Miami People

Andre Berto: Right Hooks for Haiti

Whenever Andre Berto, wrapped tightly in his dad's red-and-blue flag, steps into the ring, he knows he's fighting for more than just a title.

In January 2010, the welterweight nicknamed "the Beast" was prepping for the biggest fight of his career — against three-time world champ "Sugar" Shane Mosley — when catastrophe struck. The massive earthquake that leveled Haiti on January 12 killed Berto's uncle and seven other relatives, left his sister and a niece in Port-au-Prince in shock, and forever altered the boxer's career.

"Every time I fight now, I'm going up there to show the people of Haiti how much love I have for them," Berto says.

If his rise to the top tiers of pro boxing is a remarkable tale of perseverance and family support, his career since the earthquake is just as notable for the support he has sent back to the ravaged Caribbean island.

Berto grew up brawling in Winter Haven, in Central Florida, against his dad, Dieuseul, a professional MMA fighter, and his brother, James, who'd later go on to his own pro fighting career. "My dad and I were constantly trying to best each other," he says. "He instilled the work ethic that's taken me this far."

After representing Haiti at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Berto tore through the pro ranks, amassing a spotless 25-0 record leading up to his fight with Mosley.

But after the quake, with so many in his family dead, Berto canceled the bout and took up a tougher battle: helping the island recover. He signed on with Project Medishare and began traveling to Port-au-Prince to volunteer.

"Even in those first horrible days, I saw how quickly the Haitian people can adapt," he says. "The Haitian people are strong. They're going to survive."

Berto's new focus on Haiti didn't slow his pro career; he lost his WBC title in a brutal, four-knockdown fight against Victor Ortiz this past April, but he rebounded by winning an IBF title in a bout against Slovenian Jan Zaveck this September.

No matter what comes next, Berto knows what flag he'll wear for his next fight. "I wasn't born in Haiti," he says, "but I want to always show where my roots are."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink