Andre Berto, known around here as The Human Bermuda Triangle of Boxing, returns to the ring tomorrow night with his usual paranormal panache when he faces southpaw Robert Guerrero in a scheduled 12 at the Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ontario, California.
Berto, 28-1 (22), was originally slated to face Victor Ortiz last June in a rematch on Showtime, but the fight was scotched after VADA caught Berto abusing the Periodic Table of Elements. Just five months after testing positive for nandrolone, however, Berto is back on the big stage. Let that be a lesson to those who dare abuse PEDs in boxing! Precisely how Berto avoided a penalty for failing a dope test is unclear. Rumors that he sent the California State Athletic Commission MP3 files of Billy Joel singing “An Innocent Man” seem far-fetched at this point. What is clear is that Berto has raised his witchy statecraft to a whole new level by avoiding even the haphazard justice of the gloriously amoral prizefight racket. For Berto to outstrip himself in the supernatural department is truly an achievement worth noting. Even Al Haymon, who advises Berto, ought to be impressed. (Haymon, by the way, was recently mentioned in dark overtones by both Sports Illustrated and Boxing Monthly, and last year he was even profiled in the New York Times. Still, who can forget the days when some of The Omniscients insisted that Haymon was not some sort of kingmaker? And how did they know that? The inverted pyramid told them so!)
As it is, Berto, more mystifying than ever, might as well be managed by Littlefinger, or, perhaps more appropriately, Max Bialystock. After millions of dollars, more appearances on HBO than John from Cincinnati, and hundreds of incomprehensible Tweets, the most you can say about Berto is that he squeaked out a decision against Luis Collazo, beat a weathered Carlos Quintana, and was gobsmacked by Victor Ortiz. You can also add “steroid cheat” to his impressive dossier. But, in the end, none of this matters. So long as media publicists and network suits combine forces to undercut what used to be a meritocratic sport, fighters with the all the wrong stuff will continue to strut their song and dance routines. Berto, 29, will be making his 12th appearance on HBO and no one is any wiser as to why. His biggest ratings bonanza—1.5 million live viewers tuned in to see him swap punches with another Time Warner stalwart, Victor Ortiz—came during a free preview weekend. At least Berto has engaged in a few humdingers over the years, something that cannot be said about Antonio Tarver (who, incredibly, earned $1 million to face Lateef Kayode, perhaps the least-talented Showtime pet project in history) and the insipid Chad Dawson.
As for the fight, there is really no telling what will happen in the ring tomorrow night. Consider that a plus. Guerrero, 30-1-1-1 (18), has more talent than Berto, but three years ago he was a junior lightweight, and his only bout at welterweight, a 12-round decision over Selcuk Aydin last July, makes it hard to assess his skill at 147 pounds. Aydin is a tough pug, no doubt, but he has all the speed and mobility of a UNESCO site and none of the charm.
Berto, Winterhaven, Florida, is much faster than Aydin and has a good counter right with some sting behind it. He also has the ridiculous habit of extending his left hand and waving it around like a man stirring a giant pot of gumbo. By circling to his right, Guerrero, 29, ought to be able to create a safe zone where he can also drop shots at Berto from a blind angle. Guerrero is no Jake LaMotta on the inside, but Berto, like many headliners these days, ought to wear swaddling clothes when in close. That makes two places Guerrero can consider a DMZ: in the trenches and on the outside moving to his right. If he can avoid right hands for most of the night, he might be able to accumulate enough points to edge out a decision.
Give Guerrero, Gilroy, California, credit for trying to put some meaning into his meandering career by fighting at welterweight, where “The Ghost” is hoping to lure Floyd Mayweather, Jr., into taking one of his press releases seriously. Of course, it could be that the stakes in this fight are as illusory as most in boxing. If Guerrero wins, then he will have defeated an HBO hologram and steroid cheat; if Berto wins, then he will have scored the biggest victory in his career—against an ex-featherweight titleholder. This is the sort of stuff new legends are made of in boxing. Get used to getting used to it.
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