The November boxing calendar is full of fighters with reputations to mend, and the most intriguing among them is Andre Berto, who's undefeated in the ring but has taken a beating from the critics.
Zab Judah fights November 6 on HBO Boxing After Dark. Antonio Margarito competes in the main event of the November 13 HBO Pay-Per-View broadcast. Kelly Pavlik fights on that HBO PPV undercard. All three lost their last HBO-televised fights. All three are trying to revive their careers. All three are seeking redemption.
But there's another fighter seeking redemption on HBO this November, one who isn't just in a different boat; he's in a completely different ocean. Andre Berto is 26-0 with 20 knockouts. He's a 27-year-old fighter who has never lost. He's never even taken a beating, really.
Except, that is, from the critics. And that's why he finds himself fighting for redemption when he faces Freddy Hernandez on November 27.
Berto has been hearing the same thing since he first debuted on HBO in 2006: that he's getting overpaid to face overmatched opponents. You can understand where the criticism is coming from when you look down the list of whom he's fought on HBO: Miguel Figueroa, Norberto Bravo, David Estrada, Michel Trabant, Miki Rodriguez, Steve Forbes, Luis Collazo, Juan Urango, and Carlos Quintana. It's been a painstakingly gradual positive progression. The last three opponents have all been solid. But in the eyes of some observers, solid isn't good enough anymore.
Amplifying those feelings is the fact that 2010 was supposed to be the year Berto stepped up and faced the pound-for-pound elite. Berto was signed to fight "Sugar" Shane Mosley in January, then pulled out due to the emotional distractions caused by the earthquake in his family's native Haiti. After Mosley lost to Floyd Mayweather in May, negotiations for Mosley vs. Berto re-opened, but fell apart because both sides were unsatisfied with the financials.
So instead of facing Mosley this year, Berto fought Quintana – a good fighter, but one who'd been knocked out twice in his previous six bouts – and is now taking on Hernandez – a quality pugilist on a 13-fight unbeaten streak, but not a man you expect Berto to make seven figures to fight.
Money frequently fuels animosity, and here it's certainly fanning the flames for a pack of writers, analysts, and fans who aren't happy with the degree to which Berto is being testing. Berto hears that fire crackling, but won't let it burn him.
"I've definitely been hearing it, definitely been reading it, but that's just the way the boxing game is," Berto told HBO.com. "I just see it as I must be doing something right if they're always thinking that these opponents I've been in there with, former world champions like Luis Collazo, Stevie Forbes, and Carlos Quintana, don't have what it takes to really test me and push me to the limit. So they want to see me in there with those top guys, the Shane Mosleys, the Miguel Cottos, the Manny Pacquiaos, the Floyd Mayweathers. So I can't really take it too critical, I just have to see it for what it is.
"I know that you can't always win in this game. They'll love you, they'll hate you, and then they'll love you again. If I go in there and I knock these guys out, I hear, 'The only thing he knows how to do is go in there and bang.' If I move around and box a few fights, then, 'Oh, the fights are boring now, he needs a knockout.'"
And the fighter isn't the only one who can find himself in a no-win situation. As Pat Burns, who trained Jermain Taylor when the former Olympian was working his way up and absorbing criticism on the road to the middleweight championship, explained, the trainer, manager, and promoter take their share of shrapnel too.
"There were a lot of different opinions when I said Jermain was ready to fight Bernard Hopkins," Burns said. "The critics jumped all over us for talking about it. They just got done criticizing us because we weren't fighting the best guys, and now that we wanted to fight the best guy, they said we were nuts.
"So I just put duck oil on every morning, and it beaded right off of me. I told Jermain, 'Don't believe all the good things that they're writing about you and don't believe all the bad things that they're writing about you. Just take it all in stride.' And that's what Berto has to do. Just put some duck oil on in the morning, don't let the critics force you to do something that you're not ready to do. Everything takes its course. And Berto is still young. His best days are in front of him."
Burns doesn't believe the criticism of Berto is warranted, other than possibly the notion that he should have taken less money than he wanted for the opportunity to add Mosley's name to his résumé. In general, Burns feels the young welterweight belt-holder has been moved well and is still learning and gaining experience with each fight and has been taking on appropriate opposition to this point.
Burns added that Hernandez "is no walk in the park," which is a fair assessment. The 31-year-old Mexican has only been defeated once and is coming off back-to-back statement knockouts of DeMarcus Corley and Mike Anchondo.
Berto has an eye on the future, but knows he has to at least keep one eye focused on Hernandez for the next few weeks.
"Hopefully everything goes well November 27, and then we can start off the top of 2011 the way it's supposed to be," Berto said. "Hopefully I can fight all those guys I want to fight in 2011: Mosley, Cotto, then Mayweather or Pacquiao. From this point on, it's just going to be hunting season for me. I'm going to go in there and display it all, and show the true hardcore Andre Berto fans that I haven't gone anywhere."
The critics would say that precisely the problem.
And it's those critics who have Berto fighting for redemption even while he's still an undefeated fighter on the rise.
The only thing he knows how to do is go in there and bang.
Posted 12:00 AM | Nov 10, 2010
HBO WCB - November 27, 2010