- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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The year-and-a-half layoff that former welterweight titleholder Victor Ortiz took from the ring wasn't by design, but he believes it turned out for the best.
"Everything happens for a reason," Ortiz said. "We never quite get an answer for what reason that happened, but at the end of the day, you know what? I took my break and used it for what it was worth.
"I took my time, let my jaw heal just right, and that was it. But while I was doing that, I had some more opportunities arise my way, and went out of my way and did some things that people in the sport of boxing and just in the world period [couldn't do]. So at this point in time, I'm ready. I'm back."
Indeed, Ortiz is back. But how rusty will he be and how much does he have left?
Answers should be forthcoming when Ortiz fights fellow southpaw and former titleholder Luis Collazo in a scheduled 12-round welterweight match on Thursday night (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes, 9 ET) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Collazo's hometown.
Also on the tripleheader, Eddie Gomez (15-0, 10 KOs), 21, of the Bronx, N.Y., and Daquan Arnett (11-0, 7 KOs), 21, of Winter Park, Fla., who first met as 12-year-old amateurs, will square off as unbeaten junior middleweight prospects in a scheduled 10-rounder. In the opening bout, Gary Russell Jr. (23-0, 13 KOs), 25, of Capitol Heights, Md., will face the much smaller Miguel Tamayo (15-7-2, 13 KOs), 25, of Mexico, in an eight-round junior lightweight bout between southpaws.
Ortiz, who turns 27 on Friday, was on top of the world in April 2011 after surviving a brutal brawl with Andre Berto to outpoint him and win a 147-pound world title. But he hasn't won since, losing his next two fights by stoppage and being forced into the long layoff.
He had parlayed the Berto victory into a shot at pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their much-hyped September 2011 showdown. But Mayweather dominated and then knocked Ortiz out -- controversially, to some -- in the fourth round.
Ortiz returned in June 2012 to face late replacement Josesito Lopez, who shocked most everyone by more than holding his own, breaking Ortiz's jaw in two places and forcing him to retire after the ninth round to score a major upset victory.
It was a gruesome injury, one that had Ortiz spitting blood into a bucket. He needed surgery to repair his jaw, sending him into the layoff.
Initially, Ortiz (29-4-2, 22 KOs), of Ventura, Calif., thought he would be able to come back sooner. Just a few days after surgery, Ortiz said he was back in the gym working out.
"I was in the gym hitting the bags, with metal plates in my mouth and my mouth wired shut four days after the injuries," Ortiz said. "The doctor said, 'Don't make your heart pump when you're like this.' He said, 'Just trust me.' I ignored him, of course. I went into the ring [for pad work], and eight, nine, 10 rounds later, I was gushing blood in my mouth, and I was like, 'Oh, I get it.' "
At that point, Ortiz realized he had to take the time to allow the injury to heal. So he branched out and had fun.
He landed a spot on the popular reality show "Dancing with the Stars" and later went to Europe to shoot a role in the film "The Expendables 3."
"I was forced to be out of the gym, out of boxing for a little while, but I took advantage of that," Ortiz said. "And now I'm ready for [Thursday]. That's where I'm most comfortable at, boxing. The movies and all that stuff, it comes and goes, but at the end of the day the reality of it is, I'm a boxer. That's where I'm at home. That's where I'm comfortable."
While Ortiz was doing other things during his recovery, however, boxing was never far from his thoughts -- even if, as he says, he had a hard time watching.
"It disgusted me to watch boxing, because a lot of these top contenders or top fighters that are there, they're only there by mistake," Ortiz said. "So I couldn't bear to watch fighters that I know I can beat time and time again. So I tried to stay away from watching it, and now I'm back and I'm all in.
"I don't even consider it a comeback. Right after I broke my jaw, a few days later I was in the gym, the boxing gym, hitting a punching bag with my mouth wired shut, so the only difference is this time around we have cameras, we have [television cameras that will] be there watching and recording and broadcasting. I'm not at all concerned about my jaw. I feel great and I can't wait to get in the ring."
During Ortiz's layoff, Collazo (34-5, 17 KOs), 32, has gone 3-0 (including two wins at Barclays Center) and figures to be sharp when they meet. But Ortiz, for his part, promised he would also be sharp despite all of the time off.
"I'm completely, 100 percent confident," Ortiz said. "I have no ring rust whatsoever."
Given the numerous titleholders and contenders Golden Boy promotes between 140 and 154 pounds, the winner of Thursday's fight surely will move on to something much more significant.
"This fight is for my future," said Collazo, who held a world title from 2006 to 2007 before losing a controversial decision to Ricky Hatton in his second defense. "I'm trying not to look past it, but this victory here means everything to me. It means I have a future. If not, I have to start all over again from scratch. I've been waiting a long time for a fight of this caliber."
Said Ortiz: "Luis is obviously focused on me, and vice versa. That's the only guy I'm looking forward to right now. You guys [in the media] can talk and say about the next this and that, but really it's Luis and I at the end of the day, and that's that."
Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer, however, can look ahead. He knows he has a stocked lineup and that the winner of Ortiz-Collazo probably will fit into a world title bout.
"I do sort of like to look what could be in store, and I think if you are Luis Collazo or Victor Ortiz -- I mean these are two very recognized names in the sport of boxing, have been involved in some big fights -- the one who wins this fight is clearly in the mix for some of those bigger showdowns," Schaefer said. "I think, clearly, this is a door open to a world title shot and to other big showdowns, no question about it.
"I'm not going to go as far as to say, well, the winner is going to fight Mayweather next, because I don't think that's really the statement. But I think the statement is that there are strings of big names out there in the welterweight division and I would say about 90 percent of them are promoted by Golden Boy, and that there is a certain path where the winner will eventually get a title shot and maybe down the road maybe even a Mayweather shot."
Victor Ortiz is coming off a pair of losses, a gruesome broken jaw and an 18-month layoff to face fellow former welterweight titleholder Luis Collazo on Thursday in Brooklyn, N.Y. Is he as ready as he sounds for his return?