As you would imagine, Andre Berto remembers the night he won the WBC welterweight title quite well. He had just beaten Miguel Angel Rodriguez on June 21, 2008 to claim the vacant strap and spent the night with ... well ... the belt.
"I just remember that night, just laying in the bed and staring at the belt all night," Berto said. "It's something every fighter dreams about."
So, you can imagine how he felt almost three years later when he lost the belt to Victor Ortiz on April 16, 2011. Not only did he give up his title, he lost for the first time in his professional career.
"It was an exciting fight and a close fight, but I lost," Berto said. "I think every kid, once they go through that first loss, it's devastating. It's either going to make you or break you afterwards. I took it pretty bad and didn't want to be around too many people. I wanted to be by myself."
Berto, 27, said he "over-trained" for the Ortiz fight. As a result, he said his body was not ready for the bout, and it cost him dearly.
"I just had a bad night. My body couldn't respond like it needed to and I didn't know why," said Berto, who fell to 27-1 (21 KOs) with the loss. "I tried different tactics going into the fight, trying to be light so I could be faster and I didn't do all I needed to do. It was a lot of different things. It just played with me from a mental aspect. I just had a bad night."
After taking time to himself, Berto said he got refocused and hungry, which led him back to the ring. He makes his return Saturday night against Dejan Zavec, who just happens to hold the IBF version of the welterweight title (HBO, 10:30 p.m., ET). In training for this fight, Berto said he used some of the lessons he learned from his loss to Ortiz, vowing to make sure not to repeat them.
"I'm going in there with a whole new mindset, knowing my nutrition is on point, knowing I had a tremendous training camp, knowing I didn't over-train and that I'm in remendous shape," he said. "A lot of different things are on point that weren't before. I'm going in there with a different kind of confidence."
Some changes Berto made for this camp included training in California and working with infamous BALCO founder Victor Conte on his nutrition and conditioning. Conte, of course, served jail time in 2005 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering, but Berto has said Conte simply helped him with his nutrition and the training process.
Berto says he changes have paid off.
"Being in this camp, I feel a lot stronger now than before," he said. "I feel like I have all the tools to do whatever I need to do in there. I have the speed, I have the power and I have the agility. People have seen me box and they've seen me bang it out. I just have to stick to the game plan and make it happen."
Doing so against Zavec on Saturday will be a challenge. The Slovenian comes in to the fight with a 31-1 record with 18 KOs. The 35-year-old has defended his IBF belt three time since winning it in December 2009.
"He's tough, he's rugged," Berto said of Zavec. "He can come forward and block and try and throw punches. I've seen him lately try to run and jab a little bit. But at his essence he's a come-forward-and-bang-it-out type of guy. He might have to try to do both, try to impose himself or stay on the outside and try to box. I'm not sure, but we'll be prepared for whatever."
Should he get past Zavec, Berto says, "Doors are going to open up" for him. Some rumors have Berto facing the winner of the Sept. 17 matchup between Ortiz and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. But Berto said he's just focused on Zavec at the moment.
Down the road, though, Berto has one goal in sight.
"Just to be recognized as pound-for-pound one of the best," Berto said. "Once you reach that pinacle of the sport, there's really nothing else you can really accomplish. You've won all the belts, you've done this and done that, but when everybody recognizes you as pound-for-pound the best, I think that's the pinacle."