Boxing
Berto crams for career-defining welterweight test
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - Kindergarten was a breeze. Middle school was a cakewalk.

And high school, even with an occasionally difficult pop quiz, yielded honor- roll grades.

But late January in Las Vegas represents a little something different for Andre Berto.

It's college graduation day.

"I've had a lot of fights against guys where I was able to work on things. To see what was successful and what wasn't," said the 26-year-old Floridian. "But now it's step-up time. It's like I'm in with the teacher and I'm the student, and I get the chance to show everyone what I've learned.

"I'm in with a guy who I've looked up to since I first started watching boxing and who was a world champion I emulated when I was an amateur. To think I'll be in there fighting him is unreal. I can honestly say I never thought I'd be in this position."

Grading Berto's final exam will be 38-year-old Shane Mosley -- the already three-division champ who reemerged with a ninth-round TKO of Antonio Margarito last January to earn both a dubious WBA "super" title belt and a groundswell of support as the best fighter at 147 pounds.

Berto discussed the fight during a break in Week 4 of training camp in Winter Haven, Fla.


Andre Berto holds the WBC's gaudy green jewelry at welterweight.
The youngster holds the WBC's gaudy green jewelry at welterweight, but is generally considered no better than fifth in the class behind Mosley and new WBO champion Manny Pacquiao, along with recent PacMan victim Miguel Cotto and prospective New Year opponent Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Combined, the foursome has won world titles in 16 divisions.

But Berto still considers his four title fights ample preparation for an advanced course.

"I've always had the mindset and the intention to be considered the best and I believe I am the best," he said. "But I'm a younger guy and the other guys have been around longer and people know them better, so I understand the rankings and all that.

"I'm a humble guy, so I'm not going to be the one doing all the talking about who's this and who's that. I'm in a position now where fights can be made and if I do the things I need to do, that sort of thing will sort itself out. I'm here for a reason and I'm a fresh face. That's how I look at it."

A Haitian Olympian in 2004, Berto won 21 straight as an underclassman before gaining championship status with a seventh-round TKO of Miguel Rodriguez at the FedEx Forum in Memphis in June 2008.

Three defenses of varying difficulty have followed, ending in unanimous decisions over Steve Forbes, Luis Collazo and Juan Urango in which Berto won 77 of a possible 108 rounds.

Clearly Mosley, who won the IBF lightweight title a month before his foe turned 14, is a different animal.

"I plan to go in there and use the same methods that has gotten me to where I am," Berto said. "I'm a newer guy and maybe I can bring something that he hasn't been up against before. I've always been thought of as one of the stronger guys, so the way I look at it it's going to be two sharp and fast guys in there going toe to toe, using their speed and power."

Provided things go as planned against Mosley, Berto -- who's promoted by Lou DiBella -- reeled off the predictable laundry list of register-ringing foils now residing at welterweight.

He declined, however, to confirm an interest in sparring with Pacquiao as the Filipino prepares to meet Mayweather on March 13. Recent reports indicated Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach coveted Berto for that role following the Mosley fight.

"I really can't say," Berto said. "I'll probably be in contact with (Roach) to see if he was really serious about it, because right now I don't even know that. But my mind is so focused on my own business right now that I can't really comment on things like that. It's not a priority."

He was similarly reticent to issue a prediction for the welterweight mega- match.

"Floyd's a great friend of mine and he's a tactical genius in the ring," Berto said. "His record speaks for itself. And obviously Pacquiao has been on a great roll, too. It's a great fight and I'm just like everybody else. I can't wait to see it and see how it unfolds."

This week's title-fight schedule:

FRIDAY

WBC bantamweight title -- Kobe, Japan Hozumi Hasegawa (champion) vs. Alvaro Perez (No. 9 contender) Hasegawa (27-2, 11 KO): Tenth title defense; Four-fight KO streak Perez (18-1-1, 12 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2005 (7-0, 4 KO)

Fitzbitz says: Hasegawa in 10

SATURDAY

WBA/WBC super flyweight title -- Rancho Mirage, Calif. Vic Darchinyan (WBA/WBC champion) vs. Tomas Rojas (WBC interim champion) Darchinyan (32-2-1, 26 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten at super flyweight (7-0-1, 6 KO) Rojas (32-11-1, 22 KO): First title fight; Seven-fight unbeaten streak (6-0-1, 3 KO)

Fitzbitz says: Darchinyan in 8

IBF featherweight title -- Tijuana, Mexico Cristobal Cruz (champion) vs. Ricardo Castillo (No. 15 contender) Cruz (39-11-1, 23 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten since May 2007 (5-0, 1 KO) Castillo (38-7, 25 KO): Losses in three previous title fights; Unbeaten in 2009 (3-0, 1 KO)

Fitzbitz says: Cruz by decision

WBC lightweight title -- La Guaira, Venezuela Edwin Valero (champion) vs. Hector Velazquez (No. 14 contender) Valero (25-0, 25 KO): First title defense; Ex-WBA champion at 130 (2006-08) Velazquez (51-13-2, 35 KO): First title fight; One win in last three fights (1-2, 0 KO)

Fitzbitz says: Valero in 3

WBC/WBO middleweight title -- Youngstown, Ohio Kelly Pavlik (WBC/WBO champion) vs. Miguel Angel Espino (No. 3 WBC/No. 10 WBO contender) Pavlik (35-1, 31 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten at 160 pounds and below (19-0, 19 KO) Espino (20-2-1, 9 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2004 (11-0, 6 KO)

Fitzbitz says: Pavlik in 9

WBO light heavyweight title -- Schwerin, Germany Juergen Braehmer (champion) vs. Dmitry Sukhotsky (No. 6 contender) Braehmer (34-2, 28 KO): First title defense; Awarded title when Zsolt Erdei vacated Sukhotsky (14-0, 9 KO): First title fight; Five-fight KO streak since 2008

Fitzbitz says: Braehmer by decision

Lyle Fitzsimmons is an award-winning 21-year sports journalist, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a frequent contributor to sports radio talk shows throughout the U.S. E-mail him at fitzbitz@msn.com, follow him at twitter.com/fitzbitz and read more at fitzbitzonfights.wordpress.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.