By Rory Fitzgerald
It has been the most talked about decision in the boxing world since Frank Maloney decided to become Ms. Kellie Maloney.
Mega star Floyd Mayweather was given the privileged task to hand pick his opponent for his 49th and possibly his final fight. After his one sided dominant display over Manny Pacquiao in May, every fight fan was waiting for the blockbuster announcement. A huge pool of stars such as Kell Brook, Amir Khan, Keith Thurman, Timothy Bradley and even Gennady Golovkin were all hoping that the man claiming to be “TBE” (The Best Ever) would choose them. They all had a legitimate case to be heard.
Then the announcement was made. Floyd Mayweather would defend his WBA super world welterweight and WBC world welterweight titles at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas against – Andre Berto.
It was more of pebble dropping into the ocean from the side of a canoe, than the blockbuster that the fans were expecting. You could even hear the murmurs of the casual fans asking “Who the hell is he??”
To the pure boxing fans though, who know all about Berto know that he’s not a so called “bum”, and only a few years ago “The Beast” was very close to getting a shot at Mayweather on two separate occasions. While he has shown elements of decline over the past three years, his stoppage victory last time out over Josesito Lopez, means that he comes into this fight as the interim WBA world welterweight champion.
It does show how disappointed the American public are with Mayweather’s choice of opponent, that with the fight only three days away 2,000 tickets remain unsold. This is absolutely unheard of for a fight involving the Michigan man.
We will now look at the life and career of Andre Berto, to give fans an insight into a fighter who at one time was one of the most promising welterweights on the planet.
Born in Winter Haven, Florida on the 7th September 1983 to Haitian parents, Andre Berto took up the sport of boxing on the advice of his father after he was constantly beat up at school.
A young Berto took very well to the amateur side of the game, and at the tender age of 19, won bronze at the 2003 World amateur championships in Bangkok. By the time the 2004 Athens Olympic Games came around, the American was thought to have been a cert to
make his country’s squad. Misfortune struck when he was disqualified in the first round of trials. After an appeal was won, and then subsequently lost, Berto was eliminated. He was then granted Haitian citizenship on the basis of his parents’ country of birth. This was his avenue back into the Olympics on the American team, but his journey didn’t make it past the first round as he was beaten by a French opponent.
He turned to the paid ranks in December 2004 and never looked back.
In just two short years, a rapidly improving Berto was making a huge name for himself. In his first 16 fights, he won all 16 and in only two cases, an opponent managed to hear the final bell (both of those points victories came in four round fights).
He captured his first title on the 29th of September, when he stopped David Estrada in the penultimate round to win the NABF welterweight title. This was also an eliminator for the IBF and WBC world welterweight titles, an incredible achievement in what was only his 20th outing.
He defended that belt just the once, before beating Miguel Angel Rodriguez to win the vacant WBC world welterweight title in June 2008. He went on to defend that strap five times by beating Steve Forbes, Luis Collazo, Juan Urango, Carlos Quintana and Freddy Hernandez. It was at this time, the world was starting to stand up and take notice of Andre “The Beast” Berto.
While things could not have been going better for him inside the ring, it was a different and tragic story outside of it. In the midst of his hold on the WBC version of the welterweight belt, Berto was due to defend his title in a mega fight against “Sugar” Shane Mosley on the 30th January 2010. With both of the Americans parents hailing from Haiti, Berto lost members of his family in the Haiti earthquake on the 12th of January. He pulled out of the fight with Mosley, who then went on to face Floyd Mayweather later that year. It was a double blow for “The Beast” but family always comes first in life and he just had no other alternative.
By now, the 27 year old had an unblemished record. 27 fights and with that came 27 victories, with 21 knockouts. It was quite an incredible record and with time still on his side, there were calls for Berto to step into the ring with some of the best welterweights in the world. (Hindsight is a beautiful thing in life, and who knows that if the Haiti disaster never happened, Berto v Mayweather could have been a super-fight 5 years ago).
April 2011, and the Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut was the venue for Andre Berto’s 6th defence of his WBC crown against fellow American Victor Ortiz. Ortiz had only lost once in a 6 year stretch, and that was against Marcos Maidana. It was the biggest threat to the Florida mans unbeaten record.
In an absolutely incredible 12 rounds of brutal action that resulted in four knockdowns, Ortiz won by unanimous decision with scorecards of 114-111, 114-112 and 115-110. Both fighters came out of this brawl with tremendous amounts of credit and the fight was voted The Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the year” for 2011.
Berto bounced straight back however, and a mere five months later he captured the IBF world welterweight title by beating the tough Slovenian Jan Zaveck, after his corner retired him in the fifth round due to a cut.
“The Beast” was now a two time world champion.
It was at this time that a once very promising career started to falter, inside and outside the ring.
In May of 2012, one month away from his rematch with the only man to beat him Victor Ortiz, Andre Berto tested positive for the banned steroid norandrosterone. The American strenuously denied this, and regained his boxing license when it emerged that the positive test was the result of contamination. Another blow for Berto came just three months later when Ortiz went on to challenge Floyd Mayweather for the WBC world welterweight title. A second time the Florida man had potentially missed out on a crack at Mayweather.
Things were to go from bad to worse for the welterweight puncher.
After over a year out of the ring, Berto challenged Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero for the interim WBC world welterweight title in November of 2012. In another brutal fight in which Berto had to get up off the canvas in the first and second round, Guerrero claimed an unanimous points victory, 116-110 on all three judges cards.
The now 29 year old (28-2) took another stretch out of the ring, and 8 months later went chasing after the first title he held as a pro, the NABF welterweight title. It seemed like a big step down in class, but a confidence boosting fight was needed. He had lost his WBC title to Ortiz and relinquished his IBF title, so getting any sort of gold around his waist would have been a nice starting point to revitalize his career.
His opponent for the NABF title was Mexican Jesus Soto Karass who brought with him a moderate record of 27-8-3. It was a fight that Berto ought to have won, but he failed. In what had been a close fight up until the 12th round, Karass (who was put on the floor in the previous round) landed a left hook that sent his opponent to the floor. Berto got up off the canvas with the wobbly legs effect, and the referee called the fight off.
The defeat to the virtually unknown Karass made many people believe that the talented two time world champion would never really fulfil his true potential. The word “finished” was even bandied about after this surprising defeat.
Since then, back to back victories against Steve Chambers and Josesito Lopez, has done little to make believers out of his critics. While he did gain the interim WBA world welterweight title at Lopez’s expense, it is a wonder why Mayweather has chosen Berto as his opponent.
In what could be his final fight, is he looking to “play it safe” as Kell Brook has put it, or is the self proclaimed “Best Ever” pulling the wool over our eyes? Do many people really believe that the cocky American wants to finish in a tie with the great Rocky Marciano on 49-0? Could the big 50 be the blockbuster announcement that fight fans have been waiting for?
We will have to just sit back and let Mayweather decide.