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Mayweather-Ortiz: Instant Karma or Greatness Self-Denied?

(Photo © Tom Hogan - Hoganphotos, Golden Boy Promotions)
(Photo © Tom Hogan - Hoganphotos, Golden Boy Promotions)


“Instant Karma’s gonna get you. Gonna knock you right on the head…”
-John Lennon
 
“At times, youth can outrun its mistakes or flaws. Can Ortiz do it? Will Mayweather be as exciting in the ring tonight as he always has been outside of the ring?”
-Larry Merchant
 
The main event this past Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Victor Ortiz was supposed to be the return of a master boxer to the arena he was born to fight in. More than that, it was intended to be a counterpoint to the kinds of soft, tailor-made matches chief rival Manny Pacquiao has engaged in for his last few fights. Ortiz, though only 24- and much less experienced than Mayweather- was sold to pay-per-view buyers and casual fans as a young, hungry, dangerous champion, the kind, which a 34-year-old, semi-retired fighter should avoid at all costs. Mayweather was sold as a great fighter who rises to any challenge and who sought out this opponent to prove he is indeed the ruler of the roost.

For three rounds, Mayweather proved just that. In the fourth round, Mayweather was beginning to show every fight fan and writer what we’d always wanted to see from him, the willingness to engage in a firefight. Finally, we were seeing him deal with a fearless fighter who would rough him up, take his punches and keep coming.
 
Ortiz, only was awarded the first round on Jerry Roth’s scorecard, was behind in the fight. He was, as expected and most likely why Mayweather chose him as an opponent, eating right hands repeatedly but seemed to be walking through them. Like all punchers, Ortiz seemed to believe if he could just manhandle Floyd while unloading his power, the fight would be his. In the fourth, Ortiz began to throw caution to the wind and attempt to employ just that.
 
Going into the fourth round, it was an atypical Mayweather fight. For one, the pace was brisk. Floyd stepped right to center ring along with Ortiz from the first bell and seemed intent on being the aggressor. The lead right hand/duck-under move that is Mayweather’s bread-and-butter was in full effect and Ortiz seemed unable to retaliate. Ortiz was a bit tight and it showed in how his tense front right hand waved in the air, darting this way and that, looking to block Floyd’s offense. Floyd looked smooth and relaxed as ever, waiting for Ortiz to make a move, countering or beating him to the punch and sliding out of the way.
 
The second was a solid Ortiz round. He caught Floyd with a right hook early and Floyd went from smiling to straight-faced, disappearing into defensive mode. That’s not to say he was shelled up and afraid. Mayweather is one of the few fighters who can sit in his defense and see everything even while getting tagged here and there. Ortiz really worked for it in this round and upon my review of the tape after returning to L.A., I again scored the round for Ortiz based on that effort. His shots made Floyd’s offense recede for this round and though it did return in spots, there wasn’t enough of it. For once, it seemed Mayweather couldn’t simply do as he pleased.
 
Adjustments are what boxing is all about and no one adjusts like Mayweather. In the third round, he went offensive and landed straight rights in rapid succession. Ortiz again kept eating those shots, perhaps having no choice with his defensive deficiencies. Maybe Ortiz felt they weren’t hurting him. Honestly, I think it had to be the former. I find it funny that most Mayweather detractors and opponents feel that all they need to do is make him fight toe-to-toe and they have the fight won. There is the illusion that he is a fragile runner that will fold under pressure. In the third round, Floyd dispelled that idea as he moved forward and stalked Ortiz who suddenly was backpedaling and looking for answers. The round was a whitewash as Floyd landed what he wanted to, kept on the pressure and had Ortiz backpedaling in a round so dominant, it had the crowd on its feet. It should be noted- though not acknowledged by referee Joe Cortez, who we will get to later- that Mayweather threw a right hand after the bell had rung. Ortiz didn’t complain and Cortez didn’t seem to mind or even notice the late punch.
 
Then we got to the fourth round. Floyd came out looking to put it to Ortiz even more, perhaps exploring the possibility of a stoppage. For the first time in years, we saw combinations flash from Mayweather in rapid succession. For one moment, as Floyd let his hands go and Ortiz bent at the knees before retreating into his shell, a knockdown or stoppage looked possible. Ortiz then sprang forward and landed a couple punches to Mayweather’s face, backing him into the ropes. Ortiz then backed off and the two returned to center ring before hitting the ropes on the far side of the ring. About 45 seconds in, with Mayweather on the ropes, Ortiz attempted a headbutt and was warned for it by Cortez. He would do it again with 1:18 left in the round and again be warned but the most egregious foul was yet to come.
 
This round was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Floyd attempted to put it on Ortiz and for a moment, it seemed like the end might be near. But Ortiz then seemed to turn the tide, backing up Floyd while even landing a few good shots. A lot of it was merely ineffective flailing but the body language and the fire with which Victor was fighting suggested the man who felt he had a shot was indeed calling the shots. In the final seconds of the round, Ortiz, with Floyd on the ropes, let his momentum get the best of him. In either a fit of rage at not landing clean or just unchecked aggression, Ortiz launched himself forward and butted Floyd right in the face.
 
This is where things got crazy.
 
Coming into the fight, upon hearing referee Joe Cortez would be officiating the action, I knew immediately that something bad was going to happen (Yes, I am tooting my own horn). According to the NSAC, referees Tony Weeks, Kenny Bayless, Vic Drakulich and Cortez were on the list to do the fight. Cortez was chosen and both camps had no problem with him. Even after the fight, Victor Ortiz said he had no problem with Cortez who is, in fact, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Talking with the NSAC’s Keith Kizer on Monday, he said he had no problems with the work Cortez had done. In fact, Kizer praised Mayweather for his restraint in not retaliating to the foul.
 
After the foul, Cortez broke the action, turning away from both and stopped time using the “T” signal which is proper procedure. Ortiz walked to Mayweather while Cortez’s back was turned and hugged and kissed him on the cheek in apology. Mayweather looked annoyed at the very least. Cortez then took Ortiz to center ring by the hand and signaled to each judge that Ortiz would be deducted one point for the foul. As this was happening, Mayweather, who had not been put in a neutral corner, wandered along the ropes past Ortiz. The young fighter reached out and touched gloves with Mayweather to apologize again. Not seeing Floyd moving about on his own, Cortez angrily pulled Ortiz to a neutral corner and admonished not to do it again. In my opinion, it was an unacceptable show of emotion from Cortez. Turning his back to the fighters without putting them first in a neutral corner seemed negligent at best and dangerous at worst. But what happened next is something fans and writers will argue about forever.
 
After admonishing Ortiz, Joe turned to Floyd and said, “Let’s go” and the two men moved to center ring where Ortiz again moved to touch gloves with Mayweather and apologize. Mayweather moved in, guard almost all the way up, touched gloves, seemed to say something while doing so and acknowledged Ortiz’s apology. Ortiz moved past the common ritual and went for one more hug. This time, Floyd, who had his guard up to his chest, wasn’t feeling it.
 
As that exchange was going on, Cortez turned to the timekeeper and began moving toward him asking, “bell ring?” according to the tape. As he did, Mayweather, coming out of that attempted hug, swung on Ortiz, who had stepped back with his hands at his sides, landing a clean left hook that turned Ortiz’s head towards Cortez. The referee then looked back to see Mayweather finish the job with a brutal right hand that landed on the right side of Ortiz face. The kid went down on his back, curled into a ball like a dying animal and was immediately counted out as he scrambled to his feet.
 
Some say it was a cheap shot by Floyd. Others call it brutal justice. HBO’s Larry Merchant referred to it on TMZ as “a legal sucker punch.”
 
By now, you’ve heard the age-old axiom “Protect yourself at all times.” This could not be truer in this instance. Ortiz apologized to Floyd three times, including two hugs and a kiss along with a touching of gloves. I am sure Floyd got the point.
 
To my eyes, both live and on tape, when Ortiz realized how much control he had lost by fouling, he mentally checked out of the fight. No, he was not looking for a way out. In certain spots, he was doing better than I thought but he let his guilt overtake him, removing his mind from the fight. That’s on him. While I do not condone fouling, to me, it would have been better to own the foul, acknowledge it and then move on. If the purpose was to hurt Floyd or take him out of his comfort zone and into a street fight, owning the moment rather than apologizing for it would have been more effective. Victor showed weakness and completely unraveled. At the post-fight presser, Ortiz said, “I spaced out.” Boy, did he ever.
 
Joe Cortez helped turn an Ortiz-orchestrated situation into a disaster. In my opinion (and in the opinion of a respected veteran official of over 20 years who asked to be anonymous), Cortez’s mechanics were flawed. To my ears, Coretz never called, “Time in.” Yes, he said, “Let’s go” and he gestured to the men to continue fighting but he did so while looking at the timekeeper. When the men were supposedly resuming the action, the referee walked away from the action. This veteran official, who I will call “Ref X,” outlined what he saw and what he would have liked to see.
 
“1) Joe Cortez had warned Ortiz previously about using his head.
2) Ortiz foul was not just a "butt" worth a one point deduction, it was a malicious, flagrant foul for use of the head as a weapon and intent to injure, even if unintentional and merited a two point deduction.
3) Cortez properly indicated time out after the foul of Ortiz by use of the "T" signal.
4) He properly took Ortiz’ hand and indicated to the judges, that he had deducted a point from Ortiz. I would have preferred that when scolding Ortiz, he would have calmly told him that he was being deducted points and any further such outrageous actions would result in disqualification. A referee in control should never show anger.
5) He now had the responsibility to check on the fouled fighter Mayweather to check on the extent of his injuries.  As with any foul such as a low blow, Mayweather could have been give time to recover if the foul had done significant damage.  What if Mayweather’s jaw would have been fractured and not just his mouth bloodied? Even if no injury is readily apparent, that referee MUST examine the fouled fighter. Cortez was so absorbed with admonishing Ortiz, he FAILED to examine the injured Floyd.  Additionally, his time with Mayweather could also be very profitable if had engaged Mayweather in something like the following:
"Floyd, I understand you have been fouled.  Do not retaliate or I will have to penalize you."
This is called in the business "preventative officiating."  During this time an official also has a moment to slow down and collect his thoughts on how to diffuse a potentially dangerous moment where he could possibly lose control.
6) He then could have brought both fighters together in center ring, supervise the touching of gloves and again warn both participants that any further shenanigans will result in further punitive action.  All would know the referee was in control of the contest.
7) After dealing with Ortiz, he did say "let’s go"’, indicating to the fighters that it was time to continue boxing, but he FAILED to communicate with the timekeeper.
8) The standard mechanic for resuming a boxing match after a time out is the verbal command "time in" concurrent with the rolling of the second finger to alert the timekeeper to restart his clock. If you have a time out, you must then have a time in.
9) The referee could momentarily, after his timer instruction, indicate to both fighters that it was now time to resume fisticuffs with the command "box".  It would then be clear to all concerned that they now had the obligation "to protect themselves at all times."
10) To underscore that Cortez was the ultimate cause of allowing Mayweather to take advantage, was as Ortiz was being sent to dreamland, Cortez seemed to be preoccupied in conversation with the timer, something he should have taken care of before ordering the fight to continue.
11) I could not fully decipher Cortez’s words as he looked at the Nevada commission table, but it seemed to be either "Time?" or "Time-In?
This substantiates that Cortez wanted to know if the clock had been started, the clock stopped, or perhaps if he said "time?" , he had questions if the round had ended.
Thus if Cortez was not sure of the round’s time status, how could he expect the hyped up Ortiz to be aware? Fair but firm was not competent in my opinion.”
 
I would add to Ref X’s assessment that there were roughly nine seconds left in the round. The clock had stopped at 2:51 of the fourth. Most refs will say, “Listen for the bell” or will move into position to stop the action at round’s end. Cortez moved to the timekeeper to ask, “bell ring?” Kizer told me the crowd was so loud- believing the foul occurred during that particular stretch- that you could not hear the clapper device to signal the ten seconds remaining in the round. Kizer further explained that HBO and the NSAC’s timer are synchronized and electronically linked to keep proper time. According to HBO, the clock began when Cortez said, “Let’s go.” It took, according to my timer, five seconds from “Let’s go” to “Lights out, Ortiz.” From Kizer’s understanding, Cortez was inquiring if ten seconds had been clapped.
 
To me, Cortez was unclear with his actions. I would have preferred he bring the men to center ring, insist “No retaliation. Let’s keep it clean” and resumed the action. Had Ortiz still gone for the hug and gotten knocked out, no one would be complaining because Cortez was unclear and, to Ortiz, confusing in his actions, giving us what we got. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about Cortez finding a way to make a mistake. At one time, Cortez was a very good ref. Now? Not so much. His mechanics were poor, his actions unclear and instead of seeing a great fighter overcome a young fighter attempting to be great, Mayweather took advantage of Ortiz’s inexperience and put him to sleep.
 
As for Mayweather and my opinion of what he did, sure, you could call it unsportsmanlike. You could even call it cheap or a legal sucker punch. Me? I call it instant Karma. It’s not on Mayweather to worry if Ortiz is ready. He had accepted multiple apologies. How many hugs did he need to take? Should Mayweather have kissed Ortiz in return? Absolutely not. He got headbutted badly. It was as intentional a foul as I have ever seen in a major fight since Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear off. Was it as gruesome? No, but it was flagrant as hell.
 
The thing I will say about what Floyd did is he denied himself finishing the mission of the fight. He was supposed to show he could handle a young, fast, strong, power-puncher unlike his rival, Manny Pacquiao, who “Money May” thinks fights retreads and his “leftovers” (a criticism I would have to write another article to address). Sure, Floyd was justified in taking out the kid this way. To me, if you are already dominating or even entering a tough fight where you may have to work hard to win, why do this? Why deny yourself victory in the course of combat? This felt like something outside the realm of combat. The action was resuming in a strange way. Sure, Floyd knew it was on at “Let’s go” but Ortiz didn’t. Whether or not that’s on Floyd, maybe he could have held back just a few seconds more and then took out Ortiz the way he intended to: in the fight. Ortiz was already mentally done. It was not going to be too much longer before Mayweather could finish him off in that state. He preferred justice over the glory of victory in the course of an exchange. For that, he will be criticized endlessly by his detractors. Of course, had he beaten Ortiz the way I described, he would probably still have them. That’s the way it goes in his land. In the end, I felt Floyd denied himself the greatness of a clean victory on Saturday night. Yes, it was justified and legal but to many, it’s not a victory that can be celebrated without saying, “Yeah, but…”
 
To me, it’s a shame that when we get boxing’s version of the Super Bowl, there always seems to be a problem. We’re in a dogfight with the UFC and things like this get in the way. While I am sitting here absolving Floyd and crediting Ortiz and Cortez with screwing up the night, Floyd’s way of ending the fight left me with a bad taste in my mouth and feeling like many who came out and spent hard-earned money to be there: a bit cheated out of what I hoped would be a great night at the fights.
 
Random Thoughts
 
It’s one thing to let fans into the post-fight presser. It’s another to give them the microphone. Saturday night was a pure post-fight debacle.
 
I have to say I loved the big screen we got to watch the Alvarez-Gomez fight. You could see “Canelo’s” confusion at Gomez’s movement as well as the quick stoppage in crystal-clear HD.
 
I thought Larry Merchant was right on the money. Mayweather jumped the gun in yelling at him and, in my opinion, further turned off a crowd who was already booing the hell out of him. HBO’s sound did not do the angry fans justice in that regard yet I couldn’t hear Floyd’s post-fight comments due to the booing.
 
From all the angry emails I have been getting, the fans lost in this one. They wanted a good fight. What they got was a quarter of one and then controversy. On the flipside, mainstream loves (this) misery. After all, when things go bad in boxing, that’s when the mainstream decides to cover the game.
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.



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