Welterweight Andre Berto's career is at a crossroads

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

A great record in boxing could be very significant, an obvious sign of an elite talent.

Or, just as easily, a great record could be a hoax, a product of a smart manager and careful matchmaking.

Andre Berto has a great record – the former welterweight title-holder is 28-2 with 22 knockouts heading into his Showtime-televised bout in San Antonio on Saturday against Jesus Soto Karass – but nearly nine years into his career, serious questions about the legitimacy of his record remain.

The bout with Soto Karass may be, in a sense, a final shot for Berto to prove his elite status.

"I have the hand speed," Berto said. "I have the power. I have the athleticism and it's just the fact of just putting everything together."

Berto is a gifted physical talent, though speed, power and athleticism guarantee nothing in boxing but a lot of opportunities.

He's gotten plenty of those, but at nearly 30 years old and nine years into his career, the whole of Berto seems less than the sum of his parts.

HBO treated him like a star from the early stages of his career, giving him a major platform but failing to insist that he regularly take compelling matchups.

The result of that coddling is that among his 28 wins, Berto has yet to beat an elite opponent who was in his prime. His best wins were probably over Luis Collazo and Juan Urango in 2009 and Jan Zaveck in 2011.

He was expected to win all three of those fights, and he did, but they aren't the kind of career-defining victories that will earn him Hall of Fame votes.

He is an unquestionably gifted fighter. But he's also been given an incredibly simple path to the top. He fought for his first title against Mickie Rodriguez, a set-up fight if ever there were one. Going into that June 21, 2008, bout, Rodriguez was not only lightly regarded, he was extraordinarily inactive.

The Berto fight was his first of that year. He'd fought once in 2007 and 2006, three times in 2005, twice in 2004 and just once in 2003. Rodriguez hadn't fought in 266 days when he met Berto for the title. Prior to that, he'd also had layoffs of 329 days twice, 315 days, 280 days and 203 days in the previous six years.

But Rodriguez represents the kind of opponent Berto faced frequently, on television and in title fights. He scored a first-round knockout of the lightly regarded Freddy Hernandez in a 2010 title defense underneath the Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis main.

Despite being in the world title picture since 2008, Berto managed to avoid quality welterweights who were competing in that time such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, Antonio Margarito, Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan, Devon Alexander, Marquez and Timothy Bradley, among others.

In the two most significant fights of his career, Berto fought Victor Ortiz in 2011 and Robert Guerrero in 2012. He lost unanimous decisions to both and was dropped twice in each bout.

But the reason Berto remains a player despite his lack of truly significant wins is that both of those fights were marvelous theater. Berto went down, but he got up and fought and both bouts were compelling television.

The same was true of his win over Collazo, which was one of the most exciting bouts of 2009.

But Berto has come to something of a crossroads. If he's ever going to get one of those big fights, and win it, he needs to make a statement on Saturday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio against Soto Karass.

Soto Karass is a hard-nosed guy who always comes to fight, but he's tended to be mostly a gatekeeper. This is a fight in which the pressure will be on Berto to not only win, but win impressively.

After being routed by Guerrero in November, Berto switched trainers, leaving Tony Morgan for Virgil Hunter.

Sometimes for a veteran fighter, a new voice serves as a motivator. The proof will come on Saturday when the bell rings, but Hunter seems to have succeeded in getting to Berto.

He exudes confidence, which hasn't always been the case during his career.

"I just improved mentally, physically, spiritually, just all the way around," Berto said of working with Hunter. "You see that [and] Virg sees it. He sees that I'm getting back to who I need to be, and that's being a fighter who's in tremendous shape and who's being a fighter who's supremely confident and being a fighter who just looks like I can do whatever I want to do in there.

"When I'm on point and when I'm at the best that I can be, there's nobody in the welterweight division that can doing anything with me. So, he's been saying that, and like I said, man, we're actually going to be straight, and it doesn't matter what it gets to. He's seen me box kids' heads off out here in the gym. At the same time, he sees me just stay behind that defense and just bang it out, but of course, I'm going to try to be smarter in there and just try to do what we got to do."

It's not too late for him to become the star his speed, power and athleticism suggest he could become.

But he'll turn 30 in September and he's gotten more than his share of opportunities.

He needs to deliver to prove that sparkling record of his is not just illusory.

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