Andre Berto, haunted by his only career defeat to Victor Ortiz in April, vacated his IBF welterweight belt on Tuesday in order to pursue a rematch.
"It's a fight that I want more than a world championship," Berto told ESPN.com. "I love my title, but then again, I want to give the fans what they want to see."
Had Berto kept his belt, he would have been obligated to next face mandatory challenger Randall Bailey. And since HBO, which has been bankrolling the careers of Berto and Ortiz for several years, wants Ortiz-Berto II and is not interested in buying Berto-Bailey, the writing was on the wall.
Lou DiBella, Berto's promoter, told ESPN.com that Bello gave up the title begrudgingly.
"He didn't want to and he doesn't understand why HBO would turn down Randall Bailey as an opponent, but he also wants revenge against Ortiz," DiBella said. "The fact is there is no American TV money to make Berto-Bailey so it couldn't be made. We are trying to make the Ortiz rematch."
"I wouldn't be able to sleep at night going the other route and just skimming through," Berto said. "Knowing who I am, and how I was brought up, and my passion for the game, that's the route I need to go. It's just me. I'm the type of kid that if I got in a schoolyard fight, I'm gonna see that guy and we will have to fight every day until I beat him. I know we're going to have to scrap again."
DiBella said HBO is targeting Jan. 28 for the rematch, which will be the network's first "World Championship Boxing" card of the 2012. It is the week before the Super Bowl, a weekend when HBO typically puts on a major fight.
Ortiz and Berto engaged in a tremendous slugfest on April 16 at the Foxwoods resort in Mashantucket, Conn., an early candidate for fight of the year. They both were knocked down twice each and both of them hit the deck in the memorable sixth round. Ortiz won a unanimous decision to take the WBC's version of the 147-pound title.
Berto returned on Sept. 3 to stop Jan Zaveck in the fifth round to win the IBF's version of the title. On Sept. 17, Ortiz lost the belt he had won against Berto when Floyd Mayweather Jr. knocked him out in the fourth round.
Berto (28-1, 22 KOs) said the decision to go for the rematch with Ortiz (29-3-2, 22 KOs), especially with HBO interested, was not difficult.
"Joe Frazier passed (Monday) night and he is remembered as a great person who fought in some of the most monumental fights," Berto said. "He will always be remembered. I believe that's the reason I got into the sport, by watching monumental fights. These guys have a passion for the sport and I want to continue that.
"I think that the rematch will be a tremendous fight. The first one was a fight of the year and it's only right for me just knowing that I got into the game to be in great fights. It's the fight everyone wants to see. We have a short time span in this game, so I every time I step in this ring I want it to be remembered, and I want people to remember me for that."
Berto said although he respects Bailey, a former junior welterweight titlist with tremendous punching power, he wants to avenge the loss to Ortiz more than anything else.
"I definitely want it more than any other fight in my career right now," Berto said. "I had an off night and (Ortiz) capitalized on it. It was a wake-up call for me to refocus. I'm just ready to go and lock myself in a dungeon and focus and get ready.
"Everything happens for a reason. This fight right here a second time around will be a lot bigger than the first one and a win will make me a lot bigger star. You got two fighters, Bailey and Ortiz. They are both risks, but a there's a bigger reward to fight Ortiz, so I am ready to go."
DiBella said he and Ortiz's promoter, Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer, are not getting along well at the moment. But he believes they can work it out, especially with HBO applying such pressure.
"My guy is coming off a title win, Ortiz is coming off a knockout loss and their first fight was terrific, so we just need to make a fair deal," DiBella said. "It took two to make a fight of the year candidate. So I have no problem with equal footing for this fight, but I won't be dictated to by Richard or by HBO. I'm sure when Richard and I get past the fact that we are quibbling, we can get a deal done."
Bailey (42-7, 36 KOs) is in line to fight for the vacant belt against Carson Jones (32-8-2, 22 KOs), the next leading available contender. DiBella, who also promotes Bailey, said he would try to sell the fight to HBO as the Berto-Ortiz undercard bout, although Golden Boy has designs on a welterweight bout between former junior welterweight titleholders Devon Alexander and Paulie Malignaggi.
Top Rank's Carl Moretti said he planned to ask the IBF to sanction Mike Jones (25-0, 19 KOs) against Sebastian Lujan (38-5-2, 24 KOs), who are ranked behind Bailey and in front of Jones, for the vacant title. They are already scheduled to fight in a title eliminator on Dec. 3 on the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito II HBO PPV undercard at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"We are in the process of requesting that," Moretti said. "We think it's a deserving fight to be for the title. We think it's the right thing to do and the winner can fight Randall Bailey after that."
If the IBF follows its rules, it would be unlikely that it would skip over Bailey, who has been the mandatory challenger for some time.
Dan Rafael is the senior boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.