Boxing’s full of prospects today, exciting new up-and-coming talent, but how many of these dazzling amateurs possess that magical quality that will carry them to professional stardom? We all know how different the amateur game is compared to our major league level; just ask all the successful amateurs who weren’t able to reach that same level of mastery when they made their jump into the professional ranks.
Andre Berto is one of those amateur greats with a slew of trophies and accomplishments that will in all likelihood surpass his outstanding teenage achievements. Raised one of seven children in Winter Haven, Florida after moving from his native Haiti when he was five years old, Andre was indoctrinated into boxing by his father, who competed professionally in mixed martial arts and taught the sport at a school in Winter Haven. For Berto, the sport of boxing became a solace to stay out of trouble.
“Coming up, I was a little troubled kid. My dad would go to the boxing gym often and he just started taking me with him. I really fell in love with fighting then. I was young, but I would always ask if we could go back to the gym.”
Berto had as stellar an amateur career as any fighter before him, but it all ended in disappointment after he was wrongly disqualified at the 2004 United States Olympic Trials for “throwing” his opponent to the ground. (The committee initially reversed the decision, gave Andre the win, allowed to him fight in the next round, and then inexplicably reversed back to disqualifying him.) After his dreams of representing the U.S. in the Olympics were dashed, he did get the opportunity to participate, fighting for his native Haiti and losing a close first-round bout to France’s Xavier Noel.
Despite that bitter end to his amateur career, Berto’s achievements were remarkable. He won a bronze medal in the 2003 World Amateur Championships, was a two-time National Golden Gloves champion, a two-time national PAL champion, a three-time U.S. amateur championship medalist, and also won 22 state titles in Florida.
But his career is really just beginning. For Andre Berto, his approximate 200 amateur fights was a solid warm-up for his chance at-hand to make his mark in boxing history as one of the all-time greats. In his last fight against Jonathan Tubbs, fittingly televised on ShoBox’s “The New Generation,” Berto was a human-wrecking machine, destroying his opponent in three rounds with devastating punching power from both hands. Tubbs had actually beaten Berto in the amateurs, but this was no amateur fight settled on points as the stronger Berto exacted sweet revenge, overpowering and overwhelming the southpaw with a vicious onslaught. It was a masterful performance that highlighted his speed, short-punching effectiveness, controlled aggression, and overall punching power, giving me no reason to think that this boxing prodigy will not climb to the top of the welterweight or even super-welterweight division within a couple of years.
For years during Berto’s amateur career, fans back home in Winter Haven, Florida couldn’t understand who this “Andre” was. They only recognized Mike Berto, as Andre was known only by his middle name growing up, so his local supporters wondered whom this mysterious “other” Berto was.
“When people down here would see ‘Andre Berto’ in the paper, they would go, ‘Who the heck is that, your brother?’” Berto said. “It was kind of a weird situation, but everybody knows who I am now.”
If you don’t know who Andre Berto is now, then surely you will soon. In watching him dismantle his last opponent with a ferocious, attacking style, there may have been good reason for using “Mike” Berto as his fighting name. For once upon a time, another Mike, known to all as Iron Mike, ruled the heavyweight division with his unique combination of boxing skill and ferocious aggressiveness. Berto is smaller in stature and has only had ten fights as a professional, but there’s no hiding the fact that his solid frame and knockout style warrants some comparison to that other “Mike.” He keeps that middle name in the background now, but of course doesn’t forget its boxing connotation.
“I want to be a superstar. I want to bring it back to the days when Mike Tyson would fight on television, and everybody got off work early so they would not miss it,” Berto said.
I vouch for getting off work early to see this 22-year-old wonder do his thing in the ring. He’s that good, and will only improve as he gains experience by fighting better opposition. In training, he’s sparred with Jeff Lacy, Winky Wright and Sharmba Mitchell, giving him the opportunity to step in the ring with world champions and get his feet wet.
After demolishing Jonathan Tubbs and sending him to a humiliating 3rd round exit, Berto didn’t exalt and showoff his conquest, instead he quietly walked over to his opponent, put his head right up against that of Tubbs’ and talked to him not as a beaten man, but as a fellow youngster in need of encouragement. That moment was as telling as any punch Andre Berto threw that night because it showed that not only does he possess the physical skills necessary to become a world champion, but he also has the moral character to back up that honor.
As Steve Farhood commented after Berto’s last performance, “His future is now. He’s going to be devastating as a welterweight.”
Set to fight on the Vernon Forrest-Ike Quartey undercard in April, Andre Berto will have another opportunity to show the boxing world what he’s capable of doing. He’s already made believers out of two of the biggest NBA superstars, Shaquille O’Neil and Tracy McGrady, who come to see him fight whenever they can. “They know that I have a lot of potential and more importantly, they know that I’m a hard worker.”
It’s easy to mistake Andre Berto’s quietly humble nature for a youngster who is unsure of his own talent as he tries to forget about his Olympic misfortunes. Just ask Jonathan Tubbs if Berto seemed at all shaky? His easygoing attitude outside of the ring is in stark contrast to his predatory intensity inside the ring, and this Jekyll and Hyde mentality is what makes this promising Floridian such a gift to our sport.
He refused to say that he would be fighting for a championship in the near future, as that would be too brash for his character. “I believe in due time I’ll be right there,” he said.
As a boxing junkie growing up, Berto emulated the likes of Robinson and Ali in hopes of one day becoming a champion in his own right. Now he’s on the brink of fulfilling that dream and looks to current titleholders such as Jeff Lacy and Winky Wright for inspiration: “They all paved the way for me and hopefully if I keep doing what I’m doing then I’ll get there.”
Andre Berto is emerging as one of the brightest members of boxing’s New Generation, already gaining the approval of fellow athletes such as Shaq and T-Mac with his prodigal ability inside the ring and his reserved demeanor outside, now poised to show the boxing world that’s there’s a new star in town.