Thursday, June 08, 2023  |



We’ll learn a great deal about Berto on Saturday

Fighters Network

Andre Berto (right) had little trouble with capable, but limited Steve Forbes in September. Photo / Tom

There’s no simple set of rules for navigating a boxing prospect to the top, no Matchmaking For Dummies book available at the local Barnes & Noble. The right and wrong moves vary with each fighter, based on his weight class, his style, how he does at the gate and the ceiling for how he might someday do at the gate.

There’s only one thing that’s consistent about the process for every handler in the game: No matter how you move your prospect, you’re going to hear criticism.

If you fast-track him into major fights against the best fighters in their division and he loses, then the Monday morning quarterbacks will say you threw the kid to the wolves. If you do the same thing and he wins, a letdown in competition often follows and then the critics pounce. And if the progression is too gradual, or doesn’t feel like a progression at all, then you’re babying the fighter, which naturally leads to accusations that the kid is no good and that’s why you’re steering him clear of real competition.

Andre Berto, like any other highly touted prospect with an Olympic pedigree, has heard the criticism.

His last four fights have all been on HBO, and he’ll make it five in a row this Saturday against Luis Collazo (plus he fought twice on the network earlier in his career, making this his seventh HBO fight in his first 24). With that kind of a push comes a prime position under the microscope, and here’s what the critics are focusing on when they take a long look through the eyepiece: Berto’s last three fights featured opponents with almost no chance of winning, which is OK for developing a young fighter, but considerably less OK when HBO’s budget and air time are being used.

No doubt, times have changed since a decade ago, when members of the Olympic class of ’96 were racing into title shots just two years into their pro careers. Back then, the well of American prospects was deeper, the elite talent more elite, and more Olympians had pro styles because the chasm between what wins in the amateurs and what wins in the pros wasn’t as vast.

So while Berto hasn’t moved half as fast as a Floyd Mayweather or a Fernando Vargas or a David Reid (the latter two of whom were arguably rushed and ruined, for what that’s worth), that’s perfectly forgivable. By today’s standards, judged against most of his fellow ’04 Olympians, the welterweight who represented Haiti at the Athens Games is being advanced rather quickly.

In his 10th pro fight, Berto took on a fellow undefeated prospect, Jonathan Tubbs, who’d beaten him in the amateurs. Berto won by TKO in the third. In 2006 came the journeymen, like James Crayton and Miguel Figueroa, then Nito Bravo in February ’07. Berto took care of business in 12 rounds total against the trio.

It was time to step up, so in July ’07, he did, facing a fighter who’d been RING-rated not long before, Cosme Rivera. Berto got a scare, suffering a stiff knockdown in round six, but he won arguably every other round en route to a 10-round decision. His promotional team at DiBella Entertainment apparently didn’t view it as a scare, because they stepped up the competition again for Berto’s next fight, putting him in with David Estrada, who was somewhere on the blurry line between serious contender and dangerous gatekeeper. Berto struggled in spots, but got stronger as the fight wore on and took Estrada out in round 11.

Up to that point in Berto’s career, there was little to argue with in terms of how he’d been maneuvered. But the next two opponents, Michel Trabant of Germany and Miki Rodriguez of Mexico, were a definite step down from Estrada, and yet both got to share the ring with Berto on HBO. Then came Stevie Forbes, a name fighter and a true tough guy, but an undersized non-puncher with no hope of beating Berto.

The criticism that these were not HBO-quality opponents, and that Berto was being matched too carefully, began to pile up.

“Stevie Forbes was an HBO-quality opponent for Oscar De La Hoya in a fight that cost $9.5-million,” Berto’s promoter, Lou DiBella, quickly countered when speaking to THE RING last weekend.

“Look, here’s what my obligation is,” DiBella continued. “To try to pay the bills for both the kid and myself, and to put him in a position that when he is brought to the top echelon of the division, he’s ready to compete with anybody.”

One thing you have to say for DiBella fighters is that once they get to the point where they’re tangling with the elite, they don’t look back. A perfect case is Jermain Taylor, the 2000 Olympian who was moved similarly to Berto for his first four years as a pro, took a massive jump into a fight with Bernard Hopkins for the middleweight title, and has fought this string of non-stop championship-caliber competition since: Hopkins again, Winky Wright, Kassim Ouma, Cory Spinks, Kelly Pavlik, Pavlik again, and Jeff Lacy.

“I think it’s true of all my fighters, Jermain Taylor, Paulie Malignaggi — when the guy’s been turned loose at the top of the division, then he’s been turned loose,” said DiBella.

The turning loose of Berto begins with 27-year-old veteran-in-his-prime Collazo, who’s currently ranked as the No. 8 contender by THE RING, one spot ahead of the 25-year-old Berto. Collazo lacks a defining victory — his best was a decision in ’05 over Jose Antonio Rivera — but he owns a defining loss that was nearly a win, when he dropped a questionable verdict to then-unbeaten Ricky Hatton in ’06. He’s a lefty with world-class skills and enough pop to keep opponents honest, and he surely sees the highly touted Berto as his best shot for that defining win that has eluded him.

If Berto can deny him that, DiBella assures us that a Taylor-like willingness to tangle with anyone in the loaded 147-pound division will immediately follow.

“This is by far the toughest guy Berto’s fought,” DiBella said. “This is the kind of test that, if Berto passes it, then bring on Miguel Cotto next fight, bring on Zab Judah next fight, bring on Shane Mosley if he’s not retired by Antonio Margarito. Remember, if HBO hadn’t added money to the pot to make Margarito-Mosley happen, we were ready to fight Mosley. We would have taken that fight. Berto’s never had a million-dollar payday. This kid wants to be a superstar, and the only way to do that is to beat a big name.

“And if you’re handling Manny Pacquiao and you really believe he’s King Kong, put him in with Berto. Honestly, if you’re handling Pacquiao, we don’t think you should. We know that Berto’s too physically strong for you.”

One minute a fighter is being accused of hand-picking second-rate opponents; the next his promoter is calling out the pound-for-pound king. It’s a wild see-saw, but it’s also a perfect indication of how complex the challenge of moving a prospect is. Whether you pick one end of the spectrum, the other end or somewhere in the middle, there’s always going to be some second-guessing.

So has Berto been moved too slow, too fast or just right? We’ll get a strong indication on Saturday night.

If he loses to Collazo, obviously he wasn’t prepared properly for a test of this caliber.

If he wins, then his education is complete and the goal is no longer to turn this prospect into a contender, but rather to turn this contender into a superstar.


Did the WBC really congratulate itself last week on presenting “a record 64 world title fights during 2008”? Yes, kudos, fellas, on creating so many bogus “interim” titles that every bout is a title fight and you guys can sanction (a.k.a. drain money from) a record number of contests. It’s sort of like a dirty cop framing people for crimes and then celebrating a record number of arrests at the end of the year. …

I have mixed feelings over the news that Gus Johnson is replacing Steve Albert as the primary blow-by-blow man on Showtime Championship Boxing. On the one hand, I think Johnson is one of the better young sportscasters out there and I love his enthusiasm; on the other hand, Albert is one of the nicest guys I’ve dealt with in boxing and he was probably doing the best work of his career since partnering with Al Bernstein in 2003. Best of luck in all of your upcoming ventures, Steve. …

Eleven months ago, after he waxed Johnnie Edwards, I considered Yuriorkis Gamboa the No. 1 prospect to watch in all of boxing and a likely future pound-for-pounder and RING world champion. With each passing fight, doesn’t he look more and more like a guy who won’t even make it to an alphabet title?