The role of the journeyman: David Berna prepares to be a hurdle to Michael Conlan

Featherweight David Berna (left) vs . Toka Kahn Clary. Photo credit: Scott Foster


Tonight in New York City, thousands of boxing fans will wear outfits with colors of orange, white and green. A great portion of them will drink beer, sing and dance in the streets of Manhattan, even before they enter The Theater at Madison Square Garden.


They will celebrate St Patrick’s Day on the one hand and the fight of an Irish brother on the other. For the second straight year, the celebrational weekend of March belongs to Michael Conlan, 5-0 (4), in New York.


Though the Belfast-born pugilist is only preparing for his sixth bout in the pro game, this will be his third appearance at the Mecca of Boxing at MSG, all televised nationally on ESPN. Those thousands in tri-color regalia prepare themselves to watch the next victory of their idolized countryman.


But they could hardly tell the name of Conlan’s opponent on Saturday’s show, the one on the B-side and supposed to walk out of the arena with another loss on his record.


Though he looks nothing more than a steppingstone for the Pride of Northern Ireland, David Berna, 15-2 (14), is also a fighter who started his career with dreams of fame and glory, dreams that mostly die hard.


The Hungarian boxer enjoyed a successful run in his 112-bout amateur career, winning the national title, as well as several international trophies during his heyday on the national team. The 27-year-old turned pro in 2016 in his country, under the promotional banner of Profibox Promotion, a company run by former boxer Zoltan Petranyi. Berna won his first 13 bouts, all but one within the distance.


After a late December event in 2016, when he grabbed his eighth pro win with a well-placed, vicious left hook to the liver, in the opening round, the prospect told this writer he feels ready to take on fights on the international level, as Hungarian opponents cannot give him a challenge. The numbers quickly proved his words, as none of his eight victims then were able to pass the third frame on their feet, as the Hungarian up-and-comer showed a good display of his savage offensive and cracking body work.


His impressive record earned him a shot at American prospect Toka Kahn Clary in Atlanta, Georgia, last October. This was an opportunity Berna took on 10 days notice, following original foe Dominican Braulio Rodriguez falling out with an injury. Berna had a decent first frame against his hometown opponent but, in round two, the Hungarian got dropped early with two well-timed left hooks and visited the canvas twice until referee referee Steve Willis called a halt to the bout.


“Actually I was a late substitution fighter there after the original opponent got injured. They offered the bout on a week-and-a-half notice. I took it. In boxing, everybody could get knocked out by a single punch and I took that one in the second round here. It happens. I had a good first round. Members of the media at the arena said to us, after the bout, we were ahead after the first round but it is what it is,” Berna told, on Tuesday, just hours before his plane to the United States took off.


Just two months after his first defeat, another opportunity unfolded, this time against WBO European featherweight titlist Oleg Malynovskyi. This proved to be an even shorter fight than the one in America, as the WBO’s No. 7-rated Ukrainian fighter dropped and ultimately stopped Berna with a left hook on the top of the head in the opening stanza.


“My fight in Ukraine, it was different. We knew about that bout, so I had five weeks to get ready. Plain and simple, it was my mistake that I got stopped in the opening round. It was in the closing seconds of the frame, I heard the knocks that meant we are in the last 10 seconds. I started to move towards my corner and got lazy for a split-second. He caught me and that was it. It was a stupid mistake but you can learn even from these situations.”


The setbacks made the Budapest native think hard about his career. His dreams of becoming someone meaningful in his division quickly vanished at the hands of his predecessors. At the same time, it is hard not to realize the huge gap between the quality of opposition Berna takes on at home and abroad. Soberingly it’s comparable to the Grand Canyon.


“In my country, I am the best at and around my weight class, so I have to travel abroad to take challenges. My opponents at home are not good enough to prepare me for international fights. That is part of the reason why it is extremely tough to beat those international opponents,” said Berna.


In fact, this is not only Berna’s problem. His story relates to the tens of thousands of others who are coming from countries where the level of professional boxing is as far from strong as a first grader’s philosophy knowledge is from Platon’s.


For fighters coming from central Europe and other countries around the world, dreams in boxing, most of the time, turn into severe ass-whoopings by other talented athletes, whom also have what the formers lack: Professionalism.


“Well, when I fight in Hungary, it is me who uses opponents to build my record. I win my fights at home and have to travel abroad for challenges. Though once I am in a different country and on a show promoted by my opponent’s promoter, I turn to be the B-side. I know how it works. The promoter is a wise guy. He would not bring me to his event to see his fighter get beaten, that way I would take money out of his pocket. He obviously does not want that. They have me to build the record and reputation of their protege.”


Berna seems to have learned a lot about being a journeyman in those bouts, in which he had to assume that role. His early fiascos made him understand that, on fights abroad, chips hardly fall into the favors of the visiting fighter.


However what makes a fighter is a heart that beatys loudly, regardless of the odds. Berna, who has a job as an assistant trainer at the gym of his former amateur club, at the prestigious Vasas SC in the capital of Hungary, pocketed a pair of early wins, since his defeats, late last year, before he took his next challenge on tonight’s card in Manhattan. The Hungarian is well aware of the level Conlan represents.


“Conlan is a good fighter. I think he handily beat his (quarter)final foe (Vladimir Nitikin) at the (2012 London) Olympics. The officials robbed him. He could have won the gold medal at the end. He is a great fighter. His reaction after the verdict was probably a bit feverish but, at the end of the day, he was right,” said Berna, who promises to try his best to become the fighter he wants to be on the world stage.


“I have to keep going and build myself, take the best of experiences from bouts like this one on Saturday. I want to give a great fight to the people, who are watching our bout on television and at the arena and take the most of this great opportunity against Conlan.”


Tonight, thousands of fans in tri-color and millions of them sans the colors of the Irish flag will expect Conlan to grab his next victory in eye-catching fashion. David Berna, on the other hand, plans to break those expectations and hopes the chips fall on the side of the journeyman this time.




You can reach Tamas Pradarics at and follow him on @TomiPradarics.




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