In what’s shaping up to be a huge year for the 147-pound division, perhaps none of the fighters in the weight class’s upper echelon have a better perspective on both the highs and lows of the fight game than former two-time champion Andre Berto.
A series of injuries and a trio of losses between 2011 and 2013 derailed Berto, a Florida native whose parents emigrated from Haiti. But since linking up with trainer Virgil Hunter and moving his training camp across the country to Hayward, California, the 33-year-old has won three of his last four fights, with the lone setback coming via unanimous decision in September 2015 to this generation’s greatest boxer—Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Berto followed that up last April by avenging his first loss to Victor Ortiz, who not only took Berto’s world title but broke the champion’s jaw in the 2011 Fight of the Year. In the rematch, though, Berto overcame a second-round knockdown and KO’d Ortiz in Round 4 to put himself back on track.
That win got him to this point—in a matchup with fellow former champ Shawn Porter in a 147-pound world title eliminator Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT). The winner will put himself in line for a shot at unified champion Keith Thurman.
Before heading off to New York, though, Andre Berto (31-4, 24 KOs) took a break during his final days of camp to talk about his comeback, where he stands in the 147-pound division and the prospect of winning a third world championship.
Over the last two years, you’ve come back from injuries, gotten in a rhythm with trainer Virgil Hunter, avenged your loss to Victor Ortiz and also fought Floyd Mayweather. What word would you use to sum up the last two years?
Blessing. Overall, the last two years have been a blessing. Just coming back from the injuries, everything I was going through, I went through a little bit of a downturn in my career and had to re-evaluate a lot of things.
I came back, refocused myself, rededicated myself and got put in some great situations, great positions, and it showed me who I was as a man, to come back from all of that. I had to show so much fortitude to overcome so much to be back in this position.
The 147-pound division is pretty loaded right now, and late last year you made some headlines by saying the mandate was that “everybody’s fighting everybody” in 2017. So then, who are the top five guys in your weight class?
I’d say Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Errol Spence Jr. Then, I believe, myself and Shawn Porter.
You train just outside of Oakland with a stable of fighters that has grown quite a bit lately. You’ve trained for a while alongside Andre Ward and Amir Khan, and now with guys such as Peter Quillin and Andrzej Fonfara, among others. How much does working in that kind of environment benefit you?
Everybody is focused, man. Everybody is dialed in, and they don’t have a choice. When you’re at the gym with a lot of world-class, elite fighters, everybody pushes themselves and at the same time pushes you to a different level.
You’re either going to step into that position of raising the level of everything you’ve been doing, or you’ve got to leave. Just to be in that gym is something spectacular right now.
Looking at your fight this weekend, what’s the best thing Shawn Porter does?
Everybody knows that he comes in shape, and he brings that physicality and aggression.
“ The last two years have been a blessing. Just coming back from the injuries, everything I was going through, I went through a little bit of a downturn in my career and had to re-evaluate a lot of things. ” Andre Berto, former two-time 147-pound world champion
In the wake of Muhammad Ali passing last year, you offered many public tributes, so he clearly meant a lot to you. Why was he such a significant figure to you personally?
For me, I believe that he was more than just a fighter. He was a hero all the way around. You don’t find too many guys in pro sports who exceed who they are as athletes outside of their sport. He was one of those guys.
Muhammad Ali was “The People’s Champ” all the way around. He broke a lot of different barriers and inspired the world. Boxing was just a platform. His voice and personality spoke loudly outside of the fight game.
You have a personal chef who lives with you during camp, and you keep your diet on point. What’s the toughest food for you to give up while training?
I’m an island boy. I love island food, so that means lots of rice. I’m a big rice eater. Also, cheeses and stuff like that, we cut that stuff off. No cheese, no dairy.
But I still watch the Food Network every day. I’m addicted to the Food Network. I watch it all during training camp—all day.
What’s the first vivid boxing memory that you have?
I think it was when we had a big fight party at my house when Hagler fought Hearns. Just to see how intense it was in that house full of people, being a little kid and seeing everything about it, all the hype and everyone pumped up. It was tremendous.
What is your favorite punch to throw?
I think everybody knows that my uppercut is my signature punch.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
... playing football, probably. I played through middle school and high school. I had some scholarship offers coming out of high school, but the 2004 Olympics came first (Berto represented Haiti at the Athens Games), so I took that route.
You’re known as quite the world traveler when not in training. What’s your favorite place you’ve visited?
I loved Italy, but I really loved the island of Boracay in the Philippines. That was my favorite, it was pretty dope.
What place that you haven’t been to is at the top of your travel bucket list?
One more place I still have to go is Africa. I want to go to Africa soon.
Where do you see yourself at the end of this year?
I see myself with that strap, and in 2017 I see myself back on top of the welterweight game as a world champion, staying focused and inspiring a lot of people.
How about 10 years from now?
Ten years from now, I see myself just enjoying my harvest, man, reaping the benefits of all the hard work I’ve put in in 20-plus years in this fight game.
Realistically, I see myself probably doing something on TV, and dedicating more time to my charities in Haiti.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: two-division world champion and current 200-pound titleholder Beibut Shumenov.