Andre Berto’s career as a headliner ended at the AT&T Center last night in San Antonio, Texas, when roughneck Jesus Soto Karass sent him packing in the twelfth round.
A longtime passenger on the HBO entitlement train, Berto, Winter Haven, Florida, cashed several hefty checks for facing a murderer’s row that included Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Freddy Hernandez. With his advisor, Al Haymon, turning the thumbscrews on HBO executives, Berto was the poster child for a business beholden not to consumers but to network programmers and their bedfellows.
In boxing, christening a star supersedes developing one. Berto is the quintessential example of this phenomenon. A typical modern fighter, Berto has good power and decent hand speed, but lacks the wherewithal to exploit his limited ability. Nearly helpless on the inside, Berto goes into a catatonic state when crowded, offering more hugs than an eHarmony commercial. He experimented with a less affectionate defense against Robert Guerrero last year—and got his brakes beaten off. Despite his success—because of it?—Berto embodied much of what is wrong with boxing’s current model.
Berto’s recent performances, however, should revise his image. Will he ever atone for the lamprey-act that typified much of his career? Probably not. But Berto repays boxing with his own blood. Fights with Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero, and now Soto Karass, have been brutal, entertaining affairs. Despite absorbing scads of punishment against all three men, only Soto Karass stopped him, in a fight that went south for Berto from the start.
Soto Karass, Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico, worried Berto immediately, wobbling him with a right hand in the first. Berto, 147, fought his way back into the contest by countering Soto Karass with right hands. Nevertheless, Soto Karass’ early activity had Berto flinching like a man trying to juggle chainsaws, unable to relax in the whirring orbit. This trick became even tougher when Berto injured his right shoulder in the fifth round.
Meanwhile, Soto Karass just kept punching. From beyond Berto’s reach, Soto Karass struck with jabs and a mix of straight and looping right hands. When he moved inside, he smothered Berto, lashing him body shots and uppercuts. Unable to get the space he needed, and struggling to set his feet, Berto looked like a man trying to hike up an avalanche.
Whatever the criticisms of Berto may be, there is no dog in him. In the second half of the fight he sat down on a number of vicious left hooks and uppercuts, a one-handed fighter going for broke as the fight slipped away. Soto Karass, however, his arms churning like a Japanese spinning drum, never relented. They waged an inspired battle–against each other and their labels–over the final rounds. Soto Karass, the gate keeper, slugging away at Berto and a history that said he would come up short; Berto, the maligned star, digging into reserves his critics would deny him.
A left to the gut dropped Soto Karass, 147, in the eleventh. He returned the favor in the following round, delivering the coup de grâce with a counter left hook that deboned his broken foe. Berto beat the count, but referee John Schorle immediately waved off the contest, sending the battered fighter into the arms of trainer Virgil Hunter. The stoppage came at 0:48 of the twelfth round.
In losing, Berto, 28-3 (22), proved his pound-for-pound hype was a pipe dream. He is not, and never was, an elite fighter. What he is, is tough, courageous, and—at least recently—entertaining. Neither as good as advertised, nor as bad as he is caricatured, his career suggests a line from Richard Ford: “And in any event, I know now that the whole truth of anything is an idea that stops finally existing.” Still, long nights await him. The good people at Golden Boy Promotions, after all, lose no sleep over feeding the likes of Vivian Harris—and soon Rafael Marquez—to the young lions of their pride. Expect Berto back in the ring when he heals, where he will sound out boxing’s latest idols with what remains of his guts and right hand.
Scalping Berto means Soto Karass, 28-8-3 (18), has earned another decent purse. There will undoubtedly be some romanticizing of Berto’s career in the coming hours, but Soto Karass, who took the hard route to late success, is deserving of his own idylls.