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20 NOVEMBER 2018


Victor Ortiz Comes Full Circle

By Matthew Hurley There is something so uniquely human when a boxer finds his courage, his sense of self-worth, called into question by people who have never truly experienced what it’s like to suffer the punishment of fists slamming into your body and head. In a young, up-and-coming fighter the reaction is often muted bewilderment.

Fans can be forgiven by fighters for their boos or disdain because boxing is a sport like any other. They like who they like and cheer for their heroes.

But there is another faction of the boxing community that many fighters have a love/hate relationship with and that, of course, is the boxing media. Many boxers would agree with Will Rogers when he opined about journalists in general, “I hope we never live to see the day when a thing is as bad as our newspapers make it.”

But you have to expect that from the so-called Fourth Estate because fighters, in particular those at the elite level, are as blessed or consumed by egos the size of the arenas in which they perform as they are blessed with such unique and rare talent.

Victor Ortiz, and for that matter the most egomaniacal fighter of his time Floyd Mayweather, will tell you unflinchingly that writers are even worse than they themselves could ever possibly be. And, to an extent, they’re correct. Every boxing writer worth his salt has written something he wishes he could take back.

However, sometimes a seemingly cold-hearted critique can work in the fighter’s favor without him ever quite realizing it. Or, in the case of Ortiz, he may not want to admit to it – rather use it as a motivational tool to repair a wounded psyche.

Back in 2009 in a wild fight against Marcos Maidana, Ortiz relented and did what many consider to be the ultimate sin in the brutal sport of boxing – he quit. That, in itself, could have been forgiven after time had the young kid from Oxnard, California not said afterward, “I was hurt. I’m not going to lay down on my back for anyone. I’m young, but I don’t think I deserve to be beat up like this. So, I have a lot of thinking to do.”

The backlash was immediate. Many in the media, this writer included, questioned Ortiz’s desire and seemed prepared to write off the talented but precocious youngster as a front runner who would never be ready for the big time. He seemed lacking in the requisite courage department.

After the fight I wrote, “It was a slugfest that any who saw it won’t soon forget. But, depending on your point of view, will leave lingering doubts as to just how far Victor Ortiz will go in the future.”

It was remarks like this that at first left the fighter feeling hurt and perhaps betrayed. As time went on they fueled a fire in his belly that would lead him to a wonderfully courageous performance against Andre Berto two years later. In taking the WBC welterweight belt from the champion Ortiz faced many of the same questions he did against Maidana, but this time he didn’t question himself. When he hit the canvas he got back up and fought harder. He proved to himself and his critics that he indeed does have what it takes to be a champion. It was exhilarating to watch.

However, the Victor Ortiz that emerged with that gaudy green belt around his waist was not the smiling, joking around kid who had so charmed the public before his capitulation against Maidana. In his place was an angrier young man, pointing an accusatory finger at his most hated nemesis – the boxing scribes who tore him apart. It says here that his reaction to all the doubters toughened up an unsuspecting neophyte and was the best medicine anyone could have prescribed for him. He became hardened, and started to feel and then glance down approvingly at the growing chip on his shoulder.

Ortiz learned a lot from that experience and he came out the better for it. In fact, had he not performed with such intensity in the Berto fight, while still revealing some correctable flaws, he would never have found himself in the position he is now – preparing for a grand stage showdown with Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 17.

Whether or not, at this early stage of his fistic development, he will be able to compete evenly with one of the truly great fighters of his time remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain; there will be no quit in him.

As he said in his HBO Face Off interview with Max Kellerman, “I’m always the underdog and it doesn’t bother me anymore.”

He then added, with a bit of a snarl, “You (Kellerman) along with many in the world said I have no courage. I have nothing. When you said that to me, you ripped my heart out and stomped all over it. I say, ‘Thanks Max.’”

Victor was using Kellerman as his verbal whipping boy but his words were aimed at many, and he meant everything he said. It’s that ever widening chip on his shoulder that served him so well in the Berto fight and he will need that fiery arrogance against Mayweather if he is to acquit himself with aplomb.

Accordingly, Ortiz has readily taken to the pomp and circumstance surrounding such a big event with little of the starry-eyed wonder he projected just a few years ago. He has some veteran blood coursing through his veins now, and in his baleful brown eyes and that little smile that sometimes comes to his face it’s obvious that he thinks he has truly arrived and nothing any writer might scribble down about him will affect him anymore.

Unfortunately, all he has to truly worry about now is one Floyd Mayweather, and he will prove to be a much tougher obstacle to overcome than any media hack.

August 25, 2011

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