Friday, September 16, 2011

Mayweather vs. Ortiz - Who Laughs Last?

Photo: Gene Blevins/Hogan Photos

The template for "big event" in today's sport has been etched and rehashed numerous times over the last few years, and the mega, ultra, stupendous, gigantic and supposedly captivating matchup between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Victor Ortiz tomorrow does little to deviate from that formula. 

Leading to "fight week" this week, endless delectable details have been examined, reexamined and applied towards various predictions about the fight. 

We've been spared none of the quotes and dramas that have made spectacles of recent big fights - even what basically amounted to a televised excommunication of a family member on HBO's 24/7 series. 

Right or wrong, we'll watch. And we won't know whether it was right or wrong until we watch. 


It appeared as though Golden Boy Productions would put together a star-studded boxing card, with at least two of the four proposed televised matchups being clearly worthy of a look. 

Fights pitting experienced contender Josesito Lopez against emerging prospect Jessie Vargas, and bloodthirsty warrior Erik Morales against hard luck Argentine Lucas Matthysse upped the ante for a split-site card that was initially met with lukewarm anticipation. 

That's not to suggest that the Mayweather-Ortiz scrap was resoundingly scoffed at upon its announcement. On the contrary, many fans and media alike credited Floyd for taking a fight against a young, strong contender, despite that Ortiz' last opponent, Andre Berto, seemed to clearly be next in line to face the brash celebrity with a win. But when plans to stage the aforementioned undercard bouts surfaced in early August, the card, also featuring Mexican superstar-in-the-making Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and former Contender star Alfonso Gomez, went from a mainstream dupe-job to a must see for hardcore fans too.

The addition of the Morales-Matthysse fight in particular made the card all the more impressive, as it was a matchup fit for its own PPV, in the current climate of the sport. That it wasn't even the last fight on the televised card tended to suggest that that's how good this card was. 

Unfortunately, as every boxing fan has lamented since, the Morales-Matthysse fight was scrapped when Lucas pulled out of the fight citing a viral infection a little over a week ago. 

While Morales' fight date was salvaged by matching him with young unknown Pablo Cesar Cano, it definitely knocked the "can't miss" nature of the card down a few notches. It's not that one fight necessarily made the card, but it was good enough that "Star Power" - as the card has been dubbed - seems to now be banking heavily on the strength of the main event. 

All in all, it's not the worst main event ever. In reality, it's one of the two best fighters in the world, who may or may not be diminished with age, against a solid contender and alphabet belt-holder that's coming off an entertaining bang-up. At base value, it's a worthy bout, and even more so considering the lack of alternatives. 

But as has been the case with the other "best fighter in the world," Manny Pacquiao, any fight that's not Mayweather vs. Pacquiao is a disappointment on some level. 

That said, moving forward with the main event we've been given, much of the noise must be blocked out to analyze potential outcomes of the fight. 

Floyd's narrative hasn't changed much in about four years. If the sport of boxing is a cruel mistress, watching your average Floyd Mayweather fight is like your wife finding out about said mistress. 

Entertainment value aside, he's good - so good, in fact, that just about anyone that's not a Floyd fanatic has been lulled into simply waiting in vain for him to lose, and the last time it came close to happening was the first Jose Luis Castillo fight in 2002. 

Assessing a Floyd Mayweather fight has been reduced to the vague science of wondering when he'll get old and slip just enough for the lower echelon to be competitive. But Bernard Hopkins' continued success should be a lesson on how not to bank on an intelligent, tactical, talented gym rat's chronological age. 

Unlike Hopkins though, Floyd was gifted with exceptional speed and athleticism, and one wonders how much that needs to erode in order for lesser fighters to seize the moment. And that might seem more important if that were all Mayweather's success were dependent upon, but, like Hopkins, his timing and cerebral approach to the game are also prominent brush strokes in his pugilistic masterpieces. 

Stylistically, "Vicious" Victor Ortiz has shown glimpses of what the boxing public (to use the term loosely) believes it takes to beat Floyd Mayweather. 

Castillo scored brief victories in his first bout against Floyd by applying constant pressure and digging hard to the body, and Ortiz was a bit of a stalking slugger earlier in his career, and even lately he's exhibited very good body work early on in fights. 

More recently, Shane Mosley was able to hurt Floyd with a sneaky right hand behind the ear, and like Shane, Ortiz can bang a bit. Throw in a dash of southpaw, and references to Mayweather's struggles against awkward lefties "Chop Chop" Corley and Zab Judah begin to pop up. 

On paper, Ortiz should be able to beat many fighters at or around the upper reaches of the welterweight division. 

But the mathematics don't account for psychological factors. 

The easiest blemish to point to as a deal-breaker for Ortiz is his loss to Marcos Rene Maidana, in which he was TKO'd in six rounds. It may be unfair to forever shame Ortiz for hasty language in the wake of a difficult fight (and his first loss), but in a world of folks too impatient and convenience-addicted for anything more than a 30-second video snippet, that's what Victor Ortiz has become in the eyes of many a fan. 

But at the end of the day, giving up against Maidana isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world. Even in losing, Ortiz rose from two hard knockdowns while entrenched in the middle of a gritty, painful war. Yes, he got rightfully slayed for quitting, but it doesn't quite compare to faking an injury or pretending to be knocked out. He was honest. 

To continue that thought though, he comes off as honestly crazy. And inconsistent, in more ways than one. 

Outside the ring, Victor wavers between acting like a severely emotionally-scarred guy trying to make it in this crazy world, and a carefree surfing stoner who can't figure out what the current topic of conversation is.  

And when the bell rings, a few different Ortiz' have shown up: the sharp-punching destroyer who walked over former junior welterweight contenders Viv Harris and Mike Arnaoutis; the toe-to-toe banger that traded with Maidana and Andre Berto to varying degrees of success; and the tentative boxer that clinched his way through possible trouble against Nate Campbell and Lamont Peterson. 

Ortiz' draw with Peterson may serve to be the most troubling of the aforementioned fights, as Lamont probably has the style most applicable to the match against Mayweather. 

After bum-rushing a stationary Peterson and knocking him down twice in round 3, Lamont gained his footing by the middle grounds and began catching a frustrated Ortiz with crisp single shots as the latter moved his head less and less as the fight wore on. And it was a fight many ringside observers felt Ortiz lost closely. 

Peterson's style isn't exactly a duplicate of Floyd's - more of a watered-down version. However, in that fight Ortiz found himself doing well early, but at the end of his opponent's shots, getting beaten to the punch and countered easily towards the end. 

Sound familiar?

Ortiz gave no clear explanation for his lackluster performance against Peterson, though he at times hinted at difficulty making weight - a claim he has since contradicted multiple times by stating he never had issues making 140 lbs. 

And that lack of consistency simply lends credence to the idea that the likelihood of an Ortiz win amounts to something just slightly greater than the proverbial "puncher's chance." 

On the other hand, we've seen the Floyd Mayweather that loses a few rounds early, and the Floyd that doesn't. 

Past that, the dissection of Floyd's skills and speed is non-stop, and usually one of the main deciders in fight picks for tomorrow. It's a bit of a mystery until tomorrow, but one probably not worth banking a multi-million dollar promotion on. 

All that said, it's difficult to envision a scenario where Ortiz winning wouldn't be a colossal upset. More than likely, he finds a small measure of success early as Floyd gets his timing straight, possibly even hurting or wobbling "Money" Mayweather. But not only has Floyd shown a solid chin in addition to his skills, but a nasty temperament when physically challenged or stunned. 

Unless Ortiz is able to stuff the fight in his pocket in the first couple of rounds or develop head movement overnight, he's bound to run into hard counters, as his porous defense and lack of head movement while attacking should present plenty for Floyd to exploit. 



Inept third man Joe Cortez has demonstrated the ability to disrupt the rhythm of a fight on numerous annoying occasions, and there's little reason to believe this time will be any different - especially when taking into account his performances in other Floyd Mayweather fights. 

In Floyd's rematch with Jose Luis Castillo, Cortez was quicker to break the fighters and follow Floyd's head nod than referee Vic Drakulich was in their first bout. And Cortez also prevented much of the in-fighting that would have been favorable to Ricky Hatton in his 2007 fight with Floyd, despite ignoring the subtle fouling that Mayweather was pulling off. 

The potential for Cortez to leave his mark on the outcome of this fight is very real, unfortunately. But it's also something we have little control over, for some reason. 

Another fact of life we've become accustomed to is not being able to see these "event" fights in person without a press credential, a friend close to the promotion, or a cool $1000. 

Not this fight though. 

Reports this week have the MGM Grand Casino scrambling to give tickets away to VIP gamblers, and Golden Boy Promotions struggling to fill the MGM Grand Garden Arena, perhaps as an effort to save face and recoup the money spent on selling the fight as a premium rumble via episodes of HBO 24/7 and ad spots on CNN.

All in all, the response isn't bad considering Ortiz' future was in doubt at the start of 2011. 

It's difficult to determine how many times this formula for making a decent fight into some legendary matchup that everyone in the boxing community was demanding will work, but so far it's been both a thorn in the side of hardcore fans and the primary reason anyone that's not hardcore even tunes in. 

It would just be nice to put this type of effort into a legitimately colossal main event for a change. 


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