soaked it all in.”
That down time led to several talks with Hunter about his career and the next steps in it. I asked Berto if Hunter had a talk with him about having less wars in the future, and he laughed.
“Of course,” Berto said. “He definitely tried to settle me down. We’ve worked on the fundamentals and defense, and more offense, but in a good way. He knows the process and he knows how I am and how my spirit is. I have a fighting spirit, but he’s a tremendous coach and he’s getting me out of a lot of that stuff and keeping me focused on the fundamentals.”
The test of his shoulder in a live environment takes place this Saturday against Steve Upsher Chambers, but it won’t be the test of whether he can make it to the top again. That will come down the line, when he’s in there with fighters like the ones that have beaten him before. In the meantime, Berto doesn’t think about what could have been, but what still may be.
“As a young kid, I always had the vision to be great,” he said. “When it comes to anything, the road isn’t going to be easy, but I think that’s the one thing people fail to realize. They feel that if they’re good enough for something, they should go ahead and get it and it just falls in place. But that’s not always the case. So you’re gonna have to work hard, and you’re gonna have to go through some obstacles for sure, but the ones that go through these obstacles and continue to push forward, those are the ones that actually make it. And that’s the type of guy I am, and that’s the type of spirit I’m blessed to have.”