Berto ready for Ortiz
Story by Mariano A. Agmi
Photo by Chris Cozzone
WBC Welterweight Champion Andre Berto (27-0, 21 KOs) has seen and experienced a lot in his 27 years. The Haitian-American boxer is a family man, a fighter, a champion and to many in his parents’ native Haiti, a hero.
On Saturday, April 16th, the speedy boxer-puncher faces “Vicious” Victor Ortiz (28-2, 22 KOs), a young Mexican-American eager to redeem himself to the public after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of Argentine brawler Marcos Maidana in 2009.
“Victor Ortiz is a big guy, physically bigger than I am. He has a little speed and some power but he’s limited in a lot of areas," states Berto. "He tries to box but needs to be set on his feet to throw punches. I believe that everyone he’s been in there with, he’s hurt, so I have to go in there and stay sharp, keep my defense up and not make mistakes”.
Despite his opponent’s physical gifts, Berto believes that not only does he have natural advantages of speed and power over Ortiz, but he also possesses a stronger will to win. Berto’s rationale is derived from Ortiz’ reaction to adversity on the night he fought Maidana.
In that bout, Ortiz knocked Maidana down in round one and ran into a huge right hand after attempting to finish the Argentine off, suffering a hard knockdown. Ortiz dropped Maidana twice more in round two, but the Argentine roared back with explosive power shots in the ensuing rounds. Maidana’s right hand could not miss in rounds five and six, finally dropping the Mexican-American and convincing him to surrender. The fight has haunted Ortiz ever since, causing him to fight in a more conservative manner in his next 5 fights.
“The fight game is 80-90% mental,” explains Berto. “I think [the Maidana fight is] something he’s going to be battling. You can be in the best shape possible, but if you’re not ready mentally, you’re not going to win. So I know that his team has been trying to prepare him mentally, trying to encourage him. But that’s something that he has to overcome for himself.”
Berto firmly believes that a fighter’s mentality is shaped from his past experiences: his challenges, his upbringing, and the fighting spirit that lies beneath the surface.
“That reaction probably just comes from the way [Ortiz] was brought up,” predicts Berto. “The type of breed or person that I am – the way I’m built, I would rather fight to the death than to turn my back on a fight like that.”
Berto is part of a fighting family. His father Dieuseul was a successful martial artist. Emigrating from Haiti, Dieuseul encouraged his children to pursue various combat disciplines, igniting their fire for competition and urging them to become the best in their chosen field. His older brother Cleveland was a Florida wrestling champion and now serves as Andre’s personal trainer. His sister Revelina, a mixed martial artist, serves as his chef during training camp. His brother Edson and younger sister are also MMA fighters. Every member of the family works in unison to achieve one objective: victory.
Berto believes that when pushed to the limit, as he was in his close bout against Luis Collazo in 2009, a real fighter meets the challenge head-on and finds a way to win, even when he feels he has nothing left.
“You know, the way [Ortiz] reacted in that situation with Maidana is something that I couldn’t picture myself doing. I got caught early in my career [against Cosme Rivera]. My hand just hit the canvas, and I got aggressive. I didn’t quit, I got aggressive.”
It is this family bond and upbringing that has shaped Berto the fighter. It is also his dedication to his family and his people that reveal the character of Berto the man.
FIGHTING FOR HAITI
In January 2010, Berto was preparing for the biggest fight of his life against living legend Shane Mosley when a massive earthquake hit Haiti, leaving 3 million people in need of emergency aid, 2 million people homeless, and hundreds of thousands of people dead.
“8 members of my family passed,” laments Berto. “I could just see my mom, my dad grieving and we were calling people in Haiti everyday trying to keep track of the rest of the family. It seemed like so many other people were missing.”
Deep into training, Berto could have tried to take his mind off the tragedy by continuing his march towards a showdown that most young fighters dream of, one that could solidify his status on pound for pound rankings while providing him with a lucrative payday. However, Andre could not go through with the fight and felt compelled to act. Only days later, Andre arrived in the Haitian capital with aid and materials.
“I hooked up with Project Medishare and Dr. Barth Green down in Miami,” explains Berto. “I told Dr. Green that I wanted to go, and he had private jets going in and out of Haiti carrying cargo with tons of food and medicine, so he arranged for me and my brother Cleveland to go to Port-Au-Prince to the Project Medishare Hospital.”
Berto, who represented Haiti in the 2004 Olympics, has been involved in providing assistance to Haiti both before and after the earthquake. As poor as the country was, however, he had never witnessed it in such a horrendous condition.
“We went over to the Hospital and I saw hundreds of patients fighting for their lives,” describes Berto. “We saw people with amputations, people on IVs. We drove around Port-Au-Prince and saw building after building crushed to the ground, sometimes you could hear the moans of people trapped under the rubble. Thousands of people lost everything and were doing what they could to survive. It was really emotional to see so much of that up close and personal.”
Berto launched the Andre Berto Dynasty Foundation in February 2010. The Foundation raises money to provide assistance in the recovery and rebuilding efforts. Through his foundation and several other partnerships, Berto is dedicated to do whatever is necessary to send items to and raise awareness for his ancestral homeland. The fighter plans to continue his philanthropic efforts in Haiti well after his boxing career is over.
BACK TO BOXING
With the Haitian people beginning the rebuilding process, electing a new President and slowly recovering from the depths of this tragedy, Andre Berto is back to work in Florida preparing for a major fight.
Instead of “Sugar” Shane Mosley, Berto now has to weather the storm that is Victor Ortiz, a talented but wounded young fighter that is desperate to erase the past.
“I’m ready to go. I’m feeling sharp,” states Berto, just one week from fight night. Noting how easily Lamont Peterson was able to hit Ortiz late in their bout last December, Berto is confident that it won’t be long before he lands his money shot and ends the night.
“If I had hit him like that, he probably would go to sleep. I’m hurting southpaws all the time in sparring, it’s almost second nature. Once he feels the power and sees the speed, I think that will be the time where he’s going to have to decide whether this is for him or not. He’ll either hold his own and fight, or he’s going to fold.”