2012 is already looking up for
boxing. In January, Golden Boy Promotions will kick off the year with Erik
Morales vs. Danny Garcia and James Kirkland vs. Carlos Molina in what surely will
be an action card. Then February 11, Golden Boy goes big on Showtime with the rematch
of this year’s “Fight of the Year” candidate as Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto
take their act to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for a highly anticipated rematch
of their April war. On Monday, the two met along with Golden Boy Promotions CEO
Richard Schaefer, representatives of Berto’s promotional team, the Haymon group
and DiBella Entertainment, as well as the new President of Showtime Boxing,
Stephen Espinoza, at a press conference held in L.A., announcing the fight.
Unlike the first fight, for Berto’s
WBC welterweight strap, this fight will be a non-title, 12-round, special
welterweight attraction. Make no mistake; there is something much more
important at stake for these two men than a mere belt.
The first time these two met,
Berto was six defenses deep of his title. Ortiz was thought to be damaged goods
at junior welter by some boxing critics after losing to Marcos Maidana. A
promising fighter with all the talent in the world, Ortiz struggled against
Lamont Peterson the previous December after dropping him twice early. The fight
ended as a draw and Ortiz was thought to be not quite what some had hoped.
Four months later, Ortiz would
prove the doubters wrong and, unfair as it seems, prove Berto’s critics right
by moving to 147 pounds and virtually ripping the belt from Berto’s grasp. The
fight went all 12 with both fighters hitting the canvas twice but it was Ortiz
who had control for much of the fight. In the end, Ortiz got the decision win,
giving Berto his first loss.
The loss raised questions about
Berto and he went looking for answers. He found them in the Bay Area with
nutritionist and sports medicine guru Victor Conte, famous for being a central figure
in the BALCO scandal, now dedicating his life to weeding out performance-enhancing
drug cheats. When he isn’t doing that, Conte has been helping fighters like
Nonito Donaire physically get to the next level through natural means. The
education fighters get about their bodies from Conte and his associates is
invaluable. For Berto, they were life-changing.
“Berto was just out of it [in
the first fight], said Berto’s trainer, Tony Morgan, who was all for working
with Conte and travels with Berto to the Bay Area to train at the Undisputed
Gym. “He tried to come in light. He was completely deficient. We found out
after that, he was anemic but no excuses. Victor [Ortiz] fought his butt off.
I’m not making excuses. I’m just saying Berto wasn’t 100 percent. This time,
we’ll be 100 percent and we’ll see the true outcome. I think we knock him out.
I just hope for a good fight.”
Berto learned he was not only
overtrained but indeed anemic. His body simply was not being fueled by the proper
nutrients and so he began learning and rebuilding processes that have since
netted him an IBF welterweight belt in September. In order make this more
lucrative fight instead, Berto has to pass on his mandatory defense, vacating
his belt. Now, he wants his revenge.
“This is a tremendous
opportunity. I’m ready to get it on. I’ve had to improve my game. I’ve had a
hard, tough, training camp and just have to stay focused and get the job done,”
Berto said simply and humbly. “I’m hungrier than ever. I predict a win.”
While Berto has had a period of
self-discovery, Ortiz has been taking lumps and learning as well. Following his
big win, Ortiz was deemed ready for a shot at Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s elite
standing in the sport. Four rounds, a blatant headbutt and a left hook/right
hand combo from Hell later and Ortiz found himself curled up in a ball on his
back, wondering what just happened. Mayweather’s “legal sucker punch” will be
debated forever. The effects of the devastating loss of Ortiz remain to be
“It was definitely a learning
experience,” said Ortiz of the Floyd fight. “It was a learning experience at
its best. In the ring, I didn’t show any hurt, any kind of pain. Back in the
locker room, my coaches were there to witness it. I cried like a baby. I cried
for easily two, three hours. Got back to my room, I cried more. Why? I was
supposed to be against one of the best fighters of all time which, to my eyes,
I strongly disagree. If I disagreed, then I super-disagree now. It was one of
things where you don’t take a belt from someone like that. That is my opinion.
End of the day, it’s a shame.”
Now the two men are looking to
get back to where they once were but with the knowledge of battles lost and
opportunities missed. For Ortiz, the work is just beginning. The fallout from
the Mayweather fight was negative but Ortiz appears to be using that as fuel.
“It is the same now. I am being
counted out once again,” said Ortiz of his mental state going into this fight
as opposed to the first. “Once again, counted out. Once again, not the best.
Once again, too nice. Once again, it’s always everything about ‘once again.’ I
will show you February 11 why Andre Berto is where he is at and why I put him
there. I don’t need to say any more than that.”
Ortiz told me he didn’t feel
any sort of advantage because he won the first fight.
“There’s definitely not. Every
fight is different. New fight, new game plan,” Ortiz said. “Whatever the
coaches have in store for me, I am open for it and ready. I know he is hungry.
He is hungry to get what he wants from me.”
While Berto seemed relaxed and
ready to get revenge, Ortiz was quiet and polite, without a hint of bravado and
open that he felt the first fight was not quite up to his personal standards
“The first fight, I wasn’t
necessarily happy. I was satisfied that I captured the title. That was it but I
apologized to my team in the locker room [for not performing] my best,” said
Ortiz. “[That night] was good enough to beat Berto but if I got blamed for
steroid usage [at 50% of myself], I will show you February 11 I am not playing
anymore. And If I may add, I was a 140-pounder. I am 147 now. I put on like a
good seven pounds of muscle. I’m ready.”
From the looks of the staredown
where both men, who had been respectful to that point, began to jaw quietly to
each other, you can tell this one will pick up right where it left off.
As Ortiz’s manager, Rolando Arellano
said, “This one will end early.”
Beyond an excellent match-up,
this card will be important for a few reasons. For one, this will mark a new
era at Showtime Boxing. This is the first fight purchased under Espinoza, who
outbid HBO for the fight. It signals that Showtime wishes to be a player in the
sport at the level HBO has enjoyed for years. In addition to the fight,
Showtime Extreme will be televising what is normally the untelevised undercard.
With the main event being a tripleheader featuring Erislandy Lara and Gary
Russell Jr. in support, fight fans could be treated to as many as eight
televised fights on February 11.
“I’m very excited and proud to
have this as my first official press conference,” said Espinoza, who did in
fact appear excited. “I’m more excited and more proud that this is the first
fight that I acquired in my position as Executive Vice President [and General
Manager] of Showtime Sports and Event Programming. This fight is the most
compelling, most exciting, most highly anticipated fight available. That’s why
it was my number one priority from the very first minute I accepted the
position with Showtime…to make sure that this fight appeared on Showtime.”
Along with a “Fight Camp 360”
series documenting the fighters as they go through training camp, this
promotion, to hear Richard Schaefer tell it, will be treated like a
pay-per-view. Only the fights will be on regular cable. None of this is bad for
“We’ve wanted to do this for a
while,” said Schaefer. “When Stephen became the new President over at Showtime,
I immediately started having conversations about that. I think it is something
that is good for the fighter, good for the promoter but it’s great for the
network. Because what you do now, you start creating a connection with your
audience and the fighters very early on. Instead of having to wait to see a
fighter for the first time and he is 20-0, you came follow that fighter in his
career as he moves from Showtime Extreme to Showtime. That will ultimately help
with the ratings down the line.”
A historic reason this fight is
important is that the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) headed by Dr.
Margaret Goodman, will be administering testing for the very time in this
fight. As of Monday, both teams had still to finish their paperwork to sign up
but that was a mere formality. VADA, which will use new, more advanced
techniques and philosophies such as Carbon Isotope Ratio testing (for detecting
synthetic testosterone) and the 50% hematocrit rule (which is used to detect
blood doping such as EPO use), will be pushing the envelope not only in terms
of testing but cost. As VADA is funded through sponsorship, there is no cost to
the promotion or the fighters. It’s all taken care of. All the fighters have to
do is agree to be tested during the agreed upon window of time. It is a first
step toward full, year-round testing which, from what I understand, VADA would
be in favor of. However, it’s also the dawn of a new awareness and transparency
for athletes and fans of the sport.
“It’s going to be good,” said
Berto. “It’s an amazing new process. At the same time, it’s cost effective, so
it’s going to be a situation that a lot of fighters will want to be a part of.”
For Schaefer, who has supported
more extensive testing in the past, it’s an opportunity to not just support
clean athletes but add to a card that will hopefully move boxing forward.
“You have VADA doing the testing
which is a first. Both fighters wanted it,” said Schaefer. “You have a fight
promoted on CBS; you have the non-televised portion televised. You have a ‘Fight
of the Year.’ Often, ‘Fight of the Year’ rematches are pay-per-view but this is
not pay-per-view. There is a lot of excitement with this card, which shows, if
you sum it all up, it really shows you that Showtime is serious.”
Sounds good to me.
The Golden Future
Schaefer also spoke on the
future of Golden Boy Promotions’ rising star, James Kirkland.
“James wants big fights and he
is ready for everyone,” said Schaefer. “So maybe one fight, which would be a
big fight, would be him and Paul Williams. Coming into 2012, we want to do
exciting fights where you know, going in, it can only be a great fight. This
fight is impossible to be a boring fight. So we want to showcase guys like [Saul]
‘Canelo’ [Alvarez], James Kirkland, Robert Guerrero, Amir Khan, Alfredo Angulo.
Who cares if he won or lost? We want to see him again. That is exactly what
they do in UFC. It doesn’t really matter if you win or lose. If you are an
exciting guy, then people want to see you again.”
As evidence that Golden Boy is
a company all about the excitement, Schaefer pointed to the fact that five of
the seven most exciting fights this coming year broadcast by HBO are Golden Boy
I’ll leave fight fans to judge
if he is right.
A Point of Order
Last week, the California State
Athletic Commission overturned the TKO decision in the Bernard Hopkins-Chad
Dawson fight to a no-contest. The hearing, held in Southern California, was the
last order of business for Espinoza (who was Golden Boy’s lead counsel before
accepting his new job) with his old company. While some reports had him
overseeing the hearing, Espinoza both acknowledged how awkward that would have been
professionally but also explained his presence at the hearing.
“It was my final duty for
Golden Boy,” Espinoza told Maxboxing on Monday. “Ethically, I’ve got an
obligation to Golden Boy, whether it’s as a lawyer or any other client not to
do something that harms the client. I recognize that with my job with Showtime,
because I took the job on two weeks’ notice, which is really strange for an
attorney- usually you have a longer period of time- I told both sides that
there was going to be some sort of crossover [in terms of time]. So the hearing
was one of those things because it was a little weird for everyone. I didn’t
speak at the hearing. Hopkins’ attorney, Eric Melzer, actually handled
everything. Why I was concerned was that having filed the protest when I had no
idea I would be leaving Golden Boy, that if [Melzer] got up and said and
[introduced himself as the attorney for Hopkins] that [the CSAC] would say,
‘Wait and minute. No, no, no. You didn’t file the complaint. You have nothing
to say here.’ The appeal was actually filed by me on behalf of Golden Boy
Promotions for the benefit of Hopkins. So I was concerned. I wasn’t going to
skip it altogether in case they stopped [Melzer] and asked [for me, being the
person who filed the complaint].”
While Espinoza did not present the case for Hopkins, he did have one job
at the hearing.
“The reality was- and we were
joking after- was all I did was run the projector,” laughed Espinoza, who now
runs one of the largest projectors in the world in Showtime’s boxing
department. “I sort of cued up the fight footage but I literally didn’t speak
during the entire hearing. I thought it was more important for Bernard’s
interest. Golden Boy doesn’t really have as much of a stake in it. It’s really
Bernard. I didn’t want to compromise his interests by not at least showing