Thursday, March 15, 2012

Victor Ortiz: Boxer, Enigma

Victor Ortiz is scheduled to face Andre Berto on June 23rd. That much I know. But if you ask me who will win the fight or which Victor Ortiz will show up against Berto, I'll have no idea what to tell you. I could lie or pretend, but any answer would just be rank speculation, a mere academic exercise. In truth, no one – least of all, Victor – knows what's going to happen during Ortiz-Berto II. 

It's a Victor Ortiz fight!  What crazy antics will be in store? Will Ortiz sabotage yet another great opportunity for himself, and if so, how? He hasn't tackled a referee yet. Will that be it? Perhaps he will bring out the old Vaseline-on-the-glove trick. Maybe it's time for the low blows!  

Inside the ring, Ortiz is a basket case of bizarre behaviors. Here's a list (by no means definitive) of some of Victor's greatest hits: quitting, head butting, hitting during a break resulting in a disqualification, kissing, hugging and turning passive.

Although Ortiz's actions in the ring suggest a certain psychological fragility or, at the very least, a lack of savvy, what he endured in his youth makes these boxing deficiencies seem like marginalia. Left by his mom and then abandoned by his father, Ortiz was an orphan and he had the responsibility of helping to raise his younger brother. In addition, he dealt with extreme poverty, hunger, relocation and who knows what else. Faced with a number of childhood traumas, he defeated staggering odds to become one of the dozen or so biggest names in American boxing. Whatever else occurs throughout his career, he has overcome larger calamities than the wrath of disgruntled boxing fans. 

Should he ever right his ship in the ring, Ortiz has the power and style to win fans over. Of the 34 fighters that he has faced, he's dropped 33 of them. As a prospect, his ascension up the junior welterweight division might as well have been fueled by nuclear hydraulics. There's a reason why he gets chance after chance; when he's at his best, he's one of the elite offensive fighters in the sport. 

In Ortiz's one moment of clarity on the world-class level, he walked through fire and rose from two knockdowns to beat Berto. That fight demonstrated all the good that first Top Rank and then Golden Boy had seen from the kid with the harrowing personal story. Ortiz fought relentlessly. He unloaded as many power shots as he could throw. Even after receiving punishment, he kept coming forward. There was no quit in him that night. 

With that one performance, Ortiz helped erase many negative memories. Previously, his bizarre remarks about quitting the sport after the loss to Marcos Maidana and his stunning passivity during the second half of the fight against Lamont Peterson turned off many boxing observers and fans. After the Berto fight, the narrative changed; Ortiz was finally "right." Now a new force in boxing was ready to emerge, one with a telegenic fighting style, a healthy Mexican-American fanbase and a great smile.

In short work, Floyd Mayweather annihilated this notion of a more composed Victor Ortiz. In that fight, Ortiz became unglued.  Mayweather consistently beat him to the punch during the first three rounds and landed his power right hands with stunning accuracy. In the fourth, Ortiz started to land his right hook and was successful in backing Mayweather up. With Mayweather against the ropes, Ortiz decided that no mere punch was appropriate for this setting. No, the best course of action was to catapult his head directly into Mayweather's face. This infraction was so egregious that referee Joe Cortez immediately deducted a point. 

Just moments after the intentional head butt, Ortiz's next winning move was to bestow Mayweather with a nice man hug in the center of the ring. A few seconds later, Ortiz found himself on the MGM Grand canvas with his biggest opportunity gone. Similar to Amir Khan's last bout against Peterson, where he pushed his way to defeat, Ortiz demonstrated against Mayweather that he lacked the finer boxing mechanics to "rough up" a fight without losing points or his composure.  

Many fighters watch Bernard Hopkins or Mayweather commit fouls and assume that it must be easy to get away with infractions. In actuality, there's a specific art to using one's body to neutralize a boxer; launching one's head at an opponent from two feet away in plain sight of the referee is not an example of this.

Ortiz is still far from a finished product. After a stellar amateur career and 34 professional fights, his lack of ring generalship can be stunning. He quickly abandons his jab to load up on power shots. If he can't outslug an opponent, he has no viable Plan "B." His disdain of defense has cost him against Maidana, Berto and Mayweather. Unfortunately, these demerits have continued as his career has progressed. 

On June 23rd, anything might happen. Ortiz's power and penchant for mishaps create an abnormally wide array of potential endings. Because of these characteristics, Ortiz has become must-see television. Perhaps Ortiz follows the game plan and provides another 12 rounds of memorable toe-to-toe action. Maybe he fouls his way out of the fight. All of these eventualities are possible. 

Ortiz has now entered the elite Bizarro Boxers Club® (BBC), where the unexpected is the norm. Similar to Kermit Cintron (one of the Club's most prominent members), Ortiz can’t attribute all of his strange ring happenings to bad luck or unfortunate occurrences; he has played major roles in his defeats. 

It's fairly typical to see boxers have self-destructive tendencies outside of the ring. However, Ortiz belongs to a much more exclusive cohort of prizefighters who save their self-immolation for between the ropes. Brave and steady away from the bright lights, Ortiz is an erratic once they shine down on him in the center of the ring.  Anyone who claims to know how Ortiz-Berto II will end shouldn't be trusted. Only one thing's for certain: we'll all be watching.    

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