By Thomas Gerbasi
It was a moment many might have not even paid attention to, but for Andre Berto, it meant everything.
Five years after a thrilling 2011 bout with Victor Ortiz, Berto finally got the opportunity to avenge his first – and most bitter – loss. But after getting knocked down in the second round at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, it was looking like déjà vu all over again.
Twenty seconds into the fourth round, though, Berto drilled Ortiz with a flush right hand to the jaw that dumped his rival hard. As referee Jack Reiss counted over Ortiz, Berto pumped his fists and yelled, “Yes” as he found his way to a neutral corner. It was an unforgettable show of emotion.
“That was five years coming,” Berto said, explaining what went through his head in those seconds before he stopped Ortiz later in the fourth stanza. “I think a lot of people started writing me off after that first Ortiz fight, and that’s okay because they don’t know what us, as fighters, go through, physically and mentally preparing for these fights. They can see us as gladiators, but we’re real people.”
And real people get stung and hurt by blows of all forms, both in the ring and out. Before he lost to Ortiz in 2011, Berto was 27-0 and on top of the world. He was the WBC welterweight champion, had successfully defended the title five times, and was closing in on even bigger fights if he beat Ortiz, which he was expected to.
But after a fight in which both fighters hit the deck twice, it was Ortiz who emerged victorious. From there, Berto went just 3-3, a stretch that included a year off to rehab a surgically repaired shoulder. And though the Floridian isn’t the superstitious type, he does believe everything started going downhill when he lost to Ortiz.
“I went through a little rough patch after that Ortiz fight,” he said. “I had the (Robert) Guerrero and (Jesus Soto) Karass fights and I was going through a lot of difficult situations that I never really spoke on, and that continued to haunt me for those fights. But I got back healthy, everything’s okay and everything’s been going pretty good these last two years.”
Since returning from surgery, Berto defeated Steve Upsher Chambers and Josesito Lopez, losing only to Floyd Mayweather in September 2015. But all that really mattered for Berto was exorcising some demons.
“It (the Ortiz rematch) was so personal for me,” he said. “I trained my ass off for it and I definitely didn’t want to make the same mistakes I did last time when I was just overlooking him. I was in such a zone all training camp. All the press conferences, I was just looking at him and I was really looking through him. It was something I had probably never went through emotionally preparing for a fight and really knowing that I’m going to try to finish him. If my career would have stopped the day after, I probably would have been good just because I got that one back.”
He laughs, knowing that in boxing, a big win always leads to more big fights, and he’s got a big one this Saturday against Shawn Porter. The winner will be in a line for a crack at the WBC welterweight title, and the bout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn is a homecoming of sorts for the 33-year-old, who fought five of his first 17 pro bouts in the Big Apple. It was a heady time for the member of the 2004 Haitian Olympic team.
“At the time, I saw my career as going straight to the top,” he said. “I don’t think anybody really sees the pitfalls or the derailment of their career, especially a young fighter. All you see is gold.”
And the two-time champion got his share, but the journey never goes quite as you picture it when the record is spotless and the world is at your feet. Berto, one of the good guys of the game, takes a mature tact when it comes to being the one praised one minute and ridiculed the next.
“At the end of the day, that’s the fight game,” he said. “And I had a chance to really be on the other side of that when everything was going great. I was getting all the love, getting all this, getting all that. But in due time, these fans are your biggest critics and they’re gonna see what they want to see. They’ll be quick to write you off and that’s just how the game is. Me, as a young kid watching boxing, I was probably the same way. But you need to know who you are as a man and as a fighter. I get in there every trip and I fight my ass off. It’s hard for me to talk sour about the boxing game, even though I know how harsh it is. It’s given me a tremendous life, but you can hate it at the same time. (Laughs) You have to put those things aside and let it fuel you, because as soon as they write you off, they’ll jump back on that bandwagon.”
Berto got a lot of those fans back with the win over Ortiz, and more are likely to follow suit if he beats Porter this weekend. But it’s not about any of that anymore for him. Just like the first Ortiz fight sent him reeling, he believes the rematch has given him a fresh start.
“It feels like I finally got rid of that monkey that’s been on my back for so long and nothing can hold me back right now,” he said. “And I’m still here. I’m gonna be 34 this year, and it’s crazy to think about being the older vet in this division, but I feel like I have great things ahead.”