Berto toughened up by ring setbacks, Haiti relief efforts heading into crucial bout

Like all professional boxers, Andre Berto has been up close and personal with visions that would make the average person go weak in the knees. In his last bout, just the sight of Victor Ortiz’s bloodied face after an accidental first-round headbutt would have sent many people reaching for the smelling salts.

Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz

After losing his 147-pound world championship to Victor Ortiz in the 2011 Fight of the Year, Andre Berto avenged the defeat with a fourth-round knockout in Carson, California, last April. (Suzanne Teresa/Premier Boxing Champions)

But nothing prepared Berto for what he saw when he visited earthquake-ravaged Haiti in 2010, and nothing he had ever done—or is ever likely to do—will compare to the duties he was forced to perform in service to the victims of that catastrophe, which claimed as many as 300,000 lives.

“When I got there, it was only two or three days after the earthquake, and everything was still fresh,” he said. “We had to work fast, and we were literally seeing people getting crushed left and right, and pulling kids from the rubble.”

His most vivid and horrendous memory?

“Holding kids down when they were getting limbs amputated with no anesthesia,” he said. “It was tough. It was horrible. I could hardly look at it, but I couldn’t look away. I had to do it. After seeing that, and so much death, I was pretty [messed] up for a while.”

By comparison, stepping into the ring to fight Shawn Porter in a 147-pound title eliminator on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime; 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT), seems like pretty tame stuff.

It is a huge fight for Andre Berto, make no mistake, because at five months shy of his 34th birthday, it probably represents his last chance to re-establish himself as an important fighter in the 147-pound division.

Having come through a six-year stretch of rough road, bookended by two fights with Ortiz, the first of which he lost and the second of which he won last April, the clock is definitely ticking on Berto’s career.

Between his decision loss to Ortiz in April 2011 and his redemptive fourth-round TKO win on April 30, Berto—who came into the first Ortiz bout unbeaten in 27 fights—lost as many times as he won, four up and four down, including a 12-round decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September 2015.

It was a stretch in which Berto (31-4, 24 KOs) not only lost fights, but also confidence and a good deal of his standing in the division after having twice held world titles between June 2008 and November 2011.

That is why his win over Ortiz last April, accomplished after Berto climbed off the floor from a first-round knockdown, was such a personal turning point for him. Nothing as emotionally involving as his Haitian experience, but a vital part of his career arc just the same.

“That was very, very, very important for me,” Berto said. “Victor gave me my first defeat, and that definitely started the process of a lot of different bad things for me, emotionally, confidence-wise and physical problems, as well.

“That fight kinda began all of that, so it meant a lot for me to have that fight again and not make the same mistakes I did the first time.”

After you see something like that, you realize that as much as I love boxing, it ain’t real life. Someday, boxing is going to be over for me, and you have to be able to dedicate yourself to something bigger than that. Andre Berto, on helping with relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake of 2010

In the interim, Berto had recovered from various injuries, including a shoulder problem that required surgery, as well as the misuse, in training for the first Ortiz fight, of a hypoxic machine meant to simulate high-altitude training that he believes affected his liver and kidneys, and robbed him of his stamina.

By the time he stepped into the ring to fight Ortiz the second time, his right shoulder had healed well enough to allow him to drop his former tormentor with a perfect right uppercut, and his psyche had healed well enough to allow him to begin believing in himself once again.

“Now I’m back to being the Andre Berto I was before the first fight,” he said.

In Porter (26-2-1, 16 KOs), Berto will be facing a fighter considered to be what Berto once was—one of the top five fighters in the 147-pound division, which is among boxing’s most talent-rich.

And if he beats Porter, Berto will need to run a gauntlet of some of the sport’s biggest names—Manny Pacquiao, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Errol Spence Jr., Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson are all in the mix—to have any hope of regaining the stature he once enjoyed.

“A win in this fight puts me right back at the top of the division,” he said. “It’s not about the money. I’ve accumulated enough to take care of my family. Right now, my thing is I want to go in there now that I’m sharp and back healthy and dominate and unify this division. And after that, them guys can have it.”

Berto has learned that while boxing is important and serious, it pales in comparison to the rigors of real life. The Florida-born son of Haitian parents, Berto was so shaken up by the earthquake in his ancestral country—in which an uncle and numerous other family members and friends died—that he pulled out of a scheduled title unification fight against Shane Mosley in January 2010 to make a humanitarian journey to help the victims.

It was a decision, he said, that cost him millions of dollars. It was also a journey that changed his outlook on life.

“After you see something like that, you realize that as much as I love boxing, it ain’t real life,” he said. “Someday, boxing is going to be over for me, and you have to be able to dedicate yourself to something bigger than that. And that’s where it’s at for me now.”

For a complete look at Berto vs Porter, visit our fight page.

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