Food for thought as Andre Berto enlists Victor Conte
Yes, that Victor Conte, the guy behind BALCO, “The Cream,” and “The Clear,” and the self-made chemist who oversaw the doping programs of Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery and (allegedly) Barry Bonds.
Conte served four months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids, and since returning to civilian life he maintains he no longer dabbles in doping.
A growing list of pro athletes believes him.
His work with British sprinter (and former BALCO client) Dwain Chambers is well-documented, and Chambers credits Conte with inventing the training methods that helped him cover 60 metres in a Ben Johnsonesque 6.42 seconds.
And in the U.S. Conte — a former bass player for Tower of Power and good friend Lenny “Cuz I Love You” Williams — is a nutritional consultant to a growing number of pro boxers. Super-middleweight champ Andre Ward is a client, as are bantamweigh king Nonito Donaire and former 140 and 147-pound champ Zab Judah.
And now so is Berto, who learned he was anemic after losing to Ortiz and who hopes a scientifically calibrated diet and supplement regimen will solve the problems that led to his first career loss.
He might be right, especially if Conte has concocted a vitamin that will teach Berto to slip a jab or roll with a power punch.
This isn’t to downplay the importance of nutrition for elite pro athletes. Feeding a world class boxer the way you’d feed a sportswriter is like putting 87-octane gas from Olco in a Formula One race car. The engine might run on that low-grade fuel, but not very well and not for very long.
But it often takes a mature athlete to figure that out, so props to Berto for finally getting serious about supporting both his training sessions and his post-workout recovery through specialized nutrition.
Still, if a brand new diet were all a fighter needed to succeed Zab Judah would have done more against Amir Khan than back away, absorb punches and hit the ground from the first serious body shot he took.
Conte did his job in training camp.
Judah headed into that fight dense with fresh slabs of muscle, yet still made weight easily.
But Conte’s work didn’t address Judah’s three biggest deficiencies — chin, heart and skill.
Granted, Berto’s desire has never been a variable.
In January 2009 he defended his WBC crown against Luis Collazo largely by mustering the guts to mount the last-round rally that saved the fight.
Everything else, however, is a question.
Berto might possess the most dynamic combination of strength and speed in the division, but until now has been the boxing equivalent of the cornerback with legit 4.2 speed who never bothers to learn how to cover, figuring he can always outrun his mistakes.
That approach works just fine until suddenly it doesn’t. And if you don’t believe me ask Ahmad Carroll.
Berto’s explosive enough to stun opponents who aren’t prepared for his speed, powerful enough to put guys to sleep with a single shot, and determined enough to overpower his flaws.
Like his shaky chin (Cosme Rivera once dropped him).
And his indifference to defense, subtle skills and strategy (see: bouts vs Collazo, Ortiz).
That approach carried Berto to a world title and five successful defenses. It worked perfectly until the day it didn’t, when Ortiz met force with force, determination with determination, and bested Berto in a brawl that Berto could have won with just a little boxing.
I’m not disputing Berto’s assertion that poor nutrition helped him gas out against Ortiz, but I also know fighters are a lot more energy efficient when they’re not getting bashed in the body and head.
Which Berto does each time he steps up in class.
You don’t solve that problem by hiring a superstar nutritionist.
You do it by devising solid strategy in training camp and receiving sound advice on your corner on fight night.
And if Berto can’t address that issue he’ll always be what he is right now.
An world-class talent but just good enough to get beat against the division’s best.
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