I was simply curious. That's how the Andre Berto story began back in late 2004. I'd watched boxing for years. I'd written on the subject. I'd even done it myself (in the Golden Gloves). But I'd never really followed or profiled a fighter until he was a champion—or at least on the precipice of becoming one.
The road to boxing's big time, I knew, was a long one. No matter how much talent a young prospect possesses, he's never going to be an overnight star. There is no LeBron James in boxing. Prospects need time to get accustomed to taking a right-cross without headgear. They need years to build a record, to fortify the ego. Mike Tyson became history's youngest heavyweight champ—after 27 pro fights. Floyd Mayweather Jr. 'skyrocketed' to a title—but it took him two years.
I had so many questions. What was a young prospect's journey like? How do fighters stay focused? Hungry? What are their fears? What are the exciting times? What are the dullest? What are the pressures like? How to fighters develop—both in and out of the ring?
To make it a complete story I needed a subject with the following elements: a) talent b) untapped potential c) the willingness to have a reporter, and sometimes a photographer, follow him around for the next three to five years.
I spoke to trainers, fighters, promoters and matchmakers. After lengthy discussions, I figured that my best bet would be to find a fighter from that summer's Olympics Games in Athens. I got three names, three 'Andre's' actually: Andre Ward, Andre Dirrell and Andre Berto.
Then I asked more specific questions: Who's seemed the most accessible? The friendliest? Who's the most well-spoken? The most willing to speak his mind? Who had the biggest potential? The answer kept coming up Berto. He lived on the east coast. His promoter Lou DiBella, who'd been the man behind the ascension of 2000 Olympian and former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, was going to make Berto a top priority. And everyone who'd met Berto described him as 'good kid' with a 'great head on his shoulders.' No flakiness. No craziness.
After DiBella gave the green light, I placed a call to Berto's trainer Tony Morgan in March 2005. "No problem," he said. It'd be a lot of work, I told him. Lots of time. Occasionally a pain in the butt. But it'd be worth it.
I think it was.
(Ed's Note: See page 52 in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine.)