By Chris Robinson
A scant four and a half months ago, former welterweight champion Andre Berto participated in one of 2011’s finest fights as he traded knockdowns and went toe to toe with Victor Ortiz. The action was riveting but unfortunately for Berto, he would end up suffering the first loss of his career by way of unanimous decision after seeing Ortiz take much of the fight’s initiative.
It was a humbling defeat for the 27-year old and this weekend he will look to bounce back as he faces off with IBF champion Jan Zaveck inside of the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. For years looked at by many as a rising star in the boxing world, Berto now finds himself in a position where many questions are lingering around him while the road ahead appears to be a bit more daunting.
Berto turned professional in December of 2004 with much buzz around him and by his sixteenth fight he was already gracing HBO’s airwaves as he overwhelmed Camden, New Jersey's Miguel Figueroa inside of six rounds in Little Rock, Arkansas. Andre became a staple on the network, having fought on HBO’s airwaves eleven times in nearly five years, and color analyst Larry Merchant was there to take in his progression.
When asked to look back a few years, Merchant can’t deny that the saw something serious with the young Haitian-American.
“Early on we saw that he had world class potential,” said Merchant. “He had been a top amateur. He was obviously athletic. He was a very appealing young man. And you wanted to watch his progress and see how far and how high he could go.”
While Berto would continue winning, often in explosive fashion, there was a knock on him because he wasn’t fighting the highest level of competition. This fact was further highlighted by Berto’s June 2008 thrashing of Miguel 'Mickey' Rodriguez, a fight that netted him the WBC welterweight championship, a belt that had become vacant after Floyd Mayweather’s initial retirement from the sport following his December 2007 victory over Ricky Hatton.
It definitely wasn’t the hardest of roads to a world title and Merchant points out that at the end of the day, belts don’t define a fighter.
“They’re paper titles. They are a dime a dozen. It helps a fighter market himself, but ultimately he’s going to have to fight the best opponents out there and then he finds out whether he’s got not just title potential and credentials, but championship potential,” Merchant added.
It looked as though Berto was in line for a big fight when he was scheduled for a January 2010 bout against Shane Mosley but he withdrew from the fight because of a shattering earthquake that rocked his native Haiti and caused him much pain just weeks before the fight. He instead spent 2010 dispatching Carlos Quintana in South Florida and Freddy Hernandez in Las Vegas inside of the distance and eyed the April showdown with Ortiz instead.
Looking back on how things played out, Berto might have preferred tangling with Mosley instead of going up against a young lion like Ortiz in a much more low-profile encounter. But just as Merchant points out, he showed a lot of character even in losing his title and now we are all anxious to see what direction Berto goes from here.
“His career was sidetracked first by the tragedy in Haiti, and then by Ortiz,” Merchant said. “It’s not like he disgraced himself against Ortiz, it was a hell of a fight. Just as Ortiz had a hell of a fight against Maidana. And he came back from that. So, we want to see what Berto’s made of.”
And at the end of the day, Berto is on the same path that several great fighters have traveled. Defeat is something that can set you back, but not necessarily define your career.
The next phase of Andre Berto's career starts Saturday night.
“Obviously Berto needs to show that whatever happens in boxing, that you move on. You have a loss, you come back and you win. You try to learn from a loss and just keep fighting. It’s like getting knocked down; it’s what do you do next?”