By Thomas Gerbasi
Saturday is the first day of the rest of Andre Berto’s boxing life.
Melodramatic? Possibly. True? Most definitely. But despite being a little over a month shy of his 30th birthday, the former welterweight champion’s future in the sport will likely be dictated by what should be a winnable outing against Mexico’s Jesus Soto Karass in Texas this weekend.
It’s his first fight since a competitive but crushing loss to Robert Guerrero, third since losing his 147-pound title in a 2011 Fight of the Year candidate against Victor Ortiz, and first since leaving longtime trainer Tony Morgan for Virgil Hunter. It’s also a pattern followed by many fighters over the years: reach a certain point in your career, have some success, lose a couple fights, try to get cute and bring new things to the table stylistically, and when that doesn’t work, switch trainers.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. At the moment, Berto – whose Floyd Mayweather-esque shoulder roll in the Guerrero fight didn’t prevent him from two trips to the canvas – is confident that he made the right call in taking his camp from Florida to the Bay Area.
“It's different,” said Berto on a recent media teleconference. “Here, my schedule situation is kind of up and down. Back home in Florida, we always had the same routine, the same schedule every day. Here, things maneuver, things change and they definitely go by how you feel. You definitely work a lot smarter rather than just a lot harder. Of course, they work hard, but they definitely work a lot smarter. I come from my dad and Tony and everybody back home, and it was just work hard as hell, pound that out every day and just try to get in the best shape possible. But once you reach a level like this right here, you want to try to work a lot more smarter. Both coaches are great. They just have different strategies.”
Hunter is the trainer of the moment among the big names in the sport, with his work with Andre Ward being his calling card to new pupils from Berto and Alfredo Angulo to Amir Khan and Fernando Guerrero. He’s been hit or miss with the newcomers, but Berto has no complaints thus far, and sometimes when a fighter reaches a certain point in his career, it’s not about techniques or a new environment, but simply either shaking things up or finding a new comfort level that doesn’t mean you’re comfortable.
He’s says he’s found that happy medium, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, considering the whirlwind of the last few years that saw the Haitian-American deal with the tragic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, a lost fight with Shane Mosley that year, the first two losses of his career, and a 2012 positive test for nandrolone which was later revealed to have been likely caused by contamination and not intentional usage. Add in the ever-present cloud put there by several fans and some in the media that he is little more than a creation of his adviser Al Haymon and the premium cable networks, and it’s been a rough stretch for the affable Berto, who has done his best to keep himself above the fray.
“At the end of the day, we're fighters,” he said. “We go through our ups and downs, but the place where I'm at now is a great place. At the top of the year, I made the changes that I needed to make and now I'm at a place that I haven’t been in a very long time all the way around. So I guess I'm just ready to get back to work and really to go in here and handle business like I know how to do.”
And Soto-Karass is no easy out, with an aggressive and busy attack that has seen him win three of his last four. The loss in that quartet of fights may have been the most impressive, as he slugged it out with Marcos Maidana before getting stopped in the eighth round. Despite this, and remembering the fits he gave to Mike Jones in their two fights in 2010-11, Soto-Karass should be tailor-made for Berto to pound out a one-sided decision win.
Yet the funny thing is that if this fight happened a couple years ago, Soto-Karass would be seen as another example of Haymon protecting Berto from the welterweight elite. Now, it’s part of a process to rebuild Berto, get him back in the win column in an action fight that’s televised on Showtime, and again put him in line for a big fight, something he failed at against Ortiz and Guerrero, both of whom went on to get big money bouts with Floyd Mayweather after beating Berto.
It’s not the way things were supposed to play out for the 2004 Haitian Olympian, but his career to this point shouldn’t be looked at as a disappointment. Far from it. He won a world title, successfully defended it five times, and in the fights he lost, he wasn’t blown out or knocked out, though he did have to dust himself off and get up from the canvas in both bouts.
Of course, that’s not enough for those who expect perfection from our prizefighters, even when it’s the imperfections of each man or woman that steps between the ropes that makes them compelling. If Berto was simply a hype job, he would have faded the first time he hit the canvas against Ortiz and Guerrero, content to pick up his paycheck and walk away.
He didn’t. He got up, bit down on his mouthpiece, and he did what he was paid to do – fight. No connections or fancy contracts can give you that or make those intangibles magically appear. You’re either a fighter or you’re not, and through all the ups, downs, and sideways, Andre Berto is still fighting. And while the faces in the corner may have changed, the attitude as he prepares for the next chapter of his career is still the same.
“He (Hunter) sees that I'm getting back to who I need to be, and that's being a fighter that's in tremendous shape and that's being a fighter that's supremely confident and being a fighter that just looks like I can do whatever I want to do in there,” said Berto. “And when I'm on point and when I'm the best that I can be, there's nobody in the welterweight division that can do anything with me.”