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Berto, The Time and Talent to Become a Marquee Champ

Unbeaten WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto has made it known in quick, dominating fashion that he has precious loads of talent.

But, at just 25-years-old and still learning his way inside the ropes, Berto's extra-special asset is time.

"I don't think he's scratched the surface of things yet,'' promoter Lou DiBella says of Berto (22-0, 19 KOs) who risks his share of the 147-pound title against former world champion Steve Forbes (33-6, nine KOs) in the 12-round co-feature September 27 (10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT) on HBO World Championship Boxing.

"I think Berto still has things to learn and that's why I love this fight," DiBella says. "Forbes has spent the last three or four years fighting guys bigger than him and beating a lot of them.

"Even though (Oscar) De La Hoya beat him pretty soundly, Forbes touched him up that whole fight. At the end of the fight, you knew De La Hoya was in a fight and De La Hoya couldn't hurt him. I think this is a very good testing ground and a learning fight for Berto and it's a test he has to pass. If he passes this test, I think he's ready for just about anything and anybody."

Berto, who turned 25 on Sept. 9, is the only reigning world champion on the card from the Home Depot Center in Carson,. Calif. In the main event, Shane Mosley (44-5, 37 KOs) and Ricardo Mayorga (29-6-1, 23 KOs) collide in a 12-round junior middleweight non-title bout between former world champions.

Rather than taking his second-billing as a slight, Berto views the lasting, heralded careers of Mosley, 37, and Mayorga, 34, as something to aspire.

"I'm the only (reigning) champion on the card, but I feel that I'm still the newcomer when it comes to a lot of these big fights,'' Berto say.

"I still have a lot more to prove, while everybody else on the card has pretty much solidified themselves. After years of fighting, everybody knows who they are. I'm still like in the building process."

Berto turned professional in 2004 after failing to make the U.S. Olympic team on a controversial disqualification before representing Haiti, his father's native country, in Athens that year.

One of seven children raised in Winter Havem. Fla., where he makes his home, Berto completed a meteoric rise to his first title belt in June with a seventh-round TKO against Miguel Rodriguez to claim the WBC welterweight crown vacated by the retirement of Floyd Mayweather Jr.

In dropping Rodriguez twice, Berto displayed his patented hand-speed and power in both hands to control the fight.

"He still makes some mistakes that he needs to correct and he will correct them, but his aggression is there and his hand-speed is phenomenal,'' DiBella says.

"I think he could use a little more defense. Sometimes he turns his body in a way that leaves him a little bit open for a counter punch. But he does some things so well. He's the kind of kid that if he hurts you, you're gone. You can't get hurt by Berto and last the fight."

Berto is among four titleholders in what many consider to be presently boxing's most talented and deepest weight class. Mayweather's departure has only added to the competitiveness of the division, with Berto, Paul Williams (WBO), Antonio Margarito (WBA) and Joshua Clottey (IBF) each laying claim to belts.

"Floyd can beat anybody from 135 (lightweight) to 154 (junior middleweight), so I don't think him retiring has taken luster from the division,'' DiBella says. "If anything, it's opened it up.

"Because of physicality and size, maybe Margarito or Paul Williams could provide a test, but there's no issue that Floyd's the best. Any one who doesn't recognize that doesn't know boxing."

DiBella, who has promoted Berto's pro career from the start, considers him as worthy to be called champion as anybody else.

"Would I put him No. 1 at 147 in the power rankings? No. But so what?'' DiBella says. "He's the best young welterweight in the world and maybe the best young American fighter of the kids 25 and under. So who is the legitimate champion?

"Right now, I'd probably say that Margarito is the legitimate champion in my mind."

DiBella basis his opinion on Margarito's 11th-round TKO in July against Miguel Cotto, whom many anticipated would rule the division for a long time in Mayweather's absence. But on second thought, DiBella quickly offers a different take.

"Actually you could make an argument that Paul Williams is the legitimate champion because he beat Margarito,'' he says. "Right now there are four champions and Berto has a belt. Has he yet proven himself the best welterweight in the world? No, but that's going to be with time.

"Frankly, there's a load of guys in that division to fight and loads of challenges ahead and I think he's going to meet those challenges along the way. I think he has a real challenge ahead of him (against Forbes)."

As a 12-year pro, Forbes is trying to climb back to world-title status for the first time since claiming the vacant IBF junior lightweight crown in December, 2000 with an eighth-round TKO against John Brown.

Forbes, 31, lost his title when he didn't make weight before gaining a split decision against David Santos in August, 2002. But the 5-71/2 Portland, Ore. native, nicknamed "2 pounds" in acknowledgement of his birth weight, put himself back on the map by making it to the finals in the 2006 season of TV's "The Contender" series, losing a spit decision against junior middleweight Grady Brewer.

Forbes has since won a 10-round decision against Francisco "Panchito" Bojada in 2007 and gained more exposure in his hard-fought loss to De La Hoya in May. He looks to pull off the upset against Berto, who stands just one inch taller at 5-8 1/2 but is muscularly more dangerous.

"I think this will be a fight for me to prove what I've always known and that is that I'm an old-school throwback fighter who has the abilities to beat anyone," said Forbes. "I will become a two-time world champion on September 27th."

Berto says his training has "gone great" for this fight and expects he'll have to be at his best to deal with the foxy and fearless Forbes.

"The main thing about Forbes is he has a big heart,'' Berto says. "He's a really small guy but he doesn't fight like a small guy. He wants to prove a point and he wants you to know he's there. He's real slick and has been in the game a long time, so I'll be prepared. It won't be an easy walk in the park."

Having disposed of all but three opponents by KO, Berto hasn't faced a sterner test than his September, 2007 fight against David Estrada on the undercard of the first Jermain Taylor-Kelly Pavlik middleweight fight.

His right eye swollen by the fourth round, Berto overcame adversity, showing he could stick AND move, before stopping Estrada on an 11th-round TKO.

"That's been my toughest fight so far because it tested me physically and mentally,'' Berto says. "That fight introduced me to the professional game pain-wise. It's the only fight that I went back home with my body really sore. I just felt like my heart and my skills had been tested for the first time."

Mostly, Berto has devoured his opposition and that has caused some to question whether his career has been moved along as swiftly as it could.

"Look, the kid is a baby from a professional standpoint,'' DiBella says. "I don't think we've taken our time with him. He's been fighting real fighters since his first five or six fights. We haven't gone crazy with him because he's still a young fighter. But he has a chance to be dominant for the next 10 years if he wants to fight that long. The sky's the limit."

DiBella doesn't foresee Margarito as a potential opponent because Berto might not fetch the millions in a pay-per-view fight that Margarito, coming off his stunning destruction Cotto, demands at this stage of his career. Neither does the promoter expect Berto to ever face the 6-1 Williams because he feels the height disparity wouldn't make for a fight style-wise the fans would enjoy seeing.

"But there's a lot of big stuff out there,'' DiBella says. "The welterweight division is chocked full of talent from top to bottom. Berto is now moving on to guys at the top of the division and he's ready for prime time against the biggest names."

If he passes the Forbes' test in his first title defense, Berto is next scheduled for a mandatory against former welterweight titlist Luis Collazo. Though nothing has been guaranteed, DiBella's hope is to engineer a fight against Mosley. That's the main reason Berto's bout Sept. 27 has been paired on the same card with the three-division former champion.

"I don't want to look past this fight because I think Forbes is a very experienced guy and this is a tough fight,'' DiBella says. "But Berto's next fight has to be Luis Collazo. We would love to fight Shane Mosley down the line, but at this point in Shane's career I think he's looking at the risk-reward analysis and he might see Berto as an unusually high risk without such a reward.

"But with a couple more HBO fights and the headlining of a World Championship Boxing card (presumbably against Collazo) in his next fight, I think Berto will be ready for a huge-money pay-per-view event. I expect Mosley to beat Mayorga and we would love to fight him in that kind of fight."

Berto credits HBO for increasing his fan base since he made his first appearance on the network in December, 2006 when he stopped Miguel Figueroa on the undercard of the Taylor-Kassim Ouma middleweight title fight.

"I feel like I'm right on time in my career,'' Berto says "Being a young fighter and getting that exposure on HBO has opened up a lot of gates for me.

"I have everything that it takes and it's just a matter of time before I become a marquee fighter. My obligation to myself and to the fans is to stay in shape mentally and physically so that I perform to best of my ability. Now that I'm a champion, I definitely get a lot more love from people. But now that I have it, it only makes me want so much more."

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