This speculation was first reported in Rafael’s blog after an 11-day road trip that saw the boxing scribe cover everything from Andre Ward’s impressive destruction of Chad Dawson to the dueling Las Vegas cards headlined by Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Saul “Canelo” Alavarez vs. Josesito Lopez:
“HBO is working on a Nov. 24 card that would be headlined by former welterweight titlist Andre Berto, who, after a positive steroid test knocked him out of a June rematch on Showtime with Victor Ortiz, was recently licensed in California. Berto's probable opponent? Junior middleweight titlist Cornelius ‘K9’ Bundrage. Berto told me when I saw him in Oakland that he would move up in weight for the fight. He was licking his chops to get back into the ring, calling himself a ‘caged animal.’”
Having seen his proposed fight against Victor Ortiz scrapped because of his positive drug test, Berto (28-1, 22 KO) has been out of the ring since September of 2011 when he stopped then-IBF welterweight champion Jan Zaveck—who was unable to see out of his right eye—in a short but thrilling fight.
A proposed return against Bundrage (32-4, 19 KO) seems like a solid option for Berto. Though he would be moving up to 154 pounds, Berto has always been a strong welterweight who carries excellent speed and power. The slight jump-in weight should not adversely impact Berto, and Bundrage, at 39, would be at a serious disadvantage in athleticism and overall skill.
That said, Bundrage must be given credit for a recent string of victories over Cory Spinks (twice) and Sechew Powell that has seen him capture and twice defend the IBF strap. Despite an awkward style and being pitted against fighters who appeared to hold speed and skill advantages—not to mention youth—Bundrage has found ways to overpower, outbox and outhustle his opponents.
So, despite all evidence to the contrary, Bundrage is a worthy opponent for Berto’s comeback. Should Berto handle Bundrage, he will have beaten a competent and powerful opponent who, aside from only fighting once per year since 2009, has strung together an impressive string of victories—not to mention that Berto could immediately reclaim an alphabet title.
The most intriguing factor of a proposed Berto-Bundrage fight is that Berto holds a distinct advantage in punching power over Bundrage’s last two opponents (Powell and Spinks). While Berto certainly has more overall skill than anyone Bundrage has faced, he should also have the strength to keep Bundrage honest and even hurt or stop him.
At this point, Berto-Bundrage is mere speculation, but fans will surely be interested in what type of fights a Berto victory could yield in the near future. Despite Victor Ortiz’s upset loss to Josesito Lopez, a Berto-Ortiz rematch is still tantalizing given the thrilling nature of their first encounter. Much will depend on how Ortiz decides to pursue his comeback after suffering a broken jaw against Lopez, and the prospect of Berto-Ortiz II might be a fight or two away for both men.
In terms of personal advancement and if Berto carries 154 pounds well, a showdown with current WBC champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez could be a fascinating fight. This bout would do significant business on HBO, and it would offer Alvarez the legitimate, even fight—on paper, at least—that “Canelo” has thus far lacked in his career.
A Berto-Alvarez matchup would promise thrilling action, and it is the type of bout that could even headline a pay-per-view card. This fight makes the most sense if Berto does in fact elect to return as a junior middleweight; otherwise, should Berto again campaign as a welterweight, fights against the likes of Devon Alexander, Marcos Maidana, Kell Brook and even Timothy Bradley could be interesting future prospects.
Regardless of how one feels about Berto’s positive steroid test at this point, his return does offer excitement and he carries name recognition. At 29, Berto should be eyeing a rapid ascent to the top, and a fight against a true elite-level opponent is long overdue. While Bundrage can help Berto get there, it behooves Berto to take “K9” seriously and gun for an impressive stoppage.