In assessing his career, and boxing in general, Andre Berto makes a valid point. There are incredible highs and depressing lows, and those who step inside the ropes long enough and often enough should be prepared for either eventuality.
“I’ve always wanted to feel everything that this game has to offer,” said the two-time former welterweight champion, who squares off against another onetime welter titlist, Shawn Porter, in a WBC elimination bout at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Saturday night that will be televised by Showtime. “But it’s just like Muhammad Ali said a long time ago. He was able to feel everything this game has to offer. He got knocked down. He got stopped. He also was the best alive. He had to experience it all.
“Coming back from shoulder surgery, coming back trying to continue to make a statement, to make people know I’m still here, I love it. I love that roller-coaster ride.”
Well, a roller-coaster ride at Disney World or Six Flags is a lot more exhilarating when the rider is hurtling downward and making hairpin turns. At least it’s that way for ordinary people. But boxing, despite its undeniable adrenaline rushes, is not like a day of frolicking at an amusement park. The fun always comes when a fighter is steadily on the way up, to the top of the highest incline. Once he’s reached the summit and hopefully lingered a while, however, the descent can be startlingly swift. With the thrill of the climb still fresh in his memory, someone is telling him to kindly collect his belongings and make his way to the exit because it’s time for new riders to climb aboard.
Berto (31-4, 24 KOs) has been on that figurative roller-coaster before, but, at 33, the downs are now coming around as frequently as the ups, so much so that the scheduled 12-rounder against the younger (29), stronger Porter (26-2-1, 16 KOs) could represent the final roll along the tracks for the Haitian-American. Should Berto – who is just 4-4 in his last eight ring appearances, is coming off a 357-day period of inactivity, and is a nearly 5-to-1 underdog — come up short again in a bout that has been designated as an eliminator for the WBC welterweight title currently held by Keith Thurman, he might never again get a title shot in what arguably is the deepest, most-talent-gorged division in boxing.
“I want to come in here and unify the division,” Berto said with the confidence of someone who prefers the vision of what might lie ahead than a look back at a cloudy string of recent setbacks and injuries. “Then I can walk away happy and these young guys can have it from there.”
There are those who would argue that Berto is already the fringe candidate in a sort-of tournament being staged by Showtime for the purpose of identifying the one, true king of the welterweights. Thurman’s razor-thin unanimous decision over Porter on June 25, 2016, was the unofficial kickoff to the process, and was followed by Thurman’s split-decision nod over WBC champion Danny Garcia in their unification showdown on March 4 of this year. Following Porter-Berto, next up is IBF ruler Kell Brook’s defense against highly regarded American knockout artist Errol Spence Jr. on May 27 in Sheffield, England.
“This is part of a series of ongoing welterweight fights that will determine – possibly by the end of this year, or maybe early next year – who is the top dog, so to speak, in boxing’s glamour division,” said Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, in chatting up Porter-Berto. But Espinoza’s “so to speak” comment takes in a lot of territory, in light of the fact that the legendary Manny Pacquiao, who holds the WBO welterweight title and still appears to have some gas in his tank, has long been aligned with HBO and his July 2 defense against Jeff Horn in Brisbane, Australia, and is not under the Showtime umbrella.
Much also can be made of the fact that Porter, despite his loss to Thurman, is still a player in Showtime’s grand plan, as presumably is the case for Garcia and the loser of Brook-Spence. But it stands to reason that if Berto fails to have his hand raised for the fifth time in his nine most recent fights, he becomes a one-and-done, an afterthought, a step closer to retirement or trial-horse status.
Then again, it seems like his boxing journey often has been a case of hit-or-miss for Berto.
The son of Haitian immigrants, Andre, one of seven children, was born in Winter Haven, Fla. Bullied by neighborhood and classroom toughs as a child, he was taught to box as a means of self-defense by his father, Dieuseul, a former professional mixed martial artist. As his skills and trophy collection expanded (he was a three-time United States national champion, a two-time national Golden Gloves champion and a two-time national Police Athletic League champion), Andre emerged as one of the favorites to represent the U.S. at the 2004 Athens Olympics. That dream died, however, at the Olympic Boxing Trials in Tunica, Miss., where a bizarre turn of events left him with his first realization that his chosen path would not always be strewn with rose petals.
An unfortunate draw in the 152-pound weight class paired Berto, a bronze medalist at the 2003 World Championships, against Juan McPherson, a silver medalist at the 2003 Pan American Games.
“Do you really want to see your two best fighters face each other right out of the hopper?” said an exasperated Eric Parthen, the then-director of USA Boxing.
Berto held a 10-8, electronically scored lead with just 27 seconds remaining in the fourth and final round when the two Olympic hopefuls got tangled up in a clinch, which ended with Berto slinging McPherson to the canvas, where he landed on his head, rolling over in obvious pain. McPherson was taken from the ring on a stretcher as a precautionary measure, but a five-member committee reviewed a videotape of the incident and reinstated Berto, who originally was disqualified by referee Dennis O’Connell for having committed a flagrant foul, as the winner.
Two days later, another hastily convened grievance committee overruled the first, again disqualifying Berto, but McPherson also was not allowed to continue in the tournament on medical grounds. Two more reversals would ensue before the matter was finally settled, with the American Arbitration Association denying both Berto and McPherson, who had obtained a temporary restraining order from an Ohio Court (the box-offs were in Cleveland), places in the Trials.
Berto, a U.S. citizen, sought redress through other means, and got it when he was also granted citizenship from Haiti, which he represented in Athens, losing in the opening round to France’s Xavier Noel.
What has followed for Berto is a crooked path of glorious moments interspersed with cold slaps of frustration. He won the WBC welterweight title, which had been vacated by Floyd Mayweather Jr., on a seventh round stoppage of Miguel Rodriguez on June 21, 2008, and defended it five times (victories over Steve Forbes, Luis Collazo, Juan Urango, Carlos Quintana and Freddy Hernandez) before being dethroned by Victor Ortiz on a unanimous decision on April 16, 2011, a scrap so competitive and entertaining it was named Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine.
Berto came right back to dethrone IBF welterweight titlist Dejan Zavec, whose corner stopped it after five rounds with their guy badly cut, but Berto relinquished his title to accept a rematch with Ortiz rather than fulfilling his mandatory against Randall Bailey. That move didn’t work out when Ortiz tested positive for a banned substance, which later was determined to be the result of contamination.
The high point for Berto since then was his long-awaited “revenge” victory over Ortiz, whom he stopped in four rounds in his most recent outing, on April 30, 2016, but Ortiz clearly is not the hot prospect he once was, with four defeats in his last six bouts. It can be argued that Berto also deserves plaudits for going the 12-round distance with Mayweather on Sept. 12, 2015, although he managed to win just five of 36 rounds on the three judges’ scorecards.
So, again the question must be raised. Is there enough of the best of Berto to pose any kind of threat to Porter, who is still at or near the top of his game? Until the bell rings, who’s to say for sure?
“You’re only as good as your last performance,” Berto said, which is as true now as it ever has been in the most unforgiving of sports. “Just as (the media and the public) can raise you up high as the next great thing, they’ll write you off quick. That’s just how the game goes.”
Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / Team Berto / PBC
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.