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Unbeaten Berto battles perceptions

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS – It never hurts to have good connections and clearly, few elite boxers have better connections than World Boxing Council welterweight champion Andre Berto.

The unbeaten former Haitian Olympian is one of the stars of promoter Lou DiBella's stable and is advised by Al Haymon, who unquestionably is one of the five most powerful men in the sport.

Having a dynamic duo like DiBella and Haymon on one's side can guarantee a string of HBO appearances, seven-figure purses and less than the stiffest competition en route to a world title, fruits that Berto has enjoyed.

On Saturday, Berto defends his belt as part of a tripleheader on HBO at the MGM Grand Garden Arena when he meets Freddy Hernandez in yet another bout that isn't expected to seriously challenge him.

That, however, is not to say that Berto, 27, isn't capable of handling top-flight competition. He may be the best overall talent available to immediately fight either of the welterweight division's two superstars, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. He's fast, powerful and athletic, and has only scratched the surface of his vast abilities.

Yet Berto is nearly six full years into his career and hasn't met an elite opponent in his prime. He's 26-0 with 20 knockouts and was in one of boxing's best fights of 2009 when he outhustled fringe contender Luis Collazo.

The defining bout that makes boxers into stars has eluded Berto, who at a workout for the media Wednesday at the Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts Academy looked to be in magnificent physical condition.

Part of the reason for the lack of a high-profile bout is circumstance. Neither Pacquiao nor Mayweather have sought him out. Berto hasn't been a big draw, as his disaster of an April 10 title defense in Sunrise, Fla., against Carlos Quintana proved. Despite essentially fighting in his back yard, the arena was nearly empty and promoters took a bath.

No top fighter like Pacquiao or Mayweather wants to fight a difficult opponent if that opponent doesn't bring some ticket-selling abilities to the table. And clearly, at this point, Berto does not sell.

Berto nearly got the defining fight he needed in January when he was scheduled to fight Shane Mosley in Las Vegas. Mosley was favored, but many boxing insiders thought the bout would be Berto's coming out party and that he would enter the big stage with an impressive win.

The fight was canceled, though, when members of Berto's family were trapped in Haiti after the island nation's disastrous earthquake, and Mosley went on to fight Mayweather. Berto flew to Haiti to lend assistance and then fought Quintana in an away-from-the-spotlight title defense.

He's hoping that a victory on Saturday will propel him into a bout against one of the division's stars, but he's not bothered by the criticism.

"It's not easy to put those big fights together," Berto said. "It's not like they come together at the drop of a dime, like some people think they do. It takes a lot of negotiation and it takes a lot of politics, pull. A lot of people don't really realize that. You just can't will them to happen. So I just focus on my business and I've trained extremely hard for (Hernandez).

"I can't get mad (at the critics), because they're just hungry fight fans who want to see you fight the best. We all want that. I take the criticism as kind of flattering to me, that I'm not going to be challenged at all by these guys and that I should be in there against guys like Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley."

Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, has conceded that Berto is on the list of potential opponents for a May fight with the Filipino congressman, though it's clear Berto ranks below Mayweather, Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez on the pecking order.

DiBella has led a campaign on Berto's behalf, though super welterweight Kermit Cintron verbally unloaded on Berto, questioning his qualifications for such a bout.

"Berto fights C- and B-level fighters," Cintron told "How is he going to fight a guy like Pacquiao? He would get blown out."

Cintron publicly expressed the feelings of many in the industry, and there is truth to what he said. Berto's pretty much had the best of everything in his career and he's been on HBO nearly as often as Tony Soprano despite the fact he's never been in a must-see fight.

Berto understands what he needs to do: He must not only beat Hernandez, but look impressive in doing it in order to elbow his way into the picture against one of the Super Two.

He's one of the few potential opponents for them who is actually gifted enough to not only hang with them but to even have an outside shot at winning.

"The thing about this boxing game, you can be nobody one night and a star the next night," Berto said. "All it takes is that one defining fight. I have the speed and the power to compete with those guys. A lot of the veterans in the division, they're (experienced), but they don't really have that speed, that power, that talent to compete.

"I think I could make an entertaining fight both ways. I'm focusing on (Hernandez), but I am promising that there's nothing but big fights from here on out. The fans feel it's time, the media think it's time and I think it's time. From here on out, it's the best of the best."

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