Into the void of boxing without Oscar De La Hoya steps Oxnard’s Victor Ortiz.
Like the now-retired Golden Boy, Ortiz, 22, is poised for national attention at a young age. He doesn’t have the platform of the Olympics, but Ortiz is headlining an HBO-televised main event today at Staples Center against Argentina’s knockout specialist Marcos Rene Maidana (25-1, 24 KOs) for the interim World Boxing Assn. junior-welterweight title.
Ortiz is already 24-1-1 with 19 knockouts, mostly compiled at testing grounds in Laughlin hotels, Texas ballrooms and Gilley’s western steakhouse in Dallas.
De La Hoya is now Ortiz’s promoter and says, “Victor has the charisma, looks, smile and most importantly, he has the goods -- the talent -- to be the chosen one.”
De La Hoya first saw Ortiz fight at Madison Square Garden in 2007 when the fighter dominated veteran Carlos Moussa, then entertained the media afterward.
“People who haven’t seen him will love his style, and his story is compelling and inspirational,” De La Hoya said.
Ortiz had a difficult childhood. He was abandoned by his mother at age 7 and by his father at age 12 in Kansas, and was raised mostly by his older sister. “I’m not going to lie, it drives me every day,” Ortiz said.
The abandonment burnished an undeniable independence in Ortiz that pushed him through the last 18 months, when he changed his trainer, manager and promoter.
He’s even recently booted his younger brother, Temo, from their Ventura condominium, telling him to “write your own story.”
Of the boxing-related upheaval, Ortiz said, “It was all about me being in a place I felt more comfortable and knew I was around people who cared about me.”
Ortiz fired longtime trainer and ex-father figure Robert Garcia and replaced him with Garcia’s brother, Danny.
“The things [Robert Garcia and his assistant trainer father] would tell me came across in a rude way; I felt an inch big,” Ortiz said. “I finally decided, ‘This isn’t motivation, it’s someone trying to hold me down.’ ”
As for his decision to part with manager Cameron Dunkin and promoter Bob Arum, Ortiz said, “Too many promises were never fulfilled. I remember hearing from one of them that all of the great fighters end up on HBO at 30 or 31.”
Ortiz resolved, “I’m not one of them.” He later added, “I know a lot of people may hate me, but I’m at peace.”
Danny Garcia knew he had a rare talent to work with in Ortiz, who is a strong, fast-punching natural right-hander who boxes southpaw and charges foes like a dynamo. That fact was clinched in Ortiz’s last fight, a second-round TKO of Mike Arnaoutis in March, when Ortiz unleashed a devastating jab to set up a barrage of blows, just as Garcia had instructed.
“I told Victor, ‘If we don’t do good, everyone’s going to say you made the wrong decisions, so you’ve got to do what I tell you and do it the right way,’ ” Garcia said. “If you have a good fighter who listens, you have a confident fighter. He’s more loose now.
“I know this guy we’re fighting [Maidana] looks for the knockout, but we’ll avoid those punches.”
Ortiz is well aware of his increasing popularity -- USC football grad and current Detroit Lions receiver Keary Colbert attends the boxer’s training camp in Ventura and has brought Ortiz to visit Coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans.
But Ortiz says the Staples Center main event and his recognition as one of boxing’s top prospects comes from his major focus: “my hunger to succeed.”
He displays that in a sparring session, punching an opponent’s gut with such ferocity that the guy’s keys fall from the pocket of his sweat pants. Ortiz follows a stiff left with another, forcing the sparring partner to hug Ortiz for a rest.
The foe is winded at the whistle ending the round, but Ortiz says, “Thank you,” to him in the same tone he had in a conversation minutes earlier.
Garcia pushes him to keep fighting, though, and the lean Ortiz says minutes later, “That was hard. They say the last week [of camp] is the easiest. I disagree.”
Nearby, Colbert watches in admiration.
“With Oscar retiring, this is perfect timing,” Colbert assesses. “L.A. is going to want another champion to call its own, and this guy is determined. He’s hungry, he works hard. I’m telling everyone I know, this is my boy . . . We’re the city of champions, and that’s what Victor will be.”