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Andre Berto: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

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For the past year-and-a-half, former two-time welterweight champion Andre Berto’s life has been the exact opposite of his laidback demeanor. The trouble started in April of 2011 against Victor Ortiz, a junior welterweight with a shaky chin Berto thought he’d blast out of there. It didn’t happen. In fact, both men hit the canvas in an absolutely unexpected war that left Berto with his first loss when the scorecards were read.
 

But Berto, 28-1 (22), is resilient. He came back that September under the conditioning and nutritional guidance of SNAC (Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning) guru Victor Conte and his team along with trainer Tony Morgan. Berto, a Florida native, moved his operation to San Carlos, CA near Conte’s SNAC offices at the Undisputed Boxing gym. It was a success as Berto pounded former IBF welterweight champ Jan Zaveck’s face to hamburger and took the strap.


Naturally, Berto and Ortiz looked to unify in a rematch for the WBC and IBF belts. Only this time, Berto requested this fight follow in Floyd Mayweather’s recent footsteps. But rather than procure Mayweather’s drug testing agency of choice, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Berto chose the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA). Like USADA, VADA is an independent drug testing organization. Unlike USADA, VADA is geared specifically toward fighters and tests stringently. Whereas USADA does not disclose what tests they do and when, VADA uses the entire available drug panels including Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) testing, HGH and the standard steroid panel for each sample. Because of this, Berto chose VADA.
 
The rematch seemed doomed from the start. First, Berto tore his bicep in camp and the fight had to be postponed. Then the unexpected happened and Berto tested positive for Nandrolone metabolites (my in-depth Maxboxing piece details the situation: http://www.maxboxing.com/news/max-boxing-news/andre-berto-tests-positive-for-the-molecule-of-the-month-nandrolone).
 
“I was extremely shocked. I didn’t know what to do,” Berto told David Duenez and me recently on Leaveitintheringradio.com. “I was in camp. Everything was going tremendously well. I just didn’t understand. In the last camp I was injured [Writer’s note: The injury postponed the Ortiz rematch that was eventually canceled by the positive drug test] and now this happens. And it didn’t waste any time. It hit ESPN, all the newspapers. It was crazy, almost overnight. I was devastated. Everybody knows my family. We pride ourselves on hard work. We don’t know anything else. We pride ourselves on hard work. Nothing else makes sense to us. And that the situation threw some shade on anything we did, it was just embarrassing. I was just hurt extremely by it. Extremely.
 
Initially, because of his work with Conte, the witch hunt focused on the BALCO founder, never mind Conte is known for helping to create arguably the greatest undetectable drug ever. Nandrolone is a completely out of date, an obvious steroid that stays highly detectable for a very long period of time. The M.O. didn’t fit. Others theorized that Conte led Berto to VADA so he could beat the protocols. That theory didn’t fly considering Berto got caught with an ‘80-‘90s drug with hundreds of cases of contamination through a variety of ways.
 
“No, he wasn’t,” said Berto when asked if Conte was involved in what happened. “He didn’t have anything to do with it at all. And why would I want to do VADA testing and then, again, they found contamination in my blood testing? It just doesn’t make sense.”
 
Added to this, unlike for the Zaveck camp, Berto was training away from Conte in Southern California. According to Berto, he gave two samples to VADA in that camp which ended when he was injured. When he moved to Florida and camp resumed, Berto’s first sample taken came back positive for Nandrolone metabolites.
 
“Everything we took, we took the last camp. VADA came the first time we were in camp [for Ortiz] and we were taking all the same supplements,” said Berto, who seemed to wonder even now what went wrong in camp. “Everything was exactly the same. Everything. Everything. They came and tested me twice then. And now this go-round, it came up like that. I just didn’t know. I didn’t understand what was going on.”
 
If Berto didn’t know what Nandrolone was before, he certainly does now. Says Berto, this is exactly why he wanted VADA testing in the first place.
 
“I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what it meant,” said Berto, referring to Nandrolone contamination. “Then I did my research on it and there are so many different ways to get contaminated by Nandrolone. From everyday situations, every day food. And the tests we did, we wanted to get the VADA testing because we knew the testing was very sensitive. Even if someone takes something months before, VADA testing could pick it up and find traces of it. That’s the reason we picked it because it is very sensitive. But you know, it picked up everything.”
 
Unlike Antonio Tarver, whose one-year suspension for testing positive for Drostanolone metabolites was upheld recently, Berto was given his license by California.
 
“We had to go through a lot of different steps,” explained Berto. “Everybody knows that CSAC is one of the best commissions and one of the biggest commissions. I had gone through it all. I had to test the sample that was contaminated. I had to go through the whole process. They had to test me in and out, up and down and around the corner, every which way they could test me. They did that and they saw everything was clean; everything was legit. They even seen that the sample that tested positive, that not only was it contamination of some kind but that it was nothing to do with any type of enhancement or anything. Anything. It was small, small traces of some type of contamination that caused the false [positive]. I had to go through what I had to go through and now I am here.”
 
“Here” is a bout with Robert Guerrero, who recently moved up from 135 pounds to 147 and captured the interim IBF welterweight belt in a points win over tough, limited and much-avoided Selcuk Aydin in July. Guerrero has had four interim belts; beating a name like Berto in a championship fight could not only bring Guerrero the legitimacy he craves but will put him firmly in the Floyd Mayweather sweepstakes. While some argue Guerrero is not a true welterweight, Berto will be facing a tough and hungry assignment November 24 in Ontario, CA’s Citizens Business Bank Arena. It’s not going to be easy after such a long layoff.
 
Berto was at the Aydin fight and seemed entertained but unimpressed.
 
“Everybody’s a threat,” said Berto. “Everybody wants to be in the money division and fight the top guys. They’re going to be in shape and be ready. But you know, being there at the Aydin fight watching, Aydin, he’s a tough welterweight. ‘Tough welterweight’ as in putting up his guard walking up to you and taking shots to land one hard shot. He did that all night. He just put his hands up tight and just kept walking and walking to Robert. Only thing Robert did is keep turning him and turning him. I saw Aydin hurt and hurt him once he started opening up a little. He’s a very skilled fighter. He’s a tough fighter. We will have to see where he is at.”
 
With the stigma of the positive test hanging over Berto, Guerrero called for additional drug testing to be conducted by VADA. Berto reportedly agreed. When all was said and done, USADA got the contract per Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer and Berto adviser Al Haymon, according to some reports and sources.
 
“Everybody came to the table wanting to do USADA testing,” asserted Berto (Read this story and tell me if you agree: http://www.maxboxing.com/news/max-boxing-news/a-long-and-twisted-drug-testing-road-for-boxing).
 
When asked if VADA testing offered for free to both fighters would have made a difference (from what I understand, sponsorships were made available to both fighters), Berto answered, “I’m not sure at all. I am not sure at all when it comes to the VADA testing. I know for a fact it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that was involved in the promotion of the fight, I believe, because of the fact of the way that it came out. Nothing got explained. Nobody knew what it was, what was going on. It was a positive test and it just got blasted. So of course, any and everybody could take that and run with it for whatever they think it is. I think the way they carried the situation, it left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth.”
 
It should be noted that both cases where VADA tests came up positive, Lamont Peterson and Andre Berto, were broken after the “B” samples tested positive. While Schaefer publicly denounced VADA at the time for not informing them sooner about Lamont Peterson’s positive “A” sample, this idea of “the way it came out” is a new reason for not using VADA.
 
Considering this story: http://www.maxboxing.com/news/max-boxing-news/morales-test-positive-for-clenbuterol-the-fight-tests-boxing-morals and the events surrounding the Erik Morales and Danny Garcia rematch, it raises questions as to why VADA (a company successfully detecting fighters to the tune of two to USADA’s one but following WADA code while doing it) is being edged out by Golden Boy Promotions, who christened the company in the Ortiz-Berto rematch. It will be interesting to see how the testing for this fight unfolds going forward.
 
For now, Berto takes the lessons he has learned over the past year-and-a-half and hopes to put them to good use.
 
“Everything in general has put me in a space where I needed to be,” he said. “This last year, I’ve been through a lot. I think there are things you need to go through as men to really understand the situation that you are in, understand what is going on around you. In this last year, I have learned a lot. A tremendous bit about myself, the fight game and a lot of things in general. I believe it was unfortunate, a lot of the things I went through. It hurt. It hurt tremendously. But I am blessed to be put back in this position. I am going to take advantage of it. And stepping forward, I am going to continue to use everything I have learned to my advantage.”
 
Going forward, Berto can only do but a couple of things to regain his good name: keep winning and keep passing drug tests. Hopefully for him, the former will eventually help overshadow the latter.
 
“I mean, the only thing that people will want to see, they’ve seen the stuff that I went through,” Berto explained, understanding it as he spoke. “Then again, they want to see my in-the-ring performance.  That’s the only thing that’s going to make sense to them. They want to see me continue going through testing and entertaining and going in there and fight. So that’s what I plan on doing.”
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 

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