It wasn't all that long ago.
Five years, one month and eight days, to be exact.
Andre Berto was an undefeated welterweight prospect, and, thanks to the impromptu retirement of WBC welterweight kingpin Floyd Mayweather Jr., he was getting a chance to fight for a vacant championship belt on a Saturday night HBO show from Memphis, Tenn.
He dispatched two-loss pretender Miguel Angel Rodriguez in seven one-sided rounds that night, scoring a knockdown along the way with as sweet a right-hand uppercut as had been seen on “Network of Champions” air before, or has been seen since.
He was 24 years old, had a backstory beyond compare and seemed poised for stardom.
It seems an awfully long way from Saturday night in San Antonio.
There, in the aftermath of a brutal 12-round encounter with fellow contender Jesus Soto Karass, the broadcast team on Showtime was asking whether the still-youthful Berto—precisely 42 days before his 30th birthday—was likely to be seen in a boxing ring ever again.
“He did go out on his shield. And just because a guy has two or three losses, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of his career,” said blow-by-blow man Mauro Ranallo. “He’s been in so many battles, so many wars. You have to wonder how much more he’ll want to subject himself to.”
In this case, it seems, nine fights may very well make a career.
Berto racked up five defenses with little bother after toppling Rodriguez, but slipped backward in consensus perception thanks to a series of uninspiring performances against unheralded foes like Steve Forbes, Luis Collazo, Juan Urango, Carlos Quintana and Freddy Hernandez.
Regardless, his prolonged title run and high-placed network allies kept him on the short list for a match with the since-returned Mayweather, and only an upset loss to another former 140-pounder, Victor Ortiz, in title defense No. 6 in April 2011 kept that opportunity from becoming reality.
Instead, Ortiz got Mayweather...and Berto got Jan Zaveck.
He won that bout to set up a rematch with Ortiz, but a failed drug test scrubbed the bout and ultimately kept him on the shelf for 14 months, a hiatus which ended in a loss to Robert Guerrero last November. And, just as had been the case with Ortiz, the winner got Mayweather.
The Floridian nonetheless remained on the short list for “Money” even into this summer, when Showtime boxing executive Stephen Espinoza mentioned him among a handful of possible names for a future match following September’s pay-per-view show with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
A couple big wins, Espinoza said, and Berto could return to viability.
Instead, after Saturday’s late disaster, Ranallo’s “how much more” guess may be closer to correct.
Berto slumped on his corner stool following referee Jon Schorle’s dramatic wave-off, appeared to cry on the shoulder of new trainer Virgil Hunter soon after and had few indicative words for Showtime’s Jim Gray in a difficult post-fight interview within minutes of the TKO.
“Every time I step in here I put it all on the line,” he said, in response to Gray’s query about an injured right shoulder Berto sustained early in the fight. “I don’t care (about the shoulder). Coming from where I come from, man, my parents are from Haiti. I had to work hard to even get where I’m at right now.”
Should he want to continue his career, Berto probably doesn’t fall off the map.
Given prominent outside connections—Saturday’s card was orchestrated by Golden Boy Promotions—he remains amid a number of GBP names at 147, including IBF champ Devon Alexander and ex-foes Ortiz, Guerrero and Collazo. Paulie Malignaggi is also a Golden Boy client, as is slugger Marcos Maidana. Also intriguing are barometer fights against GBP’s Keith Thurman and Amir Khan.
All would be competitive for Berto circa 2008.
Though suddenly, that fighter seems an awful lot like a relic.