by Paul Magno
The Welterweight division’s best prospect just happens to be the reigning WBC Welterweight champion of the world. Don’t think that the irony of that statement is lost on the vast majority of Boxing fans.
Unfortunately, most fans of the Sweet Science are not subtle in their judgments or careful in their choice of words. The end result is a cascade of criticisms, rightful or not, for the fighter who currently holds the belt of the former lineal champ, Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Andre Berto, himself, felt the sting of some of these criticisms as he answered phone calls on a national Boxing radio show. Listeners and fans basically called in to remind Berto that he hadn’t fought anybody yet and that his upcoming bout with #1 challenger Luis Collazo, could (to put it kindly) be a bit more than he can handle.
Berto, seemingly as quick with his wit as with his fists, shot back a standard, well-practiced answer that he had to reiterate a few times throughout the course of the interview and probably more than a few times in recent months. He basically pointed out that he has been in the game for just 4 years and that his resume, while improving, is right where it should be and would stack up to any of the top welters’ at a similar stage in their careers.
This is not a satisfying answer to most fans who care little about reason when they smell the blood of what they see as an undeserving champion. However, technically, what Berto said was true.
Andre Berto is not in the peer group of Margarito, Cotto or Clottey. He belongs to the generation of upcoming stars such as Andre Ward, Chris Arreola, James Kirkland, The Peterson Brothers, Joe Greene and Peter Quillin. A group of young fighters around the ages of 23 to 25 with solid amateur careers and an average of about 4 years of professional experience apiece.
The difference between Berto and the rest is that, while the others are still considered prospects, fighting to make a name for themselves, Berto has already been to the top of the HBO food chain and has snatched up a world title on the way.
Through some shrewd management and good marketing, Berto was able to somehow find himself nestled comfortably into the #1 spot behind Floyd Mayweather in the WBC rankings. It was the perfect spot for someone with an eye on greatness but the understanding that he needs some work before that. Mayweather would provide the perfect shield for Berto, making high-profile fights while brushing his #1 challenger aside and maybe even offering some step-aside money for not making waves while “Pretty Boy” Floyd tried to sell pay per views.
However, the plan got flipped on its head when Mayweather abruptly decided to retire from the sport and, therefore, vacate his title. Now, Andre Berto and his people had no choice but to pick up the pace and take care of #2 ranked Miguel Angel Rodriguez to claim the title a lot earlier than planned.
The likeable kid from Miami has no doubt been brought up right when it comes to proper opposition and match-ups. He’s been in there against a tough ex-champ in Cosme Rivera, blue-collar journeymen like David Estrada and Norberto Bravo and, most recently, veteran slickster Steve Forbes. His resume can certainly be stacked up against any of the other young fighters of his generation.
But is it the resume of a reigning world champ?
If he gets by his current mandatory, well-schooled ex-champ, Luis Collazo on Saturday, Berto will have some time to stretch his wings and do some more learning on the job, but he will continue to be followed around with the questions concerning his legitimacy as world champ, questions which, while the obviously edgy type that “hardcore” fans are supposed to ask, aren’t entirely legit in and of themselves.
To put things in proper perspective, you have to take a look at the top Welters and where they were when they were at the same point as Berto, just about 4 years after their pro debut:
Margarito, Clottey and Williams were still on the club circuit, just starting to get the chance to fight veteran journeymen.
Cotto had just become 140 lb. champ and was starting to make a name against the likes of Kelson Pinto and Randall Bailey
Shane Mosley, at about the same point in his career as Berto right now, had just beaten Phillip Holiday to capture his first world title at 135.
So, upon further inspection, Andre Berto is not too far behind the curve. Actually, he’s smack-dab on the right track. But tell that to the average fan who is comparing Berto, the work in progress, to the established top dogs at 147.
It’s tough not to see this as a no-win situation for Berto. If he continues to learn on the job, gradually upping the level of his competition over time until he reaches his prime, he will be hounded by the doubters and the critics. If he jumps right into the fire and goes after the Margaritos and Cottos of the division, they may end his path to glory just as it begins, much like when the 23 year old Fernando Vargas was fed alive to Felix Trinidad back in the year 2000. Vargas was never the same after that.
For Andre Berto to come out of his predicament successfully, he’ll have to strike a balance between winnable fights that serve as learning experiences and quality defenses against fighters who have a legit chance of winning the title.
But the road to Welterweight respect won’t be easy…and it won’t even be possible unless he gets past Luis Collazo first.