Coming off 'toughest year,' Berto looks to jump-start career
Former titleholder Andre Berto returns from a 14-month layoff Saturday on HBO
Berto's rep took a hit when he tested positive for an anabolic steroid last spring
With a victory over Robert Guerrero, a lucrative matchup could follow for Berto
One by one our sports stars are exposed, brought crashing down from their pedestals by the discovery that the secret to their success was, in part, pharmaceutical. Barry Bonds was followed by Lance Armstrong who was followed by Melky Cabrera, with countless others in between. The Steroid Era may have peaked in the last decade but designer drugs and fast-vanishing enhancers have spawned a new generation of cheating.
We may never know just how involved two-time welterweight champion Andre Berto was with performance enhancing substances -- he came up positive in a test administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency for small amounts of norandrosterone, an anabolic steroid, before his scheduled rematch against Victor Ortiz last spring -- but no matter how many state commissions clear him there is no escaping the conclusion that his career will never be looked at the same.
On Saturday night Berto (28-1) returns from a 14-month layoff against Robert Guerrero (30-1-1) at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif (10 p.m., HBO). It will be Berto's first chance to dig himself out of this hole, to change a widespread opinion of him he believes has been formed unfairly.
"It was a tough situation," Berto said. "But, me and my team, we really didn't worry too much because we knew we didn't do anything wrong. It was just coming out and proving that. After we did, we hired some real top-level scientists and attorneys that really go in take a sample and find out exactly what it was, and we found out exactly what it was. It was a contamination of very, very, very small trace. We presented all the results to the commission and everything's cleared up and we were able to move forward. But, it was just sad that we had to go through all of the bull that we had to go through."
It's possible, of course, that Berto has a genuine beef. His former nutritionist, Victor Conte, one of the patriarchs of the Steroid Era, has suggested that Berto's positive test could have been attributed to eating a tainted food, and there is legitimate research to back him up. It's possible Berto could have been branded as someone he wasn't, put through a nightmare he didn't deserve.
"This last year," Berto said, "It's been one of the hardest years I really had to go through."
But that's just the way it goes, isn't it? We are skeptics because so many of our athletes have given us so little to believe in. Since 1998 more than a third of the top-10 finishers in the Tour de France have admitted to doping, tested positive or been sanctioned for performance enhancers. Last year's baseball MVP, Ryan Braun, tested positive for synthetic testosterone. He later had his suspension overturned because of a technicality. It's widely accepted that PED use is rampant in boxing; U.S. state commissions only do urine testing, which with the right formula is easy to beat.
"Everybody's guilty until they're proven innocent," Guerrero said. "[Berto] hired the right people, he took the proper steps and did the right things to get back licensed and we go from there."
At 29, Berto still has good years ahead of him. If he beats Guerrero -- a longtime 130- and 135-pounder who jumped up two weight classes last July to beat Selcuk Aydin for a interim piece of the 147-pound title -- Berto will regain his place at the front of the line of money fighters. His name and relationship with influential manager Al Haymon will see to that. The past will be quickly forgotten and lucrative matchups with Ortiz, Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather will be discussed.
But Berto will never wipe the stain off his reputation. The words "norandrosterone" and "tested positive" will be linked to his name forever, locked in immortality by Internet search engines. All Berto can do is move forward. He has submitted to random blood and urine tests again for his fight with Guerrero, this time by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and hopes clean returns will influence the doubters.
"It has definitely matured me just as a man," Berto said. "They always say, 'it's always a storm before a blessing.' And I went through a hell of a storm within this last year. It does put me in perspective with a lot of different things, and I'm right here in the position just to move forward. I'm blessed, the family's blessed and we're ready just to move forward and make it happen."