Boxing: Winter Haven Boxer Will Compete in Athens for Haiti

The Ledger, FL
June 26 2004

Winter Haven Boxer Will Compete in Athens for Haiti

Ledger Correspondent

As though hit with a stiff punch to the jaw, Andre Berto was stunned.

The 20-year-old Winter Haven resident did not react immediately when
an arbitrator’s decision stripped him of the opportunity to compete
for a slot on the U.S. Olympic boxing team for this summer’s Games.

Right after the decision in Cleveland on Feb. 27, Berto flew to
Houston to spar with professional welterweight champion and friend
Winky Wright of St. Petersburg.

“When I got off the plane and saw all the boxers and all the people
there who are my friends, I just broke down,” said Berto, known to
friends as Mike but in boxing circles as Andre because that’s the way
his boxing entry forms were filled out.

“I cried my heart out,” he continued. “It was the most stressful week
of my life. After preparing for this for 10 years, they told me I
couldn’t fight in the trials. It was a double-elimination tournament,
so why didn’t they let me keep on fighting?”

The question need not be asked anymore.

Berto is going to be able to live out his Olympic dream after all. He
just won’t be doing it with the U.S. team.

Following his disqualification from the U.S. team, Berto’s camp
sought help from Haiti. Berto, who is a Polk Community College
student, is the son of Haitian immigrants, father Dieuseul and mother
Wilnise. His parents moved from Miami to Winter Haven when he was 10.

Because his parents were born in Haiti, Berto was granted dual
citizenship as an American and Haitian. He traveled to Tijuana,
Mexico, to fight in the 42-country Americas Olympic Qualifying
Tournament — this time as a member of Haiti’s team.

The 152-pound welterweight earned a spot in the Olympics by reaching
the tournament finals in early March.

In a twist, Vanes Martroysian, a 19-year-old standout from Armenia
who earned U.S. citizenship so he could box for the United States,
defeated Berto, 24-21, in the final of the Americas qualifier.

That matters little now.

Berto, who beat Martroysian in the second round of the U.S. team
trials in February before the result was erased, is scheduled to go
to Athens, Greece, in August as Haiti’s one-man boxing team.

Ranked No. 1 in the United States as an amateur welterweight, Berto
was a heavy favorite in the U.S. team trials. But his ranking didn’t
carry any weight with the referee, who disqualified him with 27
seconds left in his opening match against Juan McPherson of

This set off a wild series of appeals, counter-appeals, two more
appeals and finally the binding decision by an arbitrator in Federal
Court — the one that led to Berto’s disqualification and the tearful
breakdown in Texas.

“It was 10 years of training and fighting down the drain,” Berto

It was the most talked-about fight at the trials.

“We drew the toughest guy we could have in the first fight,” said
Tony Morgan, Berto’s trainer and coach at Winter Haven’s Police
Athletic League gym.

Morgan said the 5-foot-9 Berto won the first three rounds of the
four-round fight by a significant margin.

“McPherson’s corner knew his only chance was to take Mike out, and he
was standing when the bell rang for the fourth round,” Morgan said.
“He came charging across the ring, but Mike met him with a solid
right hand that really hurt him. McPherson clinched, but the ref
broke it up.

“Then with 30 to 40 seconds left, Berto caught him again with a hard
right to the head and McPherson clinched around Berto’s waist and
walked him clear across the ring, with Berto trying to shake him off.
Berto finally spun him off and McPherson fell on the ring — on his
butt — and lay motionless.

“The guy’s corner was yelling for him to stay down,” Morgan said.
“The ref called it a foul and disqualified Berto. He could have taken
away points, but he didn’t.”

After looking at a video of the fight, Morgan filed a protest and won
it. Berto fought again the next day, beating Martroysian in a

But McPherson’s representatives filed a counter-protest — a puzzling
decision because the mild concussion he sustained in the fight
prevented him from getting into the ring again for at least 30 days.
The issue was finally settled by the arbitrator.

However, the arbitrator couldn’t stop Berto from chasing his dream
when Haiti came to the rescue.

“It was like I had another breath, a new life,” said Berto, who will
be the first boxer from Polk County to compete in the Olympics. “I
think of it as such a blessing.”

The “blessing” has Berto refocused. The Olympics are fast approaching
and he is in training.

He wakes up each day at 7 a.m. and runs 2 miles at a brisk pace. He
eats breakfast, then works out with weights for two hours.

After a noon lunch, he begins again. He hits bags, does concentration
drills with big mitts, does movement and agility drills and then
spars. All in all, the training lasts five to six hours daily.

At the end of a day, he’ll watch either a movie or a boxing video
until 9 p.m. Then it’s bedtime.

The training intensifies in the final month before a fight. The
running will increase to three miles a day and six miles once a week.

He’ll continue to spar with Wright for as many as nine rounds.

The reward is worth the price, Berto says. And the pride is boiling
over with his parents, friends and, of course, the country he is

Haitian Olympic Committee President Gady Prophete was eager to have
Andre Berto represent his country.

“They are so happy,” said Dieuseul Berto, who has acted as an
interpreter for his son’s camp and Haitian organizers. “They have
never had a boxer like this before.”

Berto certainly has credentials. He is a United States Golden Glove
champion and was a semifinalist in the World Cup Boxing

Despite their success as a duo, Morgan and Berto have a friendly
disagreement over just how much success they’ve had.

“His record book, with all his fights in it, was lost,” Morgan said.
“I’d say he has won around 100 fights and lost 10.”

Berto says with a smile: “I think it is more than that — maybe

Whatever the numbers are, one thing is for sure — Berto has come a
long way. He was a kid who was so aggressive at age 10 that his
family took him to a psychiatrist because he was getting into so much
trouble at school.

His fiery temper was channeled into sports, especially boxing.

As for his home life, the Berto family practices many of its Haitian

“In my home we speak French, Creole and English,” Berto said. “In
high school I took Spanish,” he added, laughing.

He should probably consider brushing up on some Greek because that’s
where the next great moments of his life are likely to take place.

“I always have loved the Olympics, and I watched them when I was
younger and I dreamed of one day going,” Berto said. “But I never
really thought it was actually going to happen. It was just a dream.”

It’s not just a dream anymore.

Leading his new dream list: standing on the gold medal stand at the
birthplace of the Olympic Games.