By Iron Mike Gallego
Tonight, Floyd Mayweather fights what he claims will be his farewell match against fellow former Olympic bronze medalist, Andre Berto. If you were unaware of this, you are forgiven. The fight has received decidedly less coverage than any of Mayweather's fights in recent years, and for good reason: Berto will enter the ring as one of the steepest underdogs in a pay-per-view feature since the days when Mike Tyson could sell out an arena versus a tollbooth attendant. But in a sport where every foe possesses a "puncher's chance," should Berto really be dismissed this casually?
To answer this question, one first needs to familiarize him or herself with Berto. One way to do this would be to watch his fights, but that's time-consuming and -- by and large -- incredibly unpleasant, so let's not go down that road. Berto certainly looks the part of a championship fighter. He is built like a miniature Tyson, with a compact, powerful frame and rippling muscles that seem as if they are trying to jump through his skin. He's quick on his feet and has laser-fast punching speed. He is well-schooled and solid defensively. In short, on video, Berto can look like a frighteningly dangerous opponent.
But fights are not fought on video, and this is where Berto seems to come apart. Somehow, Berto in the whole is considerably less than the sum of his many impressive parts. He is the boxing version of a Pontiac Fiero dressed up with a Ferrari body kit. He is the minor league slugger who can't hit a Major League curveball. He is Jamarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch all rolled into one. Berto is an impressively-realistic counterfeit $100 bill that nonetheless still falls apart under UV light.
A few years ago, Berto was one of the top prospects in the sport. As he reached the boxing's higher levels, however, it became apparent that his progress has plateaued. Hand-picked opponents designed to make him look ferocious ended up battling him to close decisions. He just didn't look like a fighter -- he showed no urgency in the ring, he looked disinterested, he never put himself on the line the way great fighters do when a statement is needed. The luster on his star began to fade, even though he'd never lost a fight. So, with no other outright gimmes available to him, his camp finally placed Berto in a fight with another underachieving recovering super-prospect, Victor Ortiz. It would be both the highlight and low point of Berto's career.
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In 2011, Ortiz was unquestionably one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. He possessed super human punching power, but it was offset by an almost-remarkable lack of willpower. A year earlier, in what should have been his coronation, he'd quit in the sixth round of a fight he was winning against the raw slugger Marcos Maidana. That was bad enough, but what was worse was what he said in a post-fight interview: "I don't deserve to get hit like this." As I wrote here in 2014, Ortiz was the very worst thing a fighter could be: He was soft.
The combination of two talented but underperforming prospects didn't appear promising, but it turned into a fight of the year candidate. Ortiz knocked Berto down in round one. Berto shook it off and knocked Ortiz down in round two. The two men traded big shots until the sixth round when Berto rocked Ortiz. History was repeating itself: Ortiz was going to lose another major fight in the sixth round.
Except, he didn't. Somehow, on this one night, Ortiz found his heart. He got up, and only seconds later, he floored Berto in return. The late, great trainer, Manny Steward, who was calling the fight that evening for HBO, let loose with a primal scream, which spoke for all boxing fans. It was an incredible moment of redemption for Ortiz. Berto beat the count, but never recovered his momentum. Ortiz was awarded a unanimous decision.
At the time, it seemed like both men had elevated their stature that night. But the glory was ephemeral: In his very next fight, Ortiz became the only fighter that Mayweather has knocked out since the George W. Bush administration. He lost two more fights in a row before retiring to focus on acting (Ortiz did make one comeback, defeating a journeyman in December 2014, before disappearing again).
It was even worse for Berto. Before he could fight a planned rematch with Ortiz, Berto -- who had been training with Victor Conte of BALCO fame -- tested positive for steroids. Now, even the impressively muscled physique was called into question. If Berto had been a Fiero with a Ferrari bodykit, he was now starting to resemble a Vespa with a Harley sticker on it.
Berto was able to bounce back with a minor win, and then once again tried his hand with a name brand opponent; this time, the significantly smaller Robert Guerrero. Guererro, like Berto and Ortiz, had briefly been a hyped prospect that failed to elevate himself to the next level in spite of his middling opposition. Against Berto, however, Guerrero looked like a world-beater. He floored Berto twice in the first two rounds and cruised to a wide decision. Like Ortiz, the victory over Berto earned Guerrero a fight with Mayweather, in which Mayweather easily won every round. Guerrero has scarcely been heard of since.
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Berto soldiered on, next facing the slugging but sloppy Jesus Soto Karass, who brought a middling 27-8-3 record into the ring. The fight was relatively even until the 11th round, when Berto floored Soto Karass. But, like Ortiz before him, Karass pulled himself off the floor and came back to knock Berto down in the 12th round. This time, the fight was stopped. Unlike Ortiz and Guerrero, Karass was too much a proven journeyman to get a fight with Mayweather off the strength of his win over Berto. Instead, Karass took on mid-level contenders Keith Thurman and Devon Alexander, losing to both.
If you're wondering what Berto has done since to merit a chance with the box office king of the world, the answer is very little. He has fought twice more, winning a decision over an unknown opponent named Steve Chambers, before stopping Jonesito Lopez, a fighter whose only victory of note had been an upset stoppage over, wait for it, Victor Ortiz, who once again quit in a fight he'd been winning handily.
And that brings us to tonight's main event.
Berto has lost every major fight of his career, including two fights to men who went on to be humiliated by Mayweather in their very next fights. He has shown no signs of growth, and if anything may have regressed, since his most impressive showing against Ortiz in 2011. He has been burned by a steroids scandal outside the ring and continued mediocre performances in it. Is it possible that he somehow beats Mayweather tonight? Sure. Anything is possible in boxing, and Mayweather himself has been fading noticeably for years, though he's never shown anything like the lapses of interest that Berto has consistently exhibited in the ring. But would I pay $75 to find out? Not on your life.
Iron Mike Gallego is the online identity of a passionate boxing fan. IMG is an occasional contributor to Deadspin, where he has written about topics ranging from boxing to champagne, and can regularly be found on twitter @ironmikegallego.