|Andre Berto: “My goal is to become a complete fighter”
The Welter Report by Gabriel Montoya (April 18, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
Lurking just beneath the top of the most stacked division in boxing, welterweight Andre Berto waits for the chance to prove he is the best of the bunch. The WBC #1 contender, gifted amateur and Olympian, has amassed an impressive record of 21 wins with 18 KOs and 0 losses on his way to being one of the most televised young fighters in the sport today.
For Andre, boxing initially began as a way to harness a child’s relentless energy.
“I was always a competitive kid growing up,” he says. “I got into a lot of sports. I had a lot of energy, and in some sense it got me into trouble in school. Just having a little too much energy. Wanting to play around too much. Just clowning around. My father always went to the boxing gym. One of my teachers told him that it would probably be a good thing for me to get into something to get rid of a lot of the energy that I had. He started taking me to the gym. He started doing that at 5 years old, and I‘ve been doing it ever since.”
The style that his father passed down, “Mainly kickboxing, shoot fighting, ground game. It’s basically a combo of kickboxing and grappling,” has not thus far been a factor in Berto’s boxing. “It’s two separate things,” he says.
What he did learn and carry over was a strong work ethic. It’s a component he feels is essential to his success. “The whole feel, and watching my daddy, his skill and work ethic. Seeing what he had to go through, being prepared for a fight or competition. How he trained. Basically just the hard work.”
Berto comes from a fighting family of martial artists. His brother Edson Berto is a professional mixed martial artist who fights in the EliteXC league. For Andre, however, boxing seemed the logical choice given his physical make-up.
“Growing up, I was kind of a husky type kid,” he explains. “I was chubby but athletic at the same time. Everyone in my family was into the martial arts. I just wasn’t into it, man. You know, everyone else was a little bit slimmer; they could stretch a little bit. They could kick. And I wasn’t that flexible,” he says with a laugh. “I couldn’t kick. I couldn’t do none of that. I just wanted to do something different from everybody else. And you know boxing . . . I just felt it was the ultimate toetotoe sport. I just figured that was what I wanted to do.”
In a division littered with good to great fighters the likes of Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams, Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, Miguel Cotto, and Floyd Mayweather, it seems a near-impossible task to make a mark, much less a dent that the general public will notice. But in Berto’s opinion, it’s just a matter of time.
“Right now, I am right there in there the mix. A lot of people out there feel I am one of the best welterweights in the world. It’s just a matter of time for me to get a chance to compete with some of these guys that have belts. Because these guys have a little more experience, folks are keeping me at the prospect level. It’s just in due time. Just the fact of getting in there with those guys and proving myself. I feel I am right there in the mix.”
One of the knocks on Berto’s game has been his lack of defense, head movement, and change of pace while fighting. Making the move from prospect to contender, he's has made a steady progression while adding new tools to his arsenal along the way.
“The main thing is, you perform up to your competition,” he explains. “If you are in there with a guy who you know can hurt you or a guy you know you’re a lot faster than, you tend to stay in there a little bit more, you tend to wait there a little bit more. But it’s something we are working on. Every fight, I learn something new and I work on it. When I fought Cosme Rivera, I didn’t use my jab enough. I didn’t use any body shots. I went back to the gym, and we used it in the David Estrada fight, just to break him down and get him out of there. But at the same time, we kind of got lackadaisical with the defense, and we went back and worked on that. In the Trubant fight, everybody saw me use a lot better defense. From keeping my hands up, staying tight, moving the head a little bit. Each fight I earn something new to work on. My goal is just to be a complete fighter. After a few fights, everything will come into place.”
Watching Berto fight, it’s easy to see he is a physical mismatch for many in the division with his size, speed, and intelligence. Styles makes fights, however, but Berto feels the underlying current of his game, adaptability, will be the difference.
“I’m the type of fighter, I adapt to a lot of different styles. So guys like Cotto would match up perfectly for me. At the same time, guys like Mosley or Mayweather, with guys like that, I would have to adapt my style a little bit more. I can jab, I can sit back and box, I can use my movement, my speed. At the same time, if I feel I am lot stronger, I can stay there, stay tight on defense and come off the block and throw strong punches. I believe everyone has seen just a touch of the potential I have as my career goes. I can box off the front foot. I can box off the back foot. I can box on the go. I can stand there and bang. And you know, it depends. In a few more fights in, everybody is going to see me evolve a little more.”
For some fighters, the better the competition, the better the performance. Berto feels this best describes himself, and feels it is only a matter of time before critics become fans.
“Definitely. When I get in the ring, I’m going to go to work regardless. But when I step in the ring with better opposition, they open up a little bit more. They keep it sharp. They make you alert. They make you work on different things. When I fight using different things, things will open up more. There will be a lot more openings. It's going to be a point, once I step in with these top guys and everyone sees how I compete with them--hopefully it will be a good performance and I get them out of there--, it’ll be a lot better for me. When I step in with the top guys, I believe it will be a little bit of a change of heart. Once [the fans] see the skills and the potential come out a little bit more.”
At press time, Berto is scheduled to fight in June against Miguel Angel Rodriguez, a fighter with a decent record but with no real opposition of note on it. With this being his fifth time on HBO, with his last being against a similar opponent in Michael Trubant, the question of whether or not this is the right path of development for a future champion comes up.
“Right now it seems I am in the position where I don’t really say who I fight or not,” says Berto. “I want my team to line it up as they feel I am ready. Once I become champion, I can make a lot more demands. But right now, I am still in the stage of proving myself. I don’t really feel I have too much of a right to say who I should or shouldn’t fight. I just have to prove myself against whomever they put me in the ring with.
“I would like to fight for a title this year,” he continues. “Whatever my team decides this year, that’s what I will do. But that’s my personal goal this year. I have a wonderful team behind me that’s going to line it up for me to get that opportunity. It’s going to be my job to go in there and handle business.
With a welterweight division tournament already going on without him, combined with a champion that won’t defend his belt and Berto’s considerable size for a welterweight, it’s hard to imagine him staying for more than a couple more years at welterweight.
“I am comfortable at 147, right now. I can’t really tell [how long he will stay at 147]. Once I don’t feel comfortable with it or have proved everything at 147, I will move up.”
As for how long beyond 147 he will remain fighting, Berto laughs at the premature question.
“I can’t even tell,” he muses. “As long as God continues to keep me healthy. That’s a tough question. I am young. I am 24. So probably for a few more years.”
Whatever the future holds, it is clear from speaking to him that a plan is in place for the young contender. What’s clearer still is that sooner or later, the welterweight division is going to have to deal with him.
Gabriel at: Coyotefeather@gmail.com
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