Saturday, January 3, 2009

Andre Berto is About to Arrive

Berto is one of the rising stars in boxing and he is on the brink of big things in 2009.

Two weeks from tonight, Andre Berto, the champion of the world welterweights according to the World Boxing Council, will step through the ropes and defend his title belt against New York City’s Luis Collazo.

Berto is hoping that 2009 will be his breakout year and the year in which he steps in to fill the void of some sure to be exiting long-time stars.

While the 25 year-old from Winterhaven, Florida won the vacant WBC title in a bout against the unknown Miguel Angel Rodriguez last June and made one successful title defense against Stevie Forbes in September, he is angling for a place in the spotlight in a welterweight division that is chock full of big talent - and big names.

With current and former champs Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, Shane Mosley, Kermit Cintron and Carlos Quintana lurking in the dark corners of the top-10, 147 pounds can be a tough place to hang one’s hat and forge out a career.

The compact and well-muscled Berto is an engaging fighter who always shows up in exquisite physical condition and he is ready to go from the sound of the first bell. He is moving along steadily in his pro career and he clams that his last bout against Stevie Forbes was his toughest so far.

“Stevie definitely was my toughest opponent,” says Berto. “He was probably the best skilled opponent that I have had and it was a good fight for me. It tested me all the way around the board so it was a real good win for me.”

With the unanimous twelve-round win over Forbes, Berto ran his record to a still undefeated 23-0(19)KO’s and he gained valuable experience and exposure while appearing on the undercard of the Shane Mosley vs. Ricardo Mayorga match.

With his aggressive and busy style, Berto reminds some of a young Shane Mosley and he says it’s no accident that he is in the type of condition that allows him to fight the last round as though it were the first.

“The conditioning has to be up to par,” says Berto who has the shoulders and arms of a middleweight. With a potent blend of power and speed along with the impetuousness of youth, he has the mindset that he wants to knock guys out.

“I was a little disappointed in my last fight just because I still wanted to take him out,” explains Berto about the Forbes fight. “I have real high expectations of myself and I know in general that I’m ready for all of the other top guys. Everything is coming and I’m going to have a big 2009.”

With the WBC belt as leverage, Berto sees big opportunities in his future. With promoter Lou DiBella and the HBO network on board the sky could be the limit for the handsome young fighter with a bright smile that fought for Haiti in the 2004 Olympics.

Berto failed to make the U.S. Olympic team, but because his parents were Haitian born he was able to suit up for the small island nation. His boxing style has always been more suited for the pros and perhaps as a result, he failed to win an Olympic medal. But in his over 200 amateur fights he won National Golden Gloves titles in 2001 and 2003.

In 2007, Berto stopped the always tough David Estrada in the 11th round at Atlantic City, New Jersey.

After Shane Mosley knocked out Ricardo Mayorga with one second remaining in the twelfth and final round Mosley was interviewed in the ring immediately afterwards and was asked if would be interested in fighting Berto. Mosley didn’t seem open to that idea and alluded to the fact that perhaps Berto was a little too young and that the risk vs. reward wouldn’t be worth him prying open the Berto can of worms.

“Hearing something like that from a guy like Shane Mosley, a guy I looked up to when I was an amateur, it makes me feel like all my dreams are coming true,” says Berto. “I mean it’s almost surreal for me to be mentioned with the Shane Mosleys, the Mayweathers and guys like that, so I’m just going to continue working hard and stay focused.”

Berto, however, is exactly where he wants to be and he has worked tirelessly since he was a kid to get himself into position to be exactly where he currently finds himself. For Berto there wasn’t a lot of time to be a ‘normal’ teenager as much of his spare time was spent either training or fighting. With his father pushing him on, Berto’s story reminds many of another pretty famous Florida fighter, Roy Jones, Jr.

“When I was growing up I had a lot of sacrifices,” he says. “But I just knew in my heart what I wanted to do and I had to make the sacrifices that I did to get to where I am today. I missed my Senior prom and I did a lot of things like that. But now everybody that I went to school with, they’re looking at me now and just seeing that all of the hard work paid off.”

Berto, pictured here with the former pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., hopes to one day replicate Mayweather's success - and maybe even fight him.

So with Berto on the doorstep of big things, he knows he can’t look past Luis Collazo, a former WBA welterweight titlist who gave Ricky Hatton one of his toughest fights. He is keenly aware that his future, should he beat Collazo and continue to move forward, will likely include all of the big names.

“Like I said before, it’s almost surreal,” said Berto, who doesn’t sound at all star-crossed. “I mean, I was in the amateurs watching those guys and I looked up to all of those guys and now I’m about to be in the ring with them. But once I step in there, they’re just like any other opponent to me and I’ll think about it afterwards.”

So after only four years as a pro and a lifetime in the ring, Berto is ready to enjoy the spoils of success.

“It’s been a long time comin’ you know?” But we’ve been working hard and getting it done. We’ve got a world title now so it’s just more to come. Now that I have the strap we’re just going to choose our opponents wisely and keep it moving.”

January 2009

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