August 27, 2011

Andre Berto's Biloxi Blues‏‏

By Jeffrey Freeman - They say a boxer is only as good as his last fight, and in the case of Andre Berto that last fight was a valiant, but losing effort to Victor Ortiz in a 'Fight of the Year' candidate that cost Berto his WBC welterweight title, his undefeated record, and perhaps even a mega-fight with boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather.

So just how good is Andre Berto based on his last fight and what if anything did he gain by losing like he did? That depends on how you look at it, because another oft-cited boxing axiom is that when two fighters engage in a 'Fight of the Year' type fight like Berto and Ortiz did earlier this year, both fighters are generally elevated on the strength of that collective performance.

But has that really been the case with Andre Berto? Has Berto really been elevated and if not, why has he been unable to capitalize on that performance in the way that Victor Ortiz has?

Obviously by winning, Ortiz gets the glory and the next big fight with Money Mayweather but let's also look at how both fighters have conducted themselves since their fight last April. To his credit, Victor Ortiz has been nothing but gracious and respectful in the media toward Andre Berto while during this same time, Andre Berto has made veiled allegations on Twitter that Victor Ortiz was on steroids for their fight. Andre Berto has also made many inexplicable excuses for his own performance, essentially saying that he was not at his best and that it wasn't the real Andre Berto in the ring that night. Berto seems unwilling to act like a true champion and simply say he lost to the better man, with no excuses. While Victor Ortiz has done his best to win over his many critics, Berto has seemingly done everything possible to give them ammunition against him.

By his own hand, Andre Berto is in danger of becoming a forgotten fighter and although he and his promoter Lou DiBella deny this, they both seem to know it's true.

During a media conference call to promote the fight against Zaveck, Andre Berto seemed genuinely annoyed at the suggestion that he risks becoming a forgotten fighter, and shot back at this journalist by saying, "Is that what it is? You lose one fight and you're forgotten about already? Fighters like Mosley and Hopkins have shown, they lose one fight, they come back bigger than they were before. That's what blows my mind about boxing writers and just boxing in general. You lose one close fight and people act like they'll write you off. In boxing, you can turn into a superstar overnight. I had a bad night and after that fight, I had to really sit back and realize a lot of things. But I don't care what people think, or what they are gonna write, I'm just doing this for me, my family and the real Berto fans and that's it."

Said promoter Lou DiBella, "In a fight of the year candidate like the one Andre fought against Ortiz, your status is supposed to go up, not down."

That is generally true for action fighters like Gatti & Ward, but in the case of Andre Berto, his status appears to have diminished. That may have more to do with how Berto has conducted himself since the loss than with how he fights. Berto did himself no favors on Twitter with his steroid comments aimed at Ortiz, and he has done himself no favors by making excuses for the loss, and by not giving Ortiz the unconditional respect that Ortiz has so clearly given to him since their memorable fight last April. A loss to the unknown Jan Zaveck could easily put Berto in career limbo, and there is a strong likelihood that any remaining loyalty in Berto at HBO and among boxing fans would wither away as attention shifts to other fighters with more appealing styles.

IBF welterweight titlist Jan Zaveck, fighting for the first time in the United States against Berto, would like nothing more than get his name on the map at the expense of Andre Berto, "I didn't come here to America to buy or sell something. I came here to defend my title. It doesn't matter if you know me or not, after this fight many more people will know who I am and many more people will want to know who I am." 

Whatever goodwill and additional interest that he might have generated as a fighter for his gutsy loss to Ortiz has been squandered by Berto himself, and his unwillingness to accept the loss and give the proper credit to the man who beat him. Fans don't want to hear excuses after a loss, even though they might be used to them. Fans especially don't want to hear a fighter cry "steroids" after a loss. That's just bad form, and it's very disrespectful, particularly coming from a fighter who is now working with Victor Conte, founder and president of the infamous BALCO, a sports nutrition company with ties to steroid use in professional sports. For the record, Conte served prison time in 2005 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids.

Victor Conte is now a nutritionist and conditioning coach with Team Berto.

So as Victor Ortiz prepares to face Floyd Mayweather in September in Las Vegas on Pay-Per-View, Andre Berto prepares to face the relatively unknown welterweight belt holder Jan Zavek in Biloxi, Mississippi on HBO Boxing After Dark. For Ortiz, it's a win-win situation. Ortiz will be paid millions, he will fight on the biggest stage a fighter can ever hope to compete on, and he is within striking distance of becoming an elite fighter in the sport of boxing. Ortiz is living up to the saying that a fighter is only as good as last fight, and that performance against Berto has undeniably elevated his status as a fighter. Andre Berto on the other hand, is in an almost no-win situation now. If he loses to Zaveck, that will be two upset losses in a row and the people who might have been on the fence about Berto will now have a legitimate reason to move on and forget about him as a top level fighter. If he wins, he picks up the IBF welterweight title, but what comes after that? More mandatory defenses against unknown fighters? More less than scintillating fights on HBO, as is his norm?

Or can Andre Berto fully re-invent himself and become the elite fighter he dreams of becoming? Only time will tell. But by losing to Victor Ortiz, Andre Berto has given the boxing world an opportunity to pass him by and if he loses to Jan Zaveck in Biloxi, it's doubtful he could ever catch up.

Zaveck battles Berto in Biloxi on September 3rd on HBO.

"You're a witness. You're always standing around watching what's happening, scribbling in your book what other people do. You have to get in the middle of it. You have to take sides. Make a contribution to the fight. Any fight. The one you believe in. Once you start compromising your thoughts, you're a candidate for mediocrity." ~ Arnold Esptein, Biloxi Blues 1988