When Shakespeare wrote "What's past is prologue," it's doubtful that he had in mind a boxer from Florida that wouldn't appear for another four centuries. Yet, here Andre Berto stands, on the precipice of ring greatness. Many others have noted Berto's charmed professional career: his big bonus after fighting in the Olympics for Haiti, his alignment with power broker Al Haymon, his umpteen HBO appearances and his hefty purses while fighting limited opposition. But those lines have already been written. The next part of the story is up to Berto.
Too many in boxing have focused on what Andre Berto isn't (a ticket seller, a boxing attraction), instead of emphasizing what he is: a versatile and athletic boxer-puncher who has demonstrably shown that he can beat lesser fighters. Berto features an array of punches and ring styles. Against the plodder, Juan Urango, he boxed and used angles brilliantly. Facing traditional boxers like Steve Forbes and Carlos Quintana, he steadily imposed his will. Matched up against undermanned foes like Freddy Hernandez and Michel Trabant, he dominated them with punishing abuse or highlight-reel knockouts.
Berto has been tested in three fights. As a rising prospect, he was floored by Cosme Rivera in a fight that Berto was winning handily. What was striking about the Rivera contest was that the Mexican was known for having little power. Questions about Berto's chin arose from that fight. To this point, he has not hit the canvas again.
Berto had a good scrap against rugged veteran David Estrada. Estrada had some good moments with his pressure and body punching in the early rounds. Eventually Berto's superior boxing gifts and conditioning bested Estrada.
His sternest test was against Luis Collazo. Often known as a mover, Collazo instead fought in an aggressive style. He attacked Berto using angles, body punching and his underrated left hand. Collazo could have won the fight. The judges liked Berto's cleaner punches and flashier combinations. Berto won by a narrow points margin.
Since the Collazo fight, Berto has not enhanced his public standing. When actually appearing in the ring, he faced lesser foes. With the enabling of HBO, his last three opponents have not presented any real danger. Juan Urango couldn't handle Berto's movement. Carlos Quintana lacked the power to suppress Berto's attacks. Freddy Hernandez was brought in to keep Berto busy.
Berto did have a fight scheduled with Shane Mosley for early 2010, but that was scrapped because of the earthquake in Haiti; Berto had several relatives in Haiti at the time of the disaster.
Recently, Berto was under consideration for the latest Manny Pacquiao fight, which ultimately was awarded to Mosley. Bob Arum correctly asserted that Berto brought no financial clout to a mega-fight.
Many members of the boxing public have condemned Berto for being the beneficiary of HBO's misspent largesse. The network has permitted the fighter to make excellent money without selling tickets or facing risky opposition. In short, Berto is viewed by many as a symbol of the boxing industry's dysfunction.
Berto has acknowledged the criticism and has stated that he is only looking for big fights moving forward. Berto is not content with merely making good money and appearing on premium cable; he wants more.
His promoter, Lou DiBella, and HBO have set him up with Victor Ortiz for his next fight. This fight may be the perfect showcase fight for Berto. While Ortiz can punch and box well, his heart and focus have been called into question. Ortiz tasted the canvas twice against Marcos Maidana and chose not to continue after the second knockdown. Against Lamont Peterson, Victor was not "Vicious" but compassionate, failing to dispose of his wounded opponent. Ortiz should have gone for the kill after knocking Peterson down twice in the third. Instead, he was kind enough to let Peterson stick around and pick up a draw. Ortiz's performance was baffling to boxing observers.
The Berto-Ortiz fight figures to be extremely competitive for the first half. Ortiz will test Berto's chin and he throws solid combinations that score with judges. However Berto's conditioning, toughness and versatility will present Ortiz will significant problems. Ortiz has not yet demonstrated that he can make winning, tactical adjustments during the course of a fight. Does he have the focus to last 12 tough rounds with Berto? Berto should win eight or nine rounds if the fight goes the distance. A late-round Berto knockout is a strong possibility as well.
A win against Ortiz propels Berto to greater things. He may not be next in line for Pacquiao (for the record, Berto would present Pacquiao with a real challenge) but he has a number of good options in the surrounding weights. A fight against Kermit Cintron would be fascinating in that Cintron has a great right hand than can inflict real pain. Cintron also possesses enough boxing ability to force Berto to make some interesting tactical choices in order to win the fight. Berto might have to stink that fight out in order to win. Does he have enough confidence in his chin to go after Cintron with constant pressure like Margarito did?
Josh Clottey would be another interesting fight. While Clottey was assailed for not letting his hands go against Pacquiao, against every other opponent, he has been a determined competitor. His defense, body punching and short uppercuts would present Berto with some difficulties. Berto's hand speed and movement might win the fight but it could be a great scrap.
By 2012, some of the great junior welterweights like Amir Khan and Timothy Bradley will move up to 147 lbs. Khan and Berto would be a tremendous matchup between athletic boxers with power.
What's lost amid all the snickering about Berto's opposition has been his development as a fighter. He moves well, controls distance in the ring and dictates the tempo of his fights. His left jab is crisp. He has really improved his counterpunching. Berto throws one of the best uppercuts in the sport and his left hook is a real weapon. He can fight in various styles.
Berto and his trainer, Tony Morgan, have approached each fight with unique game plans. He can win a fight by jabbing and moving. He can ambush opponents with flurries against the ropes. Berto can turn his opponents very well and fight in angles. In short, he can win by being elusive, by pressure fighting or by staying in the pocket. He has great hand speed and solid punching ability.
It would not be surprising if Berto's future greatness is attributed to this recent period of honing his craft against subprime opposition. Having been rushed to the title (or at least under-matched), Berto has refined his skills. Despite his title, he was not ready for super fights at age 24. Now, at 27 he's a matchup nightmare, even for an excellent fighter. Consider that Berto has already fought under the big lights of HBO, he has persevered despite an unsympathetic public and he has become a versatile and complete fighter.
So what's past may have been the prologue to far greater things. Berto has moved up the boxing ladder, perhaps more deliberately than the public wanted. For Berto, the slow climb was worth it; he now has all of the tools. Berto's moment is now. He's in perfect position to seize it.