Sports

Victor Ortiz back in the ring, not in spotlight

Ortiz fights on the MGM Grand Garden undercard Saturday night in Las Vegas

Usually, all the big moments in boxing take place in the evening's grand finale, where the main event matches the main fighters. Saturday, there will be an exception here.

Sometime in the late afternoon, and hours before Amir Khan takes on Devon Alexander, Victor Ortiz will climb into the ring. At that moment, the audience in the MGM Grand Garden probably will be several dozen.

The last time Ortiz fought was almost a year ago. He got knocked out by Luis Collazo. The time before that was June 2012, when Josesito Lopez broke his jaw in the third round and Ortiz fought until the ninth, punching with one hand and holding his jaw in place with the other.

The time before that? Well, that remains legendary in boxing and we'll get to it.

Ortiz is important in his sport because he has a story and a personality.

There is nothing boring, nor simple, about him. He is in the prime of his athletic life, turning 28 on Jan. 31. For somebody who has taken a three-year beat-down in boxing, he remains upbeat and driven, as well as still able to flash a smile that lights up a room.

His boxing nickname is "Vicious." In truth, he is about as vicious as a nun.

He lives in Ventura, runs triathlons and had to miss a recent training session to compete in the Malibu Nautica. When he told his trainer, Joel Diaz, that he would need to skip that day in the gym, Ortiz said Diaz wasn't happy.

"He asked what a triathlon was," Ortiz says. "I told him this one was a half-mile swim, an 18-mile bike ride and a four-mile run. He wanted to know how many days that would take. I told him, just one."

Ortiz has an oft-used surfboard with a boxing glove painted on it. He had a prominent role in the movie "The Expendables 3" and, after this fight, says he will start filming another movie, titled with the police code for armed robbery, "2-Eleven."

He was a celebrity participant in TV's "Dancing With the Stars," and lasted six weeks.

All this from a young man who was left by his parents in a mobile home in Garden City, Kan., to fend for himself and his siblings. His mother left when he was 7, his father when he was 13. He scrambled around, somehow feeding himself, a sister and brother.

"I was like a stray dog," he says.

Now, he is a man on a mission, which will start in the quiet and gloom of an undercard. Barring disaster, his opponent will be just that. His name is Manuel Perez from Denver, and he has a 21-10 record.

The mission is only partly to get back to the limelight, where he was on April 16, 2011, when he beat Andre Berto in a brutal battle and became World Boxing Council welterweight champion. The rest of the mission is to erase the sting of the next fight, in the same ring to which he will return Saturday.

That was his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., which created a moment boxing will never forget. That was Mayweather's probably legal sucker punch out of a fight stoppage, with referee Joe Cortez standing nearby but glancing away.

On the eve of his comeback attempt, Ortiz takes us there:

"In the first three rounds, I took 16 elbows to my right eye. People don't understand how good Mayweather is with that. The left hook may miss, but the elbow gets you going by. It happens so fast you don't see it.

"I kept saying to Cortez, 'Elbow, Joe. Elbow, Joe.' And he kept saying, 'Keep fighting, Ortiz.'

"In the third round, I stepped back and did what my corner asked me not to do. I dropped my hands and took two or three shots. I had to see what he had. And I saw he couldn't hit worth a damn.

"I keep complaining about the elbows to my corner [trainer Danny Garcia]. Finally, they said, 'Just head-butt" him.

"And so I did. Cut him on the mouth. Then I had a moment where I became a human. I felt bad. I never did anything like that before. I went to him, gave him a hug and a little kiss, said I was sorry."

Cortez stopped the fight, deducted a point from Ortiz for the obviously intentional butt, and gathered the fighters in the center of the ring to continue.

"We touched gloves and BOOM, Mayweather hits me," Ortiz continues. "I looked toward Cortez, kind of like, what was that? But he was looking away. I remember thinking, OK, Floyd. Good shot. Now we are even.

"Before I know it, BOOM, another shot. I remember being down, on my elbows, thinking, really, Floyd? I make it to the pinnacle of my life and it is going to end this way?"

Cortez counted Ortiz out. A crowd of 14,687 went nuts. The combination of in-arena joy, anger and excitement was at a fever pitch.

Mayweather was interviewed in the ring by HBO's Larry Merchant, as veteran a sports reporter as exists. Merchant asked about the punch. Mayweather accused Merchant of never giving him a fair shake. Merchant, 80, replied that, if he were 50 years younger, he'd kick his butt. On press row, where cheering is not allowed, there was cheering.

Ortiz said he took the high road after the fight. Not so much now.

"I'd fight Mayweather now for nothing," he says.

That quest will start in relative anonymity with Manuel Perez. In Ortiz's dreams, it will end with him standing over a supine Mayweather.

That would be followed with an interview by Merchant, who will be smiling.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
76°