Longing to fight keeps pulling Andre Berto into the ring

Former welterweight champion wants to close out his standout career on his own terms—which starts by taking out former titleholder Devon Alexander this Saturday night on FOX.

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Andre Berto looks back on the period between 2008 and 2011 with longing.

Those were heady days for the Haitian-American, who held the WBC welterweight title for three years and then added the IBF version for a short time. He was arguably the third best 147-pounder then, behind only Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.

Seven years after Berto’s reign ended and in the wake of several disappointing setbacks, the 34-year-old still wants to feel a major belt being wrapped around his waist.

He’s scheduled to face fellow former titleholder Devon Alexander in a do-or-die battle of veterans Saturday night in primetime on FOX and FOX Deportes (7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT) at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

“That’s something you want to taste again and again,” he said of his titles. “It comes to be somewhat addictive.”

Berto (31-5, 24 knockouts) chuckled when he was reminded that he has been boxing professionally for almost 14 years. “Geez,” he said. “That’s nuts.”

A lot has changed since he fought for Haiti in the 2004 Olympics and then burst upon the pro scene as formidable ball of energy, speed and power. He won his first 27 fights (21 by knockout), including a seventh-round KO of Miguel Angel Rodriquez for the vacant WBC title in 2008 and five successful defenses.

He was like a Formula 1 race car speeding to the top of the boxing mountain. Today, after many taxing battles, he’s more like a vintage sports car—still sleek, still quick, but not quite as high-powered.

He once fought multiple times a year, as young fighters do. Now he picks and chooses his bouts. He has fought only once a year since Mayweather outpointed him 2015.

One reason for that is lack of opportunities, he said; he wants only meaningful fights. Another reason is the inclination of many older boxers—particularly aggressive ones like Berto to slow down in an effort to preserve the fight that remains in his body as long as possible.

He was asked whether a 15-plus-month layoff going into the Alexander fight could leave him rusty. He said that at this stage of his career, the precious time for his body—and mind—to recuperate from its most recent scrap outweighs any rust.

“I’m focusing more on the healing factor,” he said. “I’ve had a nice, extensive camp the last 10 weeks. I feel sharp. That time off definitely did it for me.”

That doesn’t mean Berto relishes training, a burden that often becomes more painful as careers progress. As friend Andre Ward once told him, “If training is fun, you’re not working hard enough.”

Berto is training hard; he always has. But to him, it has become a necessary evil.

“I’ve had a long career,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 8 years old. I had 300 to 400 amateur fights. It starts to accumulate. As you get older, you ask yourself, ‘Do you really want to go through this (stuff) for eight, nine weeks and be away from your family?’

“Of course, in the beginning, it’s all fun. You’re young, full of energy. You don’t have kids or a wife. As you get older, you think more about life in general, your family. (The training) definitely isn’t as fun. Don’t let anyone tell you it is. It takes a toll on you.”

So why does Berto stay with it?

He made a reported $4 million for the Mayweather fight, a sum that could set him up for life if he is wise with his money. He doesn’t need to work.

One also might ask whether he has suffered enough the past few years. He’s only 3-4 in his last seven fights, including a seventh-round knockout loss against Shawn Porter in April of last year that pushed him toward the back of the line among important 147-pounders.

And he made it clear that he doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace the sacrifices necessary to succeed.

I want to close this chapter of my life strong but at the same time make sure I know when it’s time to step away.” Former Welterweight World Champ Andre Berto

So why do it? It goes back to that longing. He loves to fight. He loves to win—even if the latter becomes more and more elusive. It’s who he is. He’s a fighter.

“You have to be persistent in this fight game, in life in general,” he said. “You go through ups and downs. In boxing, we’re not scared to perform, not scared to be in a position to be destroyed in front of the whole world. It takes a different type of individual to be able to put yourself in that space. There is no team. You can’t call a timeout. You can’t bring in substitutes. You just try your best inside that squared circle.

“That’s my motivation, the challenges you face in the ring. You miss the competition when you’re away, just to be able to compete with another individual at the top level. I want to close this chapter of my life strong but at the same time make sure I know when it’s time to step away.”

Virgil Hunter, Berto’s trainer, said he likes what he has seen in camp.

He said fighters—even older ones—are particularly motivated against the right opponent. Alexander is the right opponent for Berto, who knows a victory in this fight could propel him in the direction of one more title fight.

And Hunter isn’t worried about the layoff leading into this fight.

“He’s pretty sharp right now,” Hunter said of his protégé. “Rest does the body good, especially when you started as young as he did. The body remembers (what it needs to do) as long as you take care of it between fights. He has done that. He has no vices, nothing that has damaged his body.

“Andre still has a lot of life in him.”

For a closer look at Berto vs Alexander, check out our fight page.

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