Just as it seemed that Victor Ortiz was on the brink of stardom last year, he was matched against Marcos Maidana, the hard-hitting Argentinean. The bout was scheduled at a major league venue, the Staples Center, and would headline the marquee on HBO. The night of June 27th, 2009 was supposed to be the coming out party for Ortiz. Instead, it turned out to be the worst night of his career. After trading knockdowns early on, he would succumb to Maidana's heavy hands and constant pressure.
Not only did Ortiz essentially wave off the fight in the sixth frame, his rather peculiar comments to HBO‘s Max Kellerman in the post-fight interview didn't help his cause.
This meltdown was so bad it should've taken place on Three Mile Island.
In one fell swoop, from the very apex of a serious career breakthrough, Ortiz had fallen to the bottom of the valley. In the ensuing 18 months, the rebuilding process has seen him face the likes of Antonio Diaz, Hector Alatorre, Nate Campbell and Vivian Harris. All carefully matched foes, chosen for one stated reason- to carefully piece back the confidence and verve of a fighter whose moniker was “Vicious.” This Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, he faces the respected Lamont Peterson in a fight that represents his leap back into the world-class elite.
This has been a slow and steady process, all looking ahead toward the big picture.
"Look, basically whenever a fighter or a human being gets injured, the doctor can say that the injury is fine. But what's more important is what the fighter or person thinks psychologically. We know because we've been around this game long enough that when you suffer an event like he did against Maidana, although the fighter tells you he's OK, psychologically, he's really not," said Ortiz's adviser, Rolando Arellano. "That was evident by the fact the way he was tentative in the first couple of fights. So we see that. So we basically try to rebuild him with the right type of opponents so that his confidence would naturally come back.
"An example, like you break your elbow, OK? The doctor says you're fine but you really don't trust that elbow till two years later when you don't think about it,” Arellano added. “And before you know it, psychologically, you're healed and then physically, you're healed."
At the beginning of this journey, Ortiz looked like a tentative fighter, afraid to dip his toe back into the water. But as he blew out the faded Harris in September, he did look more or less like the aggressive fighter that was so well-regarded in the past. Arellano agrees, "Yeah, I think so. But the fight was early; it was quick and stuff. What we like is when Vivian picked up his level of aggression; he maintained his composure and when he saw the opportunity to conquer Vivian Harris. He did so and he did so aggressively like he did before the Maidana fight."
However, there is someone who doesn't agree with this sentiment- Ortiz himself.
"I don't," he said, last week at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, where a media day was staged by Golden Boy Promotions. "Then again, I'm just another fighter. I just keep doing what I do. As far as management goes, promoters and stuff like that, I really don't get into [that]. So I don't really know."
In fact, Ortiz says not that much was taken from his loss to Maidana.
"I really didn't learn a whole lot besides the fact that any fighter can have an off-night," he said. "That's the only thing I learned. That was it."
Whether it was denial or the fact that Ortiz is a tad annoyed at the constant second-guessing that has come with that loss, he seems to have a rather dismissive attitude of what took place that night and how it may or may not have shaped him. But it's clear; a win over Peterson re-legitimizes him in the eyes of many fans and pundits.
"Absolutely," said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy. "I think after he lost against Maidana, we brought him back and he performed spectacularly in those fights and now this is another step-up. This is a big step up; this is a giant step and so we'll see after Saturday night where Victor is. He beats Peterson, he's right back where he was."
Again, Ortiz disagrees with those sentiments. "I've been here since the night I lost to Maidana; I never lost my way. I think reporters and everybody along those lines lost their way. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I've been doing me and I don't know; I can't really say anything besides that."
But in another curious reply, when asked if Peterson was his toughest test to date, post-Maidana, Ortiz said, "Well, so was Nate Campbell; so was Vivian Harris; so was Alatorre. They're all supposed to be this, this and that. But y' know what? I've gotten ready and prepared for them and listening to my coaches. So as far as that goes, I'm ready."
OK, but a victory this weekend ups his standing in the junior welterweight division, right?
"I really don't care. I'm just here; that's it."
Ortiz kinda sounds like that addict who's afraid to admit he went to the Betty Ford Clinic or that he ever had a problem to begin with. But there's no doubt; the bout with Peterson is a pivotal one but a win bodes well for his future, regardless of what has taken place in the past.
"I don't really know; I'm just ready for whatever they have lined up for me, as far as that's concerned," he says. "I'm just ready; I'm not looking forward or behind me or nothing like that. I'm just ready."
While Golden Boy has come under a ton of second-guessing for making the Ortiz-Maidana fight, I think to a certain degree, there is a bit of a double-standard that they come under because of their exclusive output deal they have with HBO. Look, whether it was prudent to make that match or not, at the very least, fans were treated to a very exciting fight. And many times, what a promotional company wants and the needs of the fight fan don't often intersect.
Schaefer told Maxboxing, "I think we're always held to a double-standard; people just expect from Golden Boy total wars and it's OK. We like to live up to that standard. We like to give the fight fans the fights they deserve. But I agree with you; Victor Ortiz, it was an exciting fight and I think all of us in boxing, the networks, the media, fight fans and the promoters, I think we all have to realize that the most important thing is that boxing is entertainment. And people want to see entertaining fights and winning and losing is important but it's not everything."
While Vince Lombardi may not agree, fight fans want compelling action and competitive match-ups (and truth be told, Ortiz's bouts against Diaz and Campbell on HBO don't qualify as such) but there should be a premium placed on not who is able to protect undefeated records and their mythical pound-for-pound standing by playing it safe but who can create a bit of excitement inside the ring.
"I look at how HBO is dealing," continued Schaefer." They are starting to realize that they stood behind Victor Ortiz because they know he is an exciting fighter and I see it now with Michael Katsidis. HBO called me and said they would definitely love to have Katsidis back on HBO again. So I think people are starting to realize- and maybe it's because of the UFC- it doesn't really matter as much who wins or loses. It has to be exciting and I think exciting fighters are starting to get rewarded. I'm very happy about that."
And for the record, on the night that Katsidis put on his valiant performance versus Juan Manuel Marquez, the bout between WBC welterweight titlist Andre Berto and Freddie Hernandez (which ended up being a first-round blowout for Berto) was not a Golden Boy bout but one put on the broadcast at the behest of HBO- the Haymon Boxing Organization- and the network.
"But y' know what, in all fairness, I have to say, Jason Litzau-Celestino Caballero was not a Golden Boy fight either. And I actually somewhere said that if it would have been up to me, I would not have gotten away with getting this fight done and I have to apologize to Lou DiBella, the promoter of this fight because I was wrong; a lot of people were wrong- it turned out to be an excellent fight."