“I was hurt. I’m not going to go out on my back. I’m not going to lay down for nobody. I’m going to stop while I am ahead that way I can speak when I am older,” Ortiz told HBO’s Max Kellerman in the post-fight interview.
Then Ortiz made another statement that would haunt him until recently.
“We’ll see what happens from here on out. I’m young but I don’t think I deserve to be getting beat up like this. I have a lot of thinking to do.”
Fight fans and writers wouldn’t let Ortiz, 29-2-2 (22), forget this show of honesty in the face of defeat. You can do many things in boxing. Cheat on your wife, beat her even. Do drugs. Drop out of fights due to mysterious injury or even stink out the joint when you do show up. But you cannot be honest about your feelings or quit in a fight. Fight fans want warriors who don’t care what happens to their bodies. They don’t want thoughtful warriors.
It’s been five fights and a little less than two years since that night. Through the first four, the bloom remained absent from the Ortiz rose. Then push came to shove and Ortiz, either looking to make a big splash or forced by Golden Boy Promotions, his promoter, to take a tough fight or move on (depending on who you talk to), moved up seven pounds to welterweight and faced then-WBC titleholder Andre Berto last April. The doubts surrounded Ortiz in a cloud thicker than a Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao entourage but the 24-year-old fighter from Kansas (by way of Oxnard, CA) seemed to have mentally broken through something following a sabbatical through various exotic locales around the world. He came into the Berto fight a new man. Letting go of outside criticism and a need to please, suddenly, Ortiz came into his own as a young man. This new mindset made him a dangerous and focused man intent on proving to himself above all others that he belonged in the world champion conversation. Letting go of that kind of outside influence was a big load off Ortiz’s mind, freeing him to be the fighter he has always dreamt of being.
“Exactly,” Ortiz told me this past Sunday in L.A. “It’s a big weight off me, man. I showed people I cared a little too much a long time ago and ended up just screwing myself, you know?”
Ortiz explained that he was too honest in revealing himself and he paid the price publicly with brutal backlash from fans and writers.
“It made me understand how the media really feels about me as a person,” Ortiz said.
In a “Fight of the Year” candidate, Ortiz ripped the WBC belt from Berto, hurting and dropping him in the first and sixth rounds. While he suffered his own knockdown in that sixth round, he would rise and drop Berto as well and in the process, seized control of the fight en route to a unanimous decision.
For Ortiz, the win was a personal breakthrough on many levels. On a professional level, it has netted him the biggest fight anyone could ask for. Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Ortiz will step way up in class and face undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr., 41-0 (25). Ortiz’s WBC title and potentially huge paydays are on the line before an HBO PPV audience. While Mayweather is a near 7-1 favorite, Ortiz and his team feel the time is now for their man to take the mantle of top dog in boxing and it all starts upstairs.
“He was a little bit more edgy in the Berto camp,” Ortiz’s manager Rolando Arellano told me. “This one, he has psychologically proven he has proven to himself he is a world champion. He has broken the threshold. I call it like an analogy like a runner that just can’t get over seven miles. The mind kind of fatigues the body at seven miles but once he breaks seven-to-eight then he starts doing 12. Then 12 goes into more. That’s actually what happened. In his mind, he is a world champion. He is more serene and it is almost like it is written that he is going to beat Mayweather.”
Ortiz told me that even though he beat Berto in emphatic fashion, displaying heart and toughness many doubted he had in doing so, we have yet to see everything he has to offer.
“I told my team right after that fight. [Strength and conditioning] Coach Hoss was standing there and he asked me, ‘How’d you feel in there?’ I said ‘75-80%.’ I wasn’t 100% but it was enough to beat Berto,” said Ortiz.
I asked him if the reason for not being at 100% had to do with nerves or self-doubt.
“No, not at all,” Ortiz answered. “It was just one of those days where you try hard but it just doesn’t come out. But it was enough.”
Arellano told me that the difference with Ortiz isn’t just a result of newfound serenity and confidence but also a clear vision of what he wants and needs to do. This is all part of Ortiz simply coming into his own.
“His twitch is there; his weight is there and his body all of sudden came into its man weight. He’s faster and he’s hitting harder than before and he has this sense of confidence. It’s not like, ‘I’m going to try and beat [Mayweather]. I’m beating him. Plain and simple.’ And it’s not even that, ‘I’m going to beat him.’ It’s, ‘I’m going to end his career.’ So his confidence, the story that he is telling himself between the ears is fascinating. It’s exactly what you want. He is calm and collected. He doesn’t like too much the festivities and stuff. So when he gets to Vegas, he wants to be in a house and we come into the casino on Friday versus going in on Tuesday and all that energy and stuff like that.”
So how is a fighter coming into his own with power in both hands and coming off a big win a 7-1 underdog? Well, there are at least 41 reasons for that. Those would be supplied by the men who have tried and failed to beat Mayweather over the years. For coming up on two decades, Mayweather has not only beaten many top fighters, he has dominated them in the process. While he is 34 years old and coming off a year-and-a-half long layoff, Mayweather has not so much slowed down as added to and evolved his game as time has marched on around him.
On the flipside, the Berto fight was the first time Ortiz, who has knocked down every man he has faced, went the 12-round distance. Inexperience and fighting flaws mar his game coming into this fight. While Mayweather’s best punch might be his right hand in its counter and lead forms, the southpaw Ortiz’s biggest flaw is that he moves to his left instead of his right, thus eating right hands like candy.
An interesting fact about Ortiz is that he is right-handed yet he is able to do few right-handed things like throw a football, shoot a basketball (Ortiz actually writes with his left hand). As a young boxer, the southpaw stance just felt natural to him.
“Since I was a little kid, I could never catch the right-hander stance too well,” Ortiz explained. “I didn’t like the feeling. It didn’t feel natural at all but for some reason, I could fight left-handed no problem.”
Ortiz explained that he didn’t even feel comfortable switching stances in order to change up his game with a different look.
“I don’t switch,” he said. “I don’t like to.”
I asked him if he had worked on his tendency to move left and thus into flush right hands, seeing as those are Mayweather’s frequent weapons of choice.
“Yes, of course. I work on everything, on something, every training camp,” said Ortiz. “But, as far as I’m concerned, there are no concerns on my end about Floyd, period. Don’t care how good he thinks he is or you guys think he is, I’m set in stone and I’m ready to go.”
“You’re too focused on what Floyd’s going to do,” said Arellano, “not what we’re going to do. We don’t give a sh*t what Floyd does.”
Ortiz and company have taken into consideration the many dirty tactics Mayweather employs. He is old-school and crafty as hell when he fights which, in layman’s terms, means Mayweather is an expert in using his elbow, forearm to the throat and in some cases, his head to gain an advantage. While Ortiz has solid combinations and power to spare, this is a part of his game that is lacking and it’s a valid question to wonder how he will handle Floyd in that arena.
“You definitely have to prepare for everything,” said Ortiz, “everything coming your way, everything possible. But at the end of the day, that comes out September 17.”
“Of course,” said Coach Hoss when asked the same question. “Danny [Garcia, the head trainer], Mario, myself, we sit down and watch films. Most of us have been in the game a long time whether we were fighters or coaching. We look at stuff like the elbows, the forearms, a little bit of head, all that stuff that Floyd does. So we’re ready for that.”
After the Berto fight, I ran into Coach Hoss who told me that Ortiz had pictured that fight as a knock-down/drag-out fight where he would be cut over both eyes and knocking out Berto late. Arellano shared Ortiz’s vision of the fight.
“He said, ‘I’m going to hurt him early. He’s going to get on his bike. I’m going to catch and knock him out in about the seventh or eighth round because if I hit him, I’m not letting him go.’ He noticed certain things that Mayweather does. He noticed it against [DeMarcus] ‘Chop Chop’ Corley. He noticed it against [Jose Luis] Castillo. He said, ‘I am not interested in his defense. It’s what I’m going to do that is going to be the difference,’” explained Arellano.
Arellano also explained that beyond just going for the knockout, part of Ortiz’s plan was to make sure the judges saw everything he was doing in there. A big part of Mayweather’s game is to take away your weapons through superior intellect, defense and footwork. It is incumbent on Ortiz to not let Floyd dictate pace or steal a round at the end by using a flashy combo or single shot.
“There has to be a strategy at this level,” said Arellano. “You not only have to know how to fight the rounds but the minutes in the round. First and last. That’s the impression he wants the judges to see. And then, what we have to understand, there is the unintentional foul [rule]. In the first rounds, if there is an unintentional foul, it goes to the scorecards. We want to make sure if that happens to us, we are ahead of the game. We have to because if not, it’ll be ‘F*****k.’ The first thing we want the judges to see is Victor. The last thing we want the judges to see is Victor. We have the strategies but those are the tactics.”
If Ortiz and company have their way, how the judges see the fight will not matter.
“I say a knockout in less than 11,” said Arellano.
To Ortiz, it doesn’t matter either way. He has broken the mold created by the Maidana fight at Berto’s expense. Now it’s time to create a new one by becoming the first man to beat Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“I definitely want a knockout,” said Ortiz. “I am shooting for one but if a decision is coming, he’s done. Either way, he’s done.”
You can email Gabriel at email@example.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.