“We tried to make it,” Berto told me earlier this week. “We were supposed to fight Mosley instead of fighting Hernandez, actually, but there was no interest from his team. And then later, they wanted to take a different route, They wanted to take on Sergio Mora. They probably felt that them coming off the loss with Mayweather that he wanted to come back with a fight that he could win. But that didn’t end up panning out too well, either. I’m sure a lot of these guys don’t have a choice of who gets to them. I’m just focused on Saturday night but when it comes to 2011, they will have to come see me.”
If you follow Twitter or boxing forums or even some circles in the boxing world, you’ve heard the criticism of Andre Berto. He makes too much money for the fights he gets; he is not that good; he only fights guys coming up in weight; he’s unproven yet on HBO for the eighth time and defending his belt against an unworthy challenger for the fifth time. And the criticism, harsh as it is, is true to a certain extent. Beyond the Luis Collazo fight and the Quintana fights, both high-action, competitive bouts, Berto’s time on HBO and as a titleholder has been less than thrilling. Like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Berto has been matched very well and fans and writers are hoping he steps it up in the coming year. For this fight, Berto will make an estimated 1.25 million dollars to face Freddy Hernandez, a good fighter who is a on a little hot streak right now against journeymen but certainly a fighter no one expects to win. Last week, the Middleweight Champion of the World, Sergio Martinez, made only one million dollars defending his belt against one of the best fighters in the world. Incidentally, that fighter, Paul Williams, also made more than the champ. The reason is one Al Haymon, who “advises” both men and has strong ties to HBO. Is the pay differential or the matchmaking wrong? Yes and it depends on who you ask. Champions should be the gold standard in terms of pay. Matchmaking, in many cases, is just good management. And if a network is fine with it and paying you big to do it, well, as they say, “You can’t knock the hustle.”
Is it Paul Williams or Andre Berto’s fault? Absolutely not. In fact, they should be praised for picking such good management.
To Berto, all the criticism is unwarranted and he hopes to rectify it soon enough.
“I’m getting criticized because of other guys who don’t want to step in the ring with me,” said Berto. “And they are criticizing me, thinking it is on my end. But it’s not. In 2011, we’re going to be full force ahead.”
One fight being discussed is a match-up with Manny Pacquiao who holds a belt at 147 pounds but has yet to defend it. The question in many critics’ eyes is “Why Berto? What has he done to deserve the shot at the biggest star in boxing?” Berto’s answer to that is simple.
“The last couple fights they’ve been seeing Pacquiao beat up a lot of older guys like De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Margarito,” he explained. “With me, they’d be putting him in with someone just as fast as him, just as strong as him and, at the same time, someone that has youth and agility. And everyone knows I’m going to come to fight every fight, no matter what it is. They know I am going to come in there with a lot of explosion, a lot of speed and a lot of power. I won’t back down. So it’s all set for a good fight.”
Berto is absolutely right. Since his fight with David Diaz at 135, Manny Pacquiao, while steadily rising in weight, has not steadily risen in prime, dangerous competition. While each fight with Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito presented different challenges in terms of size, each man was tailor-made for Pacquiao in one way or the other. De La Hoya hadn’t hit 147 in ten years. Cotto had already suffered a brutal loss to Antonio Margarito and was made to put up his belt in a catchweight fight rather than the full 147-pound limit. Ricky Hatton had also already been flattened before Pacquiao got to him and his style, at any weight, seemed to bring out the best in Manny. Other than De La Hoya’s left hook and Cotto’s left to the body, the one-punch knockout possibility with each man was slim to none.
Berto is none of those men in terms of accomplishment. He’s also much more dangerous than any of them in terms of potential and where he is now at this moment, in his career as compared to them. With Manny talking about facing Shane Mosley or Miguel Cotto in a rematch and Floyd Mayweather allegedly doing something terrible each week, it seems, Berto sits patiently waiting and biding his time.
“I think everything is happening right on time,” he said.
One thing that must instill faith in young Berto is Haymon. If anyone can make it happen for him, it’s him. This weekend, Berto and his Haymon stablemate Sakio Bika, who takes on Andre Ward up in Oakland for Ward’s super middleweight title, find themselves as the last (Hay)men standing. With Andre Dirrell pulling out of his fight with Ward, Paul Williams and Danny Jacobs having been knocked out in their last fights off one punch apiece, and again Floyd gone fishin’ in Crazyville, Berto is the last star hopeful Haymon has on HBO for the time being. When asked if this gives him additional pressure, Berto seemed to shrug “No” over the phone.
“No, not at all. I’m just doing what I do,” Berto said. “You know, all the other guys, I just wished them luck. All those guys are good friends of mine. Me, I’m focused on my own destiny. I have everything right in front of me. I’m at the top of the welterweight division. And I am just a fight or two away from fighting these Hall of Famers. I kind of feel there might be a changing of the guard. A new face, a new star. So we’ll see.”
When the subject turned back to Hernandez and the task at hand, Berto surprised me.
“Actually, I still have never seen him fight,” He admitted. “My team has been talking to me about it. They’ve been watching a lot of tape. He’s tall. From what I am hearing, he’s tall; he has a lot of size on him. He comes to fight. I heard he moves slower than normal but with a really, really good right hand. He’s been knocking a lot of guys out his last few fights with a right hand. The table is set for a good fight. I have a good right hand, I have speed and power and you will see how that pans out.”
When we had first talked a few years ago, Berto was a fighter who watched tape of his opponents. He liked to study everything. But that was way back before he was a titleholder or on the verge of a mega-fight. His answer now was that of a veteran who had learned a thing or two about the sport and about himself.
“You know what? At the beginning, I did,” he said. “I ain’t gonna lie. But it seemed every time I looked for a certain type of style or a certain type of fight, I’d get in there and it’s a completely different situation. The guy doesn’t fight the same or he comes in with a different type of approach. So I said, ‘Just forget it.’ I just see in the ring what he does and I adapt to it.”
In Hernandez, Berto faces a fighter Floyd Mayweather would describe as “straight up and down, no special effects.” He moves well as far as turning off angles. He cuts off the ring well but can turn into a straight-ahead fighter. The defense is tight but basic shell and leaning to block with the elbows. And the main weapon is a right hand that is set up by a very straight and deceptively fast jab. Hernandez is the type of fighter that if you sleep on him or if he catches you with that right, it can be over in instant. But at the same time, a guy with Berto’s ability should beat him. Berto recognized that while this fight might be a bit of an audition for the big time, it was important to remain focused on this moment instead of the future.
“Every fight is another fight for me. Anything can happen at any given time,” Berto said. “I trained hard as always for this fight the same way I would for Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley. In every fight, I will have a lot of eyes on me. At the same time, anything can happen in there, so I make sure I am well prepared. I just want to go in there and just perform and come out with the win. That’s the only thing that matters at the end of the day. Right now, all my focus is on Saturday night. Whatever pans out after that, we will make it happen.”
As for the future, Berto said he would not chase just one fight. If Manny can’t come out and play with a prime fighter who brings danger and the kind of representation that won’t allow their fighter to be compromised, there are other options.
“If not Pacquiao, we have other names,” Berto explained. “We have Shane Mosley. If not Shane, then we have Cotto. What I am saying is we have a lot of options, so I am not really tripping off certain guys and sitting there waiting for them at all. I just let my team handle that and I’ll take care of business Saturday and we’ll see what’s up.”
The last time I spoke to Berto was on the radio for Leave-it-in-the-ring.com. At the time, Berto had no fight scheduled and none on the horizon. It was a frustrating period for him as he clearly wanted to move forward with a big fight but, for various reasons, nothing had come to fruition. Now, his tone has changed and he seemed not only ready for the Saturday violence fast approaching but for the future.
“You go through these frustrating points at times because you want to be at a certain point,” Berto said. “But I’m good now. These last few months, we have been through a lot of things from a personal aspect. And you have to take these for what they are. Al [Haymon] tells me all the time, ‘Remember, you are still extremely young. A lot of the guys in your division, they are in their early 30s.’ He always tells me I just need to relax. So everything is good and I believe in 2011, everything is going to open up.”
As for Saturday night, Berto kept his prediction humble yet hopeful.
“It’s going to be a good fight and I see myself coming out with the win,” he said, then added with a small laugh and what was very evidently a smile, “Hopefully, it won’t go the distance and we can get out of there early.”
You can email Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into hear him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.