Andre Berto: Fall guy in Mayweather boxing circus

Peter Stebbings

Las Vegas (AFP) - Andre Berto is the fall guy for pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather's supposedly final fight, an opponent regarded as game but not having the quality to deviate from the script.

Berto is a massive underdog for Saturday's showdown against the unbeaten Mayweather, who will match the perfect 49-0 record of legendary heavyweight Rocky Marciano if -- as expected -- he retains his welterweight world titles in Las Vegas.

Few give Berto, a former two-time title holder, much of a chance, in what would be one of the greatest upsets in boxing history if he becomes the first man to stop Mayweather.

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"I'm the best shape I've ever been in," said a relaxed-sounding Berto (30-3, 23 KOs), vowing to go after the "crafty" and defensively brilliant Mayweather.

"I'm going to bring a combination of speed and power to the table and I believe I have better athletic ability (than Mayweather's previous opponents)."

"I'm a young and hungry fighter coming in, and if I can take that (crown) away from him, that'd be huge. That's my mindset," he added.

Berto, 32 on Monday, is only now emerging from an ugly chapter in what had been a promising career.

He tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2012, had shoulder surgery in 2013 that left him fearing for his career -- "it shook up my whole world" -- and is on a run of three defeats in his last six fights.

Berto says being the man to tear up the history books and prove his knockers wrong is all the inspiration he needs.

"Those critics aren't there in the ring with us, they're not in the gym," he said. "I don't get affected by the critics."

- 'Whole different man' -

Mayweather (48-0, 26 KOs) had the pick of a packed welterweight division, but he infuriated boxing fans in choosing Berto, who says he is hungrier and better than ever after those troubled three years inside and outside the ring.

He refuses to say what some of the personal issues were and is coy on his injury problems too, but his highly respected trainer Virgil Hunter believes Berto's losses were more to do with his health than lack of talent.

Berto, an all-action fighter with a big heart who will reportedly pocket $3 million from the bout, did not box for over a year because of his shoulder and Hunter says the comeback from that -- mentally and physically -- is still not quite complete.

But Berto says he will show the MGM Grand crowd -- which will be fully behind him -- that he is "a whole different man" compared to 2013, when he only narrowly lost to journeyman Jesus Soto Karass despite being injured early in the bout.

Berto may have been born in the United States but he identifies heavily with Haiti, where his family are from, and is said to have been traumatized by the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and shattered much of the impoverished country's ramshackle infrastructure.

Berto is believed to have lost friends and family in the quake and he put boxing to one side in the aftermath to travel to Haiti to help in the painstaking recovery.

He also founded the Berto Dynasty Foundation, whose work includes raising money for Haiti's needy.

Berto talks darkly of things in his past, without ever saying what they are.

"Where my people come from, there's a lot worse than anything in that ring," Berto says.

Mayweather has talked up Berto -- likely in an attempt to generate interest in the fight -- and there has been a noticeable absence of trash-talking between the pair.

"He feels like he has nothing to lose, and I think that when you got a guy that's put in that situation, it makes him work that much harder because he got a chance to be one of the top guys in the sport when I'm through," said Mayweather.

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