Victor Ortiz was dismissed by much of the boxing world after a 2009 loss to Marcos Maidana, but as he has often said in recent interviews, he has been counted out before. Ortiz rose from difficult beginnings in Garden City, Kan., to overcome being abandoned by his parents, take custody of (and raise) his younger brother and develop into a top 147-pound contender. In April, he survived two knockdowns to overpower Andre Berto in a potential fight of the year, swiping Berto's welterweight belt and setting up the biggest fight of Ortiz's young career: a matchup with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sept. 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (HBO PPV). As part of an ongoing feature leading up to the fight, Ortiz agreed to a discussion about his life and career.
On what it means to fight on Mexican Independence Day weekend:
Fighting on Mexican Independence Day weekend is very important to me. Mexico, similar to [me in] my career, had to go through a lot in order to become the country that it is today. It's a day of celebrating when the underdogs, such as Hidalgo and the indigenous people of Mexico, raised their courage and arms to [gain] freedom from oppression against overwhelming odds, and I feel as though I strongly relate to those struggles.
I had to overcome difficulties beyond my race, and I never would have been given any of these opportunities if not for our country's independence and those who gave their lives for people like me, who they would never even get to meet. Secondly, [Independence Day weekend] is when the great Mexican fighters of our time fought, and I plan on carrying on the tradition. I am very proud of the fact that I get to go out there every day and train in order to represent the Mexican people, and I can only hope they look up to me in a similar fashion. When you're growing up, it's always nice to have someone you can relate and look up to. I'm proud of how I conduct my business and how I have accomplished all that I have accomplished, and hope that I can be a positive influence on not only the Mexican community but also young boxers and people all around the world.
I, and my people, know what it's like to struggle. We know what it's like to be regarded as inferior, and that is something I carry with me every day and every moment of my life. Fighting on Mexican Independence Day weekend has always been a dream of mine. I will not walk away without my belt and [I'll] fight the hardest fight of my life. I am regarded as the underdog, and as I have in the past, I will prevail. Being the underdog gives me nothing to lose and will make it that much sweeter when I finally make it to the top as the world's best boxer. I am honored and privileged to be fighting in front of and for all the boxing fans and Mexican boxing fans, and I'm excited to make this already memorable weekend even more memorable.
On what he bought with his first big check:
I wish I could tell you I went out and bought all of these luxurious things, but it really wouldn't be my style. Maybe it's because I never had all of those things growing up, but for whatever reason, I really just don't bother with shopping and trying to prove to everyone that I made it. I made it through [by] being humble and outworking all of my opponents, not because I had the nicest cars or fancy jewelry. Later in life, when I'm retired and have a family of my own and will be able to send my kids to college, that's when I'll start spending. Way too many athletes go broke these days, and I like saving my money so that I can ensure my family and friends currently and after me will never have to endure some of the things I did when I was a kid. All those fancy cars and houses are just a way for people to show off their money.
I did make some investments, though. I have a trucking company called Ortiz Trucking, with six trucks already. I figure that could be a solid side business to grow some of my winnings, instead of having them lie around or be spent.
On what TV shows he watches to relax after a long day of training:
I don't really watch too many TV shows, but "The Fighter" was a great movie. It was really cool to see the dynamic between the two brothers, one who allowed the pressure of drugs and fame to take over his career and one that just wanted to win. I like to think of myself as someone who wants to win and can resist those temptations because of the love of the game. I also have the support of my team, who always make sure to keep me in line.
On whether he lives alone during training:
I live alone, [but] when camp is in session, my manager, Rolando Arellano, comes and stays with me. I really like living alone because it allows me to clear my mind and relax. When I'm training for a fight and Rolando comes, it's all about boxing. It's all about my opponent and my strategy and how I can get an edge. Everyone, when they think of me, thinks of a boxer, but to me I'm just a guy. I don't want to talk about boxing every second, and living alone really lets me kick back and relax.
On how important his family was in his becoming a fighter and the importance of his team:
I do not have a family, per se. When I was younger, I grew up in foster care with my brother and sister. It was really a struggle, and knowing that there were people out there with tight-knit families really made my childhood an unfortunate one. My siblings and me always stuck together, but it never seemed like things were going to turn around for us. When I was young, I started to really get into boxing, and it was a great way for me to do something fun that I loved and that I was good at. It allowed me to get out some of my struggles in my childhood through a sport so that I didn't have to resort to other forms of violence. And it's such a mental game that it really helped me mature and see that although my life up to that point wasn't so great, it was in my control to change that destiny.
Then when I started winning amateur fights, I realized that I might really have some potential in the boxing world. I immediately knew that boxing could really be the way for me to turn my life around and the lives of my brother and sister. At the end of the day, although we might not have a full family, holding on to the ones you love is the most important thing in the world. That's where my team comes in. My team is the best team in the world. We are a close unit and we are inspired by each other, from my manager Rolando Arellano, my head coach Danny Garcia, assistant coach Mario Aguiniga and strength and conditioning coach Joe Janik. In many ways, they are like the family that I never had. They support me through my wins, my losses, my personal issues and all else concerning my life, and my goal is to become the best boxer in the world.
Growing up, I never really understood what it was like to rely on other people because I had nobody to really look up to. I think that helps me in the ring because it's not only a fight between you and your opponent but also versus yourself. You have to stay focused and take hits and find your spots to attack. No matter how individual a match is, though, it's my team that brings me to the next level with the training and preparation. We are the dream team of boxing.
On what it was like to win his first championship:
It was amazing. It was what I was waiting for and working for my entire life. When you're a young fighter, you always think about that first championship when you can finally make a name for yourself and tell all of the other amateur fighters, "Hey, I'm a champion now."
You know, you go through so much in boxing, from youth leagues to the intense training, and it all is for this one goal of getting a belt. The adrenaline running through my body was like none I have ever felt before. When it was over, I just felt so relieved and almost in shock that it all just happened. As a boxer, you train for months for one fight that can be as short as one round if you don't play it right. Winning your first belt is just truly something you will never forget, because at that point your mindset changes.
At first, I was chasing after the belt. I was doing anything I could to achieve something that many boxers before me have. Now it's about defending my belt, knowing that my opponents want it as bad as I wanted it but still training as hard as possible in order to never give it up again.
I was going up against Andre Berto, who was the heavy favorite at the time. It went 12 rounds and I think I got him down twice, maybe three times. It was tough, but I knew I had to win that fight in order to get on the map. Nobody thought I had a chance against him. He was undefeated and I was kind of coming out of nowhere. Through my training and in the weeks coming up, though, I knew I could beat him if I just went out there and played my game. The worst thing a boxer can do is allow for his opponent to dictate the tone of the fight. I set the tone that I was going to attack him and that I wasn't going to go down easy just because he was supposed to win.
After I lost to Maidana and everyone was questioning my heart, I was pissed. I fought with a broken wrist against a good fighter, and when I challenged him to a rematch and he refused, I was still the one with no courage? I was the one with no [guts]? Well, now I'm the one with the belt and I'm not giving it up to anybody.