Tuesday, September 13, 2011 Updated: September 14, 12:20 PM ET
Victor Ortiz leans on youth, courage
By Noel Piņeiro Planas ESPNDeportesLA.com
VENTURA, Calif. -- In the life of every elite professional boxer, there comes a time, at least once, for a stellar bout assessed by pundits and the boxer himself to be the fight of his life. That is precisely how boxing experts classify Mexican-American boxer "Vicious" Victor Ortiz's fight against undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Ironically, Ortiz, the reigning WBC welterweight champion, guarantees that the fight in which he will defend his crown against the successful Mayweather Jr. -- undoubtedly the biggest name he has faced in his career -- is not even close to being his defining fight.
"This is not the fight of my life. The fight of my life was my upbringing. I come from having nothing. A difficult life in all respects," said Ortiz, who was born in Kansas City to a Mexican immigrant couple in 1987. Ultimately, he found himself alone with his siblings and was sent to foster homes after being abandoned by his parents.
His mother was the first one to go, abruptly leaving their family for another man. Later, when he was 13 years old, his father, who had become abusive to Ortiz after his mother left, also abandoned the family.
"Without food, without clothes, a dad or a mom. My brother and I wandered around for a while like lost dogs," Ortiz said before a public training session to promote the "Star Power" pay-per-view fight card, which is produced and distributed by HBO PPV.
Victor Ortiz is younger than Mayweather by 10 years, providing a unique challenge the undefeated champion has yet to face.
"Getting to where I am now was the fight of my life. So now, what is Floyd? A dude with gloves. And with fear, because he's been talking too much. Why talk so much about someone if he's not scared?"
Ortiz has expressed much confidence in his capabilities to defeat his challenger. He has also promoted himself as being well-prepared and fearless to face an unbeaten six-time world champion in five different divisions.
"This guy [Mayweather], for whatever reason, has brought fear to each of his previous rivals. I don't know how he did it. But this time, for sure, he is barking up the wrong tree. He does not terrify me," Ortiz said.
And Ortiz has no reason to be terrified, mainly because he is coming off a great championship victory over Andre Berto. In that fight Ortiz proved to be more comfortable at 147 pounds than he had seemed at 140.
There is also the peculiarity that Ortiz, with a 29-2-2 record and 22 KOs, is the youngest fighter to face Mayweather in six years. Accustomed to being the babe inside the boxing ring, the 34-year-old Mayweather will be the elder statesman facing a man who is 10 years his junior. Whether Mayweather wants to admit it or not, that factor could play an important role in the fight. Besides, Ortiz has been quite active as a boxer over the last 45 months, with 11 fights during that time and a maximum period of inactivity of only six months. Meanwhile, Mayweather has fought only twice over the same time span.
"Mayweather is now an old fighter who doesn't know what he wants," Ortiz said.
Ortiz hopes that his courage, strong knockout punches and thirst to get to the top allow him to accomplish what a young Mayweather did when he faced big names over the past six years. Excellent boxers and box-office hits who, nevertheless, when they fought the slight and perhaps best defensive fighter in boxing, were not at an age comparable to his.
When Mayweather fought against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, De La Hoya was 34. In 2009, Mayweather fought Juan Manuel Marquez, who had already celebrated his 36th birthday. And when Mayweather faced Shane Mosley in 2010, the former world champion was 38.
Those are not the only fights in which a dynamic, energized and tireless Mayweather faced older rivals. His clashes with Carlos Baldomir and Sharmba Mitchell occurred when each of those opponents was 35 years old. His battle with Arturo Gatti, five years Mayweather's senior, occurred when the Canadian was 33.
So when Ortiz and Mayweather step into the ring at the MGM Grand, the experience will be a fairly new one for Mayweather; for the first time in a long time, he will be facing a younger boxer and possibly one who is hungrier. Beyond that, his prolonged period of inactivity is an element that Ortiz's trainer, Danny Garcia, said could greatly benefit his boxer.
TV lineup for the split-site HBO PPV card on Saturday night (9 ET) from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Staples Center in Los Angeles:
• Welterweights: Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KOs) vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (41-0, 25 KOs), 12 rounds, for Ortiz's title
• Junior middleweights: Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (37-0-1, 27 KOs) vs. Alfonso Gomez (23-4-2, 12 KOs), 12 rounds, for Alvarez's title (from Los Angeles)
• Junior welterweights: Erik Morales (51-7, 35 KOs) vs. Pablo Cesar Cano (22-0-1, 17 KOs), 12 rounds, for a vacant title
"Nobody knows how Mayweather Jr. will come back after this long break. We want him to come in fighting the same as in his prime. And we are preparing for that. To beat the best. The Mayweather who has been a six-time champ and the pound-for-pound king. But I assure you that he will find a tough road against Victor that day," Garcia said. "Because he will face a type of boxer that he has never faced before. He's coming up against a young man who has endured a pretty rough life. Pretty tough. No parents, money, clothes or food. A boxing fight for him is just a fight. And he goes into it on equal footing with his rival.
"He has battled against hunger pangs and wanting things he could not obtain. Now as world champ, he trains hard and has good qualities. What's the problem?"
It was apparent at Ortiz's recent public training session that there are no physical or emotional problems. Garcia hinted that there were some problems in 2009 when Ortiz gave up in a fight he was winning against Argentinian Marcos Maidana. According to the trainer, back in those days Ortiz was facing family and physical issues, having suffered a problem with his wrist during training.
"I never asked him about that fight. But I think he had problems for that fight during training. A broken wrist, problems with his brother and sister. During the fight, he had many things on his mind," said Garcia, who was not Ortiz's trainer then.
However, according to Ortiz and Garcia, things are much different this time around. Everything's in place to potentially set Ortiz up with the ultimate professional fight of his life: against Filipino Manny Pacquiao.
That is another interesting factor to look for in Saturday's fight. Perhaps as a ploy to sell more tickets, Mayweather has been talking again about a possible fight with Pacquiao and has spoken less about his upcoming fight against Ortiz.
For Ortiz, that lack of respect is simply additional motivation.
"I have arrived here for a reason and I am not relinquishing my crown," Ortiz said. "If he wants to dismiss me as an opponent before fighting me, that's perfectly fine. I have always been an underdog. I don't mind if they talk about Floyd versus Pacquiao. But that will only result in two things. A fight for me against Pacquiao and at last one between Floyd and Pacquiao. Because I am going to absolutely destroy him so that he will need a huge payday and he will have to seek out that fight."