Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Victor Ortiz soaking up the spotlight
By Dan Rafael
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been here before. Many times.
He has fought numerous huge fights during his career. From mega-pay-per-view bouts with Oscar De La Hoya to Shane Mosley and Ricky Hatton, Mayweather is used to the rollout of a huge promotion.
He's used to the massive media crush, the mind-boggling demand for his time, the stream of cameras and fans and the cross-country promotional tours -- not to mention the omnipresent HBO "24/7" cameras, which film almost nonstop during the build-up to the fight for the network's four-part reality series, the latest edition of which kicks off Aug. 27.
A media crush this massive may be new to Victor Ortiz, but his team claims he'll be fully focused by fight night.
Mayweather is an old pro at all of this.
Victor Ortiz, who faces Mayweather on Sept. 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on HBO PPV? Not so much. Actually, not at all.
The newly crowned 24-year-old welterweight titleholder -- who claimed his belt in an enthralling, knockdown-filled decision win over Andre Berto in April -- has never been in a fight even remotely close to this magnitude.
Now he has been thrust into the eye of the storm as the promotion for his fight, "Star Power," kicked off with a news conference/fan rally in New York on Tuesday with a full day of media rounds and appearances scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles followed by an evening fan rally/news conference.
Ortiz still has plenty of time to adjust to what is sure to be an overwhelming promotion before he steps into the ring to defend his belt for the first time. But right now, he is like a deer in headlights amid the overload of a promotion the likes of which he has never seen.
"He's already overwhelmed by the moment, like a little boy who is quiet and scared but understands something is happening with him," Rolando Arellano, Ortiz's longtime manager, admitted to me over the phone after the formal press conference.
Watching the press conference via Internet stream, it seemed like it was all Ortiz could do not get swallowed up Tuesday when they kicked things off at the Hudson Theater in Manhattan.
Ortiz is experiencing things in this promotion that he never has come close to in his boxing career.
But they are nothing compared to what he has dealt with in real life. He comes from a broken home in which his parents abandoned their children, leaving Ortiz and his siblings to fend for themselves while shuffling in and out of foster care.
As Ortiz likes to say, he's not supposed to be here. He's supposed to be a statistic, a dead-end kid with no future. He has talked about that before other fights in the past and reiterated it for the world to hear again at Tuesday's press conference.
But here he is, having persevered to overcome many things in his real life and ring life to land a massive fight with one of the most significant fighters on the planet for a multi-million dollar payday.
On Monday, Ortiz flew in a private plane for the first time when he traveled from Los Angeles to New York. He also said he rode in a limo for the first time.
These are the perks of his "arrival," which he happily shared with younger brother Temo Ortiz, whom he practically raised.
I asked Ortiz if he has enjoyed those luxuries.
"Not really, it's kind of weird," he said. "I'm as real as they come, so to have this in my life is weird. I accept it. It's pretty awesome. It's definitely a nice experience. I've never had anything like this, so it's something new. I'm just accepting it for what it is. I'm just a normal guy. I'm having fun, man, period. Nothing more, nothing less."
Couldn't seem to make up his mind, could he? Perhaps he was a little dazed and confused from the big day. He looked like he was having nervous fun at the press conference, smiling away as the flash bulbs and lights seemed to blind him.
"I was taking it all in," he said. "It's pretty cool, man. This position has just been bound to happen. It was a matter of time. I'm here now and I'm not letting it go."
Arellano said he enjoyed watching Ortiz's introduction to a major league promotion.
"It's almost a giddy feeling," Arellano said. "Not only do I watch him, I watch his brother and there are moments of them being overwhelmed, like they just have this look where it's like, 'Damn, I've never seen this many cameras, never done this many interviews.' This is a shared experience for them.
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"For me, it's an honor and privilege because I was able to help build the road for these kids to walk on and now see the culmination. These were kids who were supposed to fail, kids who were in and out of foster care, kids whose parents dumped them. Everything was stacked against them, but they've broken down the barriers and gotten to that promised land. It's a great feeling for me, almost like parenting."
Ortiz said he has always wanted to fight Mayweather.
"I knew it would happen," Ortiz said. "I said it when I was 9."
I'm not sure if he was really 9, because Mayweather was just starting out then, but his point was well taken.
"When I was a kid, I said one day I'd be world champion and I will give Floyd Mayweather his first defeat. The time has come and I'm ready."
Immediately after beating Berto, Ortiz said he wanted to fight the big names. It certainly seemed possible, but not necessarily in his next fight.
"I wanted the best name out there and I wanted Mayweather, and it happened," Ortiz said. "I was surprised it happened actually. Before I even fought Berto, I said, 'After I knock out Berto I want Mayweather.' Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. So I didn't knock out Berto, but I came close and won, and now I have Mayweather."
Mayweather, who can verbally attack an opponent as well as anyone, played nice with Ortiz, who also showed respect. Their posedown was anything but tension-filled. They smiled, shook hands and stood close together as the photographers snapped away.
"Anytime I've ever seen Mayweather in the past, there has always been a mutually friendly vibe," Ortiz said. "So I didn't know what to expect from him. He came at me nice, but I'm going to be reigning for a long time. We know it's competition."
Ortiz admitted he was soaking up all the attention and had not really started thinking about the actual fight.
"I'm not in training camp yet, so I have no game plan, nothing going on other than living in the moment," he said. "But I will be ready."
He had better be, because the last thing he wants to do is get caught up in the moment under the bright lights when the bell rings. It's fine during the initial media crush, but it would be a disaster if it happened with a fighter the caliber of Mayweather across the ring from him.
Arellano said Ortiz will be fully focused by the time the fight arrives.
"He's been in big arenas, but not in with a star like Mayweather, so that's where you turn to your team," Arellano said. "It's up to us to make sure he is laser focused on the objective. The focus will start in the next couple of weeks, when we start putting barriers around him, start watching film of Mayweather and start the training with Danny Garcia. We talk about how each day of camp is like we are taking one step at a time climbing up this mountain. If the whole thing [of the promotion] gets to be too much for him, we'll put that perimeter around him."
During the press conference, one of the promotional videos hyping the fight included footage of a space shuttle launch. Arellano noticed it.
"Basically, it's like Victor is in the space shuttle right now and about to look down on Earth," he said. "He knows he's going to the stars and he's waiting to see the view."
The fight is 2.5 months away. Ortiz has plenty of time to get his head out of the clouds between now and the moment of combat.