By Tyson Bruce
This Thursday from the Barclay’s Centre in Brooklyn, the boxing world will witness the return of “Vicious” Victor Ortiz. After being out of the ring for more than a year because of a broken jaw suffered in his fight with the upset-minded Josesito Lopez, Ortiz will try to resurrect his exciting but often volatile boxing career.
Photo: Hogan Photos
When Ortiz was first introduced to the masses on HBO, he was branded as the next generations Oscar De La Hoya—a clean living, soft spoken kid that overcame the most desperate of circumstances in order to change his life. His back-story of near homelessness, parental abandonment and poverty as a child was cited as frequently as his accomplishments in the ring. He was boxing’s next big thing. That is until someone named Marcos Maidana came along and rained all over Golden Boy’s parade—sounds familiar right?
Since that disaster–where Ortiz, after scoring two knockdowns and building a commanding lead, suffered a mental and physical meltdown when he realized Maidana simply would not give in–public perception of the Oxnard star has changed dramatically. He is now regarded as a must see attraction because of the volatile and often unpredictable antics both inside and outside the ring.
Perhaps not since Mike Tyson has a fighter had as many crazy momentum changes in a career than Victor Ortiz—who is still just 26 years of age. Bizarre antics range from unstable post-fight interviews, denial of losses, intentional fouls, mid-fight meltdowns, unintentionally hilarious interviews, face-lube commercials and getting sucker punched in perhaps the biggest fight of 2012 against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
His often bizarre behavior belies the fact that when properly focused Ortiz can be a force of nature in the ring. After the Maidana fight Ortiz looked like damaged goods when he put forth a timid performance against the ancient Nate Campbell and had to settle with for a draw against Lamont Peterson after blowing an early lead. The boxing world was enraged when he was given a title shot against welterweight title holder Andre Berto, despite never having previously fought at the weight class. It turned out that the doubters only motivated Ortiz. In his fight against the then undefeated Berto, Ortiz was focused, vicious, and powerful—reminding many of why he was once considered the best prospect in boxing. Ring Magazine named the bout ‘Fight of the Year’ and almost overnight Ortiz had risen from the ashes to reclaim his spot as an incumbent superstar.
As a reward for his victory he was given a shot at ‘pound for pound’ king Floyd Mayweather, boxing’s equivalent to winning the sweepstakes. Much the same way as it would be for Canelo Alvarez, the Mayweather fight was a win-win situation for Ortiz: if he lost it would be brushed aside as too much too soon and if he won his financial potential would be limitless.
However, in the world of Victor Ortiz things are never that simple or predictable. After being out-boxed for four rounds and targeted by about a hundred right hands, Ortiz completely lost his marbles. Ortiz bullied Mayweather to the ropes and unleashed the head butt heard around the world. It was about as intentional a foul as when Mike Tyson, in an act of rage and frustration, tried to break Frans Botha’s arm in 1999. Then, in a scene straight out of a bad reality TV show, Ortiz became strangely apologetic toward Mayweather—even going so far as to kiss Mayweather on the cheek.
The next scene was a mirage of incompetence, idiocy, and poor sportsmanship that is the subject of debate to this day. Referee Joe Cortez told the fighters to box, but then, resembling Mr. Magoo, turned his back from the fighters. Ortiz, for reasons unknown to anybody, including him, was still engaged in his apology and Mayweather, not having any of it, got his revenge when he leveled a clueless Ortiz with a blazing left hook-right hand. Just like that it was over.
Lost to the spectacle of Mayweather’s post-fight interview with Larry Merchant, was Ortiz’s bizarre reaction to the incident. Literally minutes after being sucker-punched he was smiling like a kid at Disney Land and was puzzlingly non-committal at the post-fight presser. Whether it was a vain attempt to salvage his clean image or merely the second faze of his mental breakdown is anybody’s guess.
Despite his breakdown in the Mayweather fight, Ortiz’s profile benefited tremendously from that fight. All he had to do was beat the little known Josesito Lopez and another multi-million dollar payday against Canelo Alvarez would be his. Lopez, however, proved to be a hard nut to crack, as he resisted Ortiz’s powerful strikes and rallied back with his own offense. When a frustrated Ortiz intentionally punched Lopez in the back of the head, the Staples Centre crowd erupted in boo’s and gradually began to support the underdog Lopez. In a stunning turn of events Lopez broke Ortiz’s jaw, causing Ortiz to forfeit the match, despite the urging of his corner to fight on. Perhaps unfairly, many critics again labeled Ortiz a quitter.
The broken jaw trashed his super fight with Canelo and put Ortiz on the sidelines for over a year. Despite the loss, Ortiz has not hidden from public life, becoming a participant on Dancing with the Stars and even landing a major role in the Expendables III. In a recent interview on Showtime, during the Broner-Maidana telecast, Ortiz boasted about his emerging “empire” that includes a male-targeted face-lube product that’s commercial is so strange it verges on macabre.
Sometimes, from his own personal admissions and more masked interpretations, one gets the sense that Ortiz would rather be on a surfboard somewhere than in the violent world of the boxing ring. However, boxing is what he does best and it holds the key to life of potential celebrity after boxing. His mind better be focused on boxing because his opponent Luis Callazo, a fellow southpaw, is a seasoned veteran, who just a few short years ago was once one of the best welterweights in the world.
Luis Callazo, a Brooklyn native, gave Shane Mosley a competitive match in 2007 and probably came out on the wrong end of two close decisions against a prime Ricky Hatton and Andre Berto. Callazo has a granite chin (he’s been stopped just once in 39 fights) and sophisticated boxing skills, despite being a few years removed from his prime. One would figure that the younger and stronger Ortiz should take care of business here, but if we’ve learned anything it’s that nothing is a certainty when he fights. You can bet that Callazo, aware that this might be his last chance, will give it everything he has.
Despite the negative aspects of Ortiz’s career, of which there are many, he just might be the most exciting fighter in all of boxing. He is not the superstar that many people thought he would be, but there is certainly a place for him amongst boxing’s most talent rich division. Imagine Ortiz versus the power punching Keith Thurman? Alternatively, Ortiz would make an ideal first opponent at welterweight for Danny Garcia. This fight is already being talked about should he defeat Callazo. People can love him or hate him, but no can question that Victor Ortiz is damn good for the boxing business.