Sunday April 11th, 2010

SUNRISE, Fla. -- If there is a criticism to be levied against boxing's elite, it's that they are chronologically undesirable. Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez make up the top of most pound-for-pound rankings, but each is on the other side of 30 with Mosley, 38, the resident greybeard of the group. Critics wonder who the sport will turn to when Pacquiao makes politics a full-time gig and Mayweather finally walks away for good.

On Saturday night, they may have gotten their answer. A decorated amateur with two national Golden Gloves titles and an Olympics appearance on his resume, Andre Berto is hardly a newcomer to the sport. Berto first popped on the national radar in 2008, when he picked up the vacant WBC welterweight title with a knockout win over Miguel Angel Rodriguez. Since then the competition hasn't exactly been stiff -- Stevie Forbes, Luis Collazo and Juan Urango won't be banging on the Hall's door in Canastota -- but the wins have kept coming. And on Saturday Berto picked up his best W to date, an utterly crushing eighth-round TKO victory over Carlos Quintana.

At times, it wasn't pretty. Part of it was because of Quintana, a crafty veteran and former world title-holder who once upon a time dismantled Paul Williams. In front of surprisingly sparse crowd, Quintana clutched, grabbed, elbowed and held Berto throughout the early rounds, yanking on his head during clinches and rabbit punching him on the breaks.

Part of it was Berto. Eleven months removed from live action -- a direct result of January's earthquake in Haiti that cost him eight relatives -- the rust was slow to shake off Berto's 147-pound frame. He struggled to keep Quintana at a distance and his jab, perhaps affected by the bicep injury he suffered in the early rounds, seemed to be holstered to his hip. Much of that, though, was expected. Consider the wretched horror we feel when an aging grandparent passes away. Now, multiply that feeling by four and throw in an uncle and a handful of cousins and see where the mind wanders off to.

Even dragging that baggage, Berto was often overwhelming. He staggered Quintana with a straight right hand in the fifth and buried him under an avalanche of combinations in the eighth before referee Tommy Kimmons mercifully stepped in.

"I was hurting, so I wanted to finish the fight as soon as possible," said Berto. "I was a little rusty. I felt rusty. My legs were kind of locking up and I was letting him hold me a little too much. But the job got done."

There's a lot to like about Berto. Run through the checklist of boxing's franchise faces and he matches most of them. He has power with both hands and blinding speed to back it up. His mindset coming into a fight isn't just to win, but to win convincingly. His chin remains relatively untested but he took several power shots from Quintana -- a legit welterweight with 21 knockouts on his resume -- and kept on coming. He's young (26), articulate and eager to step into the spotlight.

The question is, is he ready? The holes in his game -- an occasionally low offensive output and an inability to adjust in the ring -- are obvious to the untrained eye. The quake in Haiti shuttered a showdown with Mosley, an old lion/young lion matchup that was supposed to put Berto's skills to the test. With Mosley and Mayweather now locked into a fight next month, Pacquiao suddenly becomes the most appealing alternative.

On paper it makes a lot of sense. It would unify two titles -- Pacquiao is the WBO title-holder -- and pitting Pacquiao against another power puncher would remove the stench attached to him and his promoter, Bob Arum, after last month's overpriced sparring session with Joshua Clottey.

No doubt Arum and Co. will wait until after Mosley-Mayweather to discuss any potential deal. But if Mosley wins -- which would trigger a rematch clause with Mayweather -- or if negotiations with Mayweather crumble, Berto has earned a spot at the top of the list.

"That knockout was pretty vicious," said Berto. "And I'm only going to get better from here."

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