Andre Berto on a Victor Ortiz Rematch and VADA Testing
By Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing (Dec 8, 2011) Doghouse Boxing
Andre Berto
Former IBF and WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto has had a down-and-up (in that order) 2011. He started the year off in April facing Victor Ortiz, then a junior welter who’d been knocked out once only to move up to 147 for an immediate title shot. The fight was awesome with both men tested to the limit. In the end, both hit the canvas twice but it was Ortiz who outworked Berto, ending his undefeated streak and WBC title reign.
A lot is said about Berto. He talks too much too much on Twitter. He is entitled and/or overpaid. He can’t sell tickets. Maybe some of that is true.
“I have gotten in trouble on Twitter a few times,” laughed Berto on a recent episode of on radio show, hosted by me and David Duenez. “I love Twitter. I love Twitter. It’s a good outlet but it will get you in trouble.”
One thing you can’t deny about Berto is he likes to fight. When he does, it’s with passion and aggression. In losing, we found out a lot about Andre Berto. He showed heart, toughness and desire. Against Ortiz, he was not some overpaid phony, earning his money that night and showing that perhaps he has been paid for his potential and propensity to put up a serious fight when challenged. Berto’s problem going into the fight was that he didn’t know it was going to be a challenge.
“I just had a bad night, man,” Berto explained about that April night. “I feel that, you know, I got outworked in the fight. But at that time, I am not going to lie, it was not a fight that I was really up too much for. I worked hard like every fight I work hard for but I just had a bad night at the end of the day. Everyone who saw the fight, they saw an exciting fight but they didn’t see the Andre Berto. We had some situations, you know, a few days before the fight but we put on a great performance. So we just go ahead and get this [rematch] done. This is something that I feel just had to happen to really spark that flame that is under me. And now, I am at a focus point that I haven’t been at since probably I turned pro.”
Berto further explained that what he had expected was a Shane Mosley fight or perhaps some other name worth fighting. To him, Ortiz was a letdown, a consolation prize. This is a physical and mental game. Having one squared away but not the other is often the difference between winning and losing.
“At that time, I wanted bigger opponents,” he offered. “We were coming from maybe fighting Shane Mosley. Somebody else was talking to me about big guys and then they bring me Victor Ortiz and it’s like, ‘OK, get past this guy and maybe something else will come up later.’ When you are a young fighter going through that, you end up going through the motions. You’re winning. You’re winning but the big fish aren’t coming to you. It gets kind of lackadaisical somewhat to a point but at the same time, going through the motions but then still not getting the credit from some of the critics or some of the fans or some of the commentators for making it look too easy. ‘He’s beating this guy. He should beat this guy. He’s fighting Victor Ortiz. He should run through this guy.’ Just the anticipation and the high expectations kind of offset each other sometimes. You get into the ring with high expectations but then again, to you and everybody else, there isn’t really a big reward if you win or not. So it kind of offsets you a little bit and I paid for that at the end of the day.”
Now Berto enjoys a clarity that has grown along with his confidence. The loss in a larger sense woke him up. Like any change, it began from the inside. Berto said he didn’t feel like himself in the fight. After post-fight medicals were finished and the results came back, Berto learned he was anemic and very dehydrated. As a result of the findings, Berto decided to get himself an expert to work over his nutrition and workout plan. He contacted Victor Conte, who runs SNAC in the Bay Area and the two went to reworking Berto’s moneymaker: his body.
“I found out about that situation after the Ortiz fight because I didn’t feel the same at all going into the fight,” said Berto. “During the fight and before the fight I felt like something was wrong. I went to get checked out. After the fight, we have to go get checked out. The doctors told me that they didn’t know how I performed that night because I was extremely dehydrated. I am extremely anemic. We did our research and, of course, that was the case. I had to really just look out for my nutrition. And I knew that Victor Conte would be one of the best to try and help me out.”
Berto has been getting an education with Conte. Most athletes are gifted physically already, getting by for years just on that talent alone. But when you get to where Berto is, fighting on HBO for millions against other top fighters, talent and ability are not enough. There are ways to go to that next level. Berto chose Conte, who knows the paths but follows what he might call “The Light Side” of sports. Protein shakes, vitamin supplements, hypoxic training, blood tests and the help of running guru Remi Korchemny are all part of the reeducation of an athlete who thought he just had to work hard to get it done.
“Us just growing up, the only thing we knew was hard work,” said Berto. “My father bred us to work hard. We didn’t know too much about vitamins, protein shakes and all that other new stuff. We just worked hard and at the end of the day, we would be able to beat our opponent because of our will to work hard. And I feel that it finally just caught up with me. I just had to look at differently. Make sure to rest. Be sure to put the right things back in my body. Like I say, everything happens for a reason. We’re just trying to get back to the drawing board and get it right.”
Conte comes with a certain reputation as the co-founder of BALCO, doing time for his performance-enhancing crimes against sports. Berto said he had no trepidation when electing to work with the reformed Conte despite this.
“No, not really because I felt that after I did all my research, I knew Victor and everybody that got caught up with the situation knew exactly what they were doing,” said Berto. “And I know Victor pretty well at this point in time. He is not the type of guy that would lie and say this or say that. He tells you exactly what you need to get yourself back so you’re not looking to go that route. You don’t have anything to worry about and if you know not to stick any type of needle into your body or your butt, you know that you are not doing anything that you shouldn’t be doing. So I believe that everybody that got caught up in that situation knew exactly what they were doing.”
Not one to shy away from hard work, Andre set his comeback fight sights on Jan Zaveck, a foreign action fighter who just so happened to have the IBF belt. HBO, who turned down Zaveck last year as an opponent, made the fight in September. Berto once again was a champion after five action-packed rounds that ended when Zaveck’s cut eye became too much for the ringside doctor to bear.  
“It just got me back to where I wanted to be,” said Berto of the win. “We had to go back to the drawing board. I wanted to fight somebody that wasn’t just anybody but a kid from overseas who was hungry, strong and had a world title. I wanted to come back and jump right back in the mix and I did that. I wasn’t gun shy coming in. I just went straight to him and we worked it out. I am how I am and that’s just the way I work. Now I am ready to start moving forward.”
The physical make up of Berto, who went through a whole camp under Conte’s system, didn’t look all that different. Even overtrained, he was always a physical specimen. It was under the hood where the tune-up was most evident. The problem was finding out how fast his car could now go and for how long.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly how it was,” Berto agreed on the metaphor. “Just first coming in the first two, three rounds I came out like (Berto makes a machine gun sound). Coach was looking at me in the corner like, ‘Alright, man. Relax. Slow down.’ So in the fourth, when people were saying I was getting tired, no, it wasn’t the case. I wasn’t getting tired. It was just that I was trying to tone the pace down. I got touched with shots that I shouldn’t get touched with. I didn’t really feel them at all. [Trainer Tony Morgan] wanted me to slow it down because I was ready to go, ready to go, ready to go from the beginning of the round.”
The test drive was a success with Berto getting the win and the title. All that’s left is the matter of a few adjustments.
“So now, it is just getting used to everything,” said Berto. “Trying to get used to these things I am putting in my body; eating the right things to take care of my body. Make sure to rest and allow it to heal. Make sure the peak comes at the right time. Mentally, physically, you are ready to go. Now it’s just making sure things go at the right pace and that you handle everything and that you are able to let things loosen up even more.”
In order to get a rematch with Victor Ortiz, which Berto prioritizes, he had to bypass his mandatory, Randall Bailey, and drop the IBF belt. Now that he has, the way is cleared for a much anticipated fight tentatively scheduled for February 11 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV. Something tells me Berto won’t have trouble getting up for this one.
“It is something that I have been looking towards and it looks like that fight will get done,” said Berto. “You know I won the title in my last fight but it’s this fight that I always wanted again. So if I got a chance to realistically get the fight instead of facing my mandatory and giving up my title, then the best way to move forward is to try and get this rematch done. Not just for myself and the fans of boxing. Just because it was such an extremely exciting fight. And that’s the reason I got into the fight game, man. From seeing exciting fights like that and being in what was definitely ‘Fight of the Year,’ I mean that’s the type of situation that I get up for. That’s the type of situation I get excited about. So I am trying to get this thing done and it looks like it’s going to get done.”
For this fight, Berto is doing something familiar with a twist. He has asked that he and Ortiz do random drug testing within training camps. Ortiz just went through USADA’s testing program as asked for by Floyd Mayweather in his last fight. Berto has decided to go another route, hoping to opt for Dr. Margaret Goodman’s Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency, should everything fall into place for that organization in time. Berto, polite in his answer, seems to favor VADA because their tests (particularly for testing EPO, a blood-doping agent which boosts your red blood cell count, and synthetic testosterone) will be more extensive and accurate than what USADA is offering. Added to which, from what I understand, VADA is looking to use sponsorship to pay for the testing, which they estimate will cost a fraction of the estimated $90,000 to $100,000 (according to one fighter was recently quoted when inquiring about USADA testing for an upcoming fight). Hopefully with the sponsorship, the cost to the fighter will ultimately be nothing to prove he is clean.
“Yeah, I really want to try and get the new testing done through VADA, Dr. Margaret Goodman’s group,” said Berto. “Just because just knowing…you know USADA is a tremendous organization as well…but just being around Victor and really getting a lot more understanding about the testing and performance drugs that a lot of these people are taking and how there are still ways that even through the USADA system that they can kind of get away with things, especially if you are dealing with a more intelligent drug guy. You know just going with the VADA program, I believe they are going the extra mile. They are being very, very particular in that it’s almost impossible to get away with anything performance-enhancing in your body with the VADA program. So I believe that is the program I want to try to go with.”
From what I understand, there are at least two different approaches VADA will take in its testing. One will be the use of Carbon Isotope Ratio testing which helps detect to a high degree of accuracy whether an athlete is using synthetic testosterone or even adding a boost of it into his system. The other difference is that, for the first time, boxing will save a group implementing the 50% hematocrit rule, effective in detecting EPO use. Only Nordic skiing and cycling use this rule, which states that if an athlete’s hematocrit, (read: red blood cell count) is 50% or higher, he is suspended for two weeks on the spot with an investigation and stiffer penalties possibly to follow. Because of these differences in the protocols, Berto is choosing VADA.
“Exactly,” Berto said when I asked him about the specific tests as reason to use VADA. “That is one of the things that USADA isn’t really doing, with just the fact that VADA is taking an approach that is moving them to the next level. There are drugs that within 24 hours, they are out of your system. But then again, you are still getting the full effect of them, so we are just trying to get sure that we get everything cleared across the board. If it’s the hematocrit, we will be able to detect anything.”
I asked Berto if he chose to test because he is worried about drug use in the sport, because he wanted to prove his work with Conte was clean or because of the education he has received working with the man and his team.
“Everything. Everything,” said Berto joyously. “I believe the work with me and Victor is as clean as possible but just the fact that my knowledge, just being with him this last camp and learning so much about it and learning about how rampant it is in the sport and just knowing for a fact that, ‘Man, damn. I was probably in the ring with guys that were on all types of stuff and I didn’t know it.’ I was just a superior athlete. Just knowing that it was so rampant in the sport, it’s just ridiculous, especially with fights like this where there is so much money and everything else on the line. You want everything to be on the same playing field. So whoever wins is just the better fighter that night.”
Beyond anything, this is about Berto’s safety. It’s not about getting the other guy being at a disadvantage but more about getting all the cards on the table.
“You think of any sport, baseball, basketball, golf tennis, cycling, these guys want to be the best in the world,” said Berto. “They are willing to do whatever it takes to have their body perform at the best of its ability and they feel, ‘Oh. Everybody is doing it so I might as well do it to keep up with everything.’ It’s rampant everywhere but when it comes to this sport, it’s not cycling. It’s not basketball. You’re not just shooting a ball. It’s not tennis or golf. We’re boxing. We’re punishing each other’s bodies. We are trying to knock each other’s heads off. This is dangerous. Like these are life-and-death-type of situations, so we have to try and take precautions to make sure everything is on the same playing field or somebody can be seriously injured or even die.”
Apparently, we are signed contracts away from the fight being on. VADA is still working out administrative things. Who can say if it all comes together? No matter how it goes, Berto knows he has what it takes to get his revenge on Ortiz. At the same time, he understands how fragile and dangerous every moment in boxing is. What will be will be.
“I’m going to stay sharp and he is going to stay sharp,” said Berto, “and we’re going to see who’s gonna get caught.”
This writer would like to thank Andre’s PR agent, Julie Goldsticker, for arranging this interview.

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You can email Gabriel at, follow him on Twitter at and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

* Special Thanks To MaxBoxing.

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