NEW YORK — In the six days since a devastating earthquake struck his ancestral homeland, all but leveling the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, it has been increasingly clear that WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto was finding it all but impossible to devote his concentration to his scheduled January 30 title unification fight against Shane Mosley.
Preparing to face an opponent of Mosley's caliber would have been difficult enough under the best of circumstances. Doing so with one's eyes glued to CNN for up to 20 hours a day in between the largely-vain attempts to reach Haiti by cell phone made it all but impossible. On Monday, Berto bowed to reality and announced that he has decided to withdraw from the Mosley date.
No one will question the wisdom of Berto's decision, but as the horrific pictures continue to find their way into American living rooms, some may wonder why it took him as long as he did to pull out of the fight; but in the end, postponing this date with destiny was not only a wise career move, but from any sense of honor and respect to the affected and bereaved, it was the correct moral choice as well.
“I have seen the pain in my parents' eyes as they attemp to understand what has happened to our homeland and recognize a place they once called home,” said Berto in a statement released at 4:45 on Monday. “As a result of this disaster, I am mentally and physically exhausted, and I have no choice but to withdraw from my bout on Jan. 30.
Although some will inevitably attempt to draw comparisons, this isn't a matter akin to President Roosevelt asking Major League Baseball to keep playing during World War II, or like Don King deciding to proceed with the Bernard Hopkins-Felix Trinidad fight at Madison Square Garden just 18 days after the Sept. 11 attacks, or even baseball's decision to resume the 1989 Oakland-San Francisco World Series just a week after another earthquake had created widespread destruction in both cities. As calamitous as those events were, the vast majority of the population had not been affected by the tragedy. In Haiti, it has immutably affected an entire nation, perhaps forever.
Although Berto was born in the United States, both of his parents were born in Haiti, and after he was disqualified in the 2004 Olympic Trials he represented Haiti as a one-man Olympic boxing team in the Athens Games. He has since forged strong ties with the Island nation, and like every man, woman, and child in Haiti, the missing and dead include some of his closest relatives.
For several days Berto was unaware whether his sister Naomi and his young niece, who were in Port-au-Prince last Tuesday, were ailve or dead. (They survived, but were left homeless. An uncle who perished in the rubble of his collapsed home was not so fortunate. Even the building housing the office of the foundation Berto had established last year was flattened in the quake.)
Going through with the fight would have been so unthinkable that the only surprise is that Mosley didn't offer to do it first out of a spirit of fair play.
The timing of Monday's decision will give HBO and Golden Boy an opportunity to come up with a substitute main event should they opt to proceed with the Jan. 30. date. If they do, the hope here is that both entities will do the right thing by following Andre Berto's example and make sizable donations to the Haitian relief efforts.