Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Ortiz-Lopez

The two most important takeaways from Josesito's Lopez's upset victor over Victor Ortiz are the following:

1. Lopez broke Ortiz's jaw.
2. Ortiz chose not to continue.

The other aspects of the fight are less important. Ortiz was up fairly big at the end of nine rounds: 88-83, 87-84 (that is how I had scored the fight) and 86-85. Certainly, if Ortiz was able to fight on, he had an excellent chance of winning the bout. I want to be clear that Ortiz's broken jaw was a legitimate injury and not merely a convenient way to exit the fight. The essential question is: could he have continued?

Ultimately, it's a personal decision left up to the boxer. We have seen a recent fighter such as Arthur Abraham overcome a similar injury to win. In the past, legends such as Pernell Whitaker and Muhammad Ali fought with broken jaws. However, the pain is real; and Victor chose to end his night. The prospect of fighting three more rounds was not worth it to him.

Ortiz has now backed out of two fights; he was disqualified another time and he rendered himself defenseless against Floyd Mayweather. This is not the oeuvre of a fighter who has it 100% together in the ring. In the fifth round against Lopez, he threw such a flagrant rabbit punch to the back of Lopez's head while the fighter was looking down, that I believe that he should have been disqualified. This punch occurred just moments after Ortiz landed a vicious uppercut that did a lot of damage. Similarly, in the fourth round against Mayweather, as soon as Ortiz landed some right hooks, he intentionally head butted. This is strange behavior from a boxer.  

Referee Jack Reiss failed in his ability to protect Lopez. He permitted five minutes of recovery time but maintained that the illegal blow was a grazing shot; he missed the call. Ortiz landed hard behind the head. His intention was to get Lopez out of the fight by any means necessary.

Although I do not begrudge Ortiz for stopping the Lopez fight or even walking away from Marcos Maidana's thunder, his body of work suggests a fighter who is unable to maintain his composure in the ring. The Maidana and Lopez fights were winnable. He was just starting to have success against Mayweather. He was up big against Lamont Peterson before backing off. In short, he can't see himself through to get big victories. He did persevere against Andre Berto, where he survived two knockdowns to get a decision victory. That was a gutsy performance. However, keep in mind that Golden Boy loaned him out for that fight; he was the "B-side." Coming off of the uninspiring draw with Peterson, for Ortiz, the Berto fight could have been his last chance in the premium-television level of boxing.

Ortiz will get another shot after this fight; he makes very entertaining nights of boxing. But I want to know if he will he pull himself together, as he did against Berto, or if he will continue with cheap shots, bizarre decisions in the ring and a lack of mental toughness, attributes which marginalize his considerable talent.

During the fight, Ortiz showcased his entire arsenal against Lopez. His straight left hands were punishing, the hooks were crisp, the uppercuts found their mark and he even showed a jab and some boxing skills. However, Ortiz's lack of regard for defense also manifested. After he threw a punch or a combination, he stood right in front of Lopez, open for any counter that Lopez could conceive of. Here Lopez, a natural junior welterweight who moved up to welterweight for this fight, tattooed Ortiz with left hooks, straight right hands and both left and right uppercuts. Essentially, Ortiz's disdain for defense led to his broken jaw. His glove positioning was terrible. He failed to return his hands to a defensive position after throwing punches; he literally kept his hands extended away from his body. His face was wide open all night – even before his jaw injury.

Lopez, who had previously been on the bad end of a number of close decisions, fought his heart out. He could have folded after tasting Ortiz's power early in the fight. He had to overcome a stalker and a bad rabbit punch. He showed an excellent chin, resiliency and a true fighting spirit. His counters were sharp and they hurt Ortiz a number of times.

He now becomes a player at 140-147. Hopefully, he gets another opportunity on U.S. premium television. However, he does have his own defensive shortcomings and his lack of a jab is problematic. Good boxers can outwork him and he does seem like a straight-line fighter.

Nevertheless, Lopez captivated the boxing public with his rousing spirit. He was supposed to lose and he functioned as a mere afterthought in Golden Boy's grand plans for a future Ortiz fight against Saul Alvarez. A late replacement for Andre Berto, Lopez was only on TV because he was deemed "sellable" by Showtime. Most likely, he would provide Ortiz with some solid rounds; he far surpassed those expectations. Whatever else happens in his career from this point forward, Josesito Lopez officially mattered in boxing; he made his mark.  

The undercard fight between Humberto Soto and Lucas Matthysse delivered plenty of action as well. The first few rounds saw Soto display his solid boxing skills to gain an edge. Fighting in the pocket, he pasted Matthysse with his jab, left hook and right uppercut. Unfortunately for Soto, he was fighting one of the hardest punchers in the junior welterweight division. Once Matthysse got untracked, Soto couldn't withstand his power. At the end of the fifth round, Matthysse unloaded three blistering overhand rights in a row and Soto dropped to the canvas. He got up, but it was too much for him. He never saw the sixth round.

Matthysse earned a much needed knockout win. After losing two heartbreakers on the judges' scorecards to Zab Judah and Devon Alexander (a fight which Matthysse easily won), he needed an impressive win on American soil. Hopefully, Golden Boy keeps Matthysse on its priority list. An all-Argentine matchup against Marcos Maidana makes perfect sense (they were also amateur rivals), and there isn't a U.S. boxing network that would reject that matchup. Matthysse's power is real, and it was nice to see him start earlier and fight with a little more urgency. He is live against anyone at junior welterweight.

For Soto, it's unclear if he has the chin to withstand the bangers at junior welterweight or if he just happened to catch a heavy-handed stalker on the wrong night. My guess is that he can probably compete with a number of good fighters in the 140-lb division, but he will have to be matched carefully. There's a lot of tread on his tires and he's not getting any younger.

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