LOS ANGELES (AP) - Andre Berto's thick hands drum out a rhythm on the table, and his words accelerate slightly as he proclaims his innocence. Even after a failed doping test earlier this year, the former welterweight champion insists he has always been a clean fighter.
"Me and my family, we pride ourselves off of hard work, that's it," Berto said. "That's what everybody I know comes from. When the situation happened, it definitely hurt us, because we know what type of people we are. Everybody that's close to us, they know we pride ourselves off hard work. Nothing else in between."
Berto (28-1, 22 KOs) realizes his reputation could have been indelibly stained in many boxing minds by his positive test in May for norandrosterone, a detectable metabolite of nandrolone, scrapping a high-profile rematch of his only loss to Victor Ortiz.
Without being publicly specific, the fighter and his camp have claimed the positive test was due to contamination from a nutritional supplement or food, a common complaint among athletes in several sports who have been accused of nandrolone usage. The California State Athletic Commission believed the fighter's evidence, licensing Berto in August.
After a 14-month ring absence, Berto will meet former 135-pound champion Robert Guerrero at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif., on Nov. 24 in a welterweight title bout. Berto and Guerrero met at the downtown Grammy Museum on Tuesday, posing for a good-natured faceoff to formally announce their fight.
Berto's fight to reclaim his reputation will go on a bit longer than those 12 rounds.
"I knew I didn't do anything wrong," Berto said. "That's why I felt that I wasn't through with (boxing). It hurt me to a point, because I can't believe that it happened the way it did, and to be realistic, there wasn't any type of explanation for it on my end. I just had to go through that process of taking the criticism and walking through that dark aisle until everything came to the forefront, which it did."
Berto has said his urine samples contained only minuscule evidence of nandrolone, an anabolic steroid that sometimes can be detected 18 months after its use, making it an exceptionally poor choice for any aspiring dopers. Berto's contamination complaints were backed up by Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO Laboratories, who worked with Berto before his failed test.
On Tuesday, Berto said he and Conte "are still friends. He's a good guy. Everything he does is legit nowadays."
Berto's frustration only surfaces when he's asked whether his doping test could cast a shadow over his entire pro career. A south Florida native with a mixed-martial-artist father and two fighting siblings, Berto competed for Haiti at the Athens Olympics before winning the WBC's 147-pound title in 2008 and making five defenses.
Berto believes the California commission's decision vindicates him, and he's confident his fans agree.
"We've proven everything," Berto said. "You've seen everybody else that got caught in that type of situation, they've been (suspended) for a year, they've been gone for a certain amount of time. Us, we came to the table, went through the correct steps with the commission, and they went back and tested those products, and they saw exactly what it was. They said we didn't do anything at all, and that's why we're back."
Others will be tougher to persuade. Guerrero said he has no idea whether Berto is telling the truth.
"Who knows?" Guerrero asked without a smile. "Only God knows. ... It doesn't make me nervous at all, because knowing that he's failed it once, I don't think he's going to fail it again. You fail it twice, your career is done."
Guerrero and Berto are being tested by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency instead of the Las Vegas-based Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency, which discovered Berto's positive test. Berto is still angry with VADA, claiming the agency should have done further investigation into the reasons behind his results before releasing them.
Berto also said he's "being more careful" in his preparations for this fight, watching his diet and his associations under the guidance of Al Haymon, the ingenious dealmaker behind Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s career. Berto moved his training camp back home to Florida after working and living in Los Angeles in recent years, saying it's easier to get away from distractions in the Miami area than in Hollywood.
Berto has been in training for weeks without knowing the identity of his next opponent. He considered moving up to 154 pounds to fight IBF champion Cornelius Bundrage, but when Guerrero couldn't land a fight with Timothy Bradley Jr., Golden Boy put Berto and Guerrero together.
Berto sparred 12 rounds just a few days ago, saying he's "in ridiculous shape" and ready to take out his frustrations on the welterweight division.
"You learn a tremendous amount, about myself, about the people around me, and just about this business," Berto said. "You get to a point that sometimes, just being in the spotlight is great, but certain things happen, it can really take you to a dark place. I've been blessed enough just to work my way out of it, and I'm excited, I'm happy to be back in front of the fans and give them what they want to see."