Victor Ortiz is a fighter after all. And a damn good one.
Less than two years ago, Ortiz was written off by many as a gifted but less-than-courageous boxer after he quit against Marcos Maidana. Today, after a convincing victory over Andre Berto on Saturday, he is the star those close to him always believed he would be.
Ortiz, fueled by the unrelenting criticism, fought like a man possessed in a thrilling fight that saw both fighters go down twice.
Berto landed many hellacious shots – including a vicious right that hurt Ortiz badly in the sixth round – but the challenger wouldn’t be deterred. He fought through all obstacles and never stopped coming, ultimately landing many more power shots than Berto to win a unanimous decision and the WBC 147-pound title.
Even his most-vociferous critics must give Ortiz credit for what he is – a warrior.
“I fought like a possessed man because that’s what the world and crowd in boxing made me,” he told commentator Larry Merchant in the ring after the fight. “… Everybody always denying me, saying what I’m capable of and not capable of.
“I know what’s in my heart, Larry.”
Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 knockouts) spoke with great bravado in the weeks leading up to the fight, more or less predicting the ferocity with which he fought on Saturday night in Mashantucket, Conn.
Only his words rang at least somewhat hollow, a product of his past. Ortiz would have to prove himself in the ring, which is exactly what he did.
Ortiz took the fight to Berto (27-1, 21 KOs) from the beginning and almost never let up. Berto, as brave as Ortiz was, fired back throughout the fight but was never able to fully cope with the challenger’s relentless pressure and hard, accurate punches.
The knockdowns started almost immediately, Ortiz sending Berto down to one knee – and hurting him — with a combination in the first round. Berto returned the favor in the second with a right to the chin, forcing Ortiz to touch the canvas with his glove.
The brawl was on.
Ortiz won the next three rounds by continuing to fire ill-intended shots at a remarkable rate, many of which landed. Again, Berto punched back but he simply couldn’t keep pace.
Then, in the sixth round, came a moment that would determine once and for all what Ortiz was made of. He dropped his left hand and Berto landed huge right about two minutes into the round, putting Ortiz on his back and temporarily altering his consciousness.
Remember, it was in the sixth round of his war with Maidana that Ortiz decided to stop fighting. What would happen this time?
This time Ortiz would not only survive but, as if saying in spite of shaky legs “nothing is going to stop me,” he put Berto down with a short left with a few seconds remaining in the round.
There was no quit in Ortiz on this day.
Merchant asked him after the fight whether this finally puts the disaster against Maidana to rest. He wouldn’t make that presumption, though, so embittered is he over past criticism.
“I can’t even answer you,” he said. “As a matter of fact, who knows, maybe it will be something along the lines that Berto was not at Victor’s level. You know how the media goes.”
Ortiz continued to make a big statement to the media and everyone else by controlling the remainder of the fight as he had most of the first six rounds, pounding Berto inside with hard shots to the body and head as Berto failed to keep up.
The new titleholder lost a point in the 10th round for hitting behind the head but, at that point, it didn’t matter. He had built too big a lead. Only a knockout could prevent him from winning and he had already taken Berto’s best shots.
He won by scores of 115-110, 114-112 and 114-111, a clear victory in a grueling fight.
When the decision was announced, Ortiz must’ve had a sensation of both joy and relief. He had been billed several years ago as the next Oscar De La Hoya, the future Hall of Famer and Ortiz’s promoter.
And he could never live up to that comparison, first falling to Maidana and then fighting to a draw with Lamont Peterson that raised more questions about his constitution.
Finally, though, the gifted 24-year-old from the Midwest who relocated to Southern California used his undeniable skills and every ounce of his courage to fight like a champion from the opening bell to the closing bell, which many believed he would never do.
And he did against one of the more-respected fighters in or around the weight class, one who also was hungry to take the next step in his career.
Now Ortiz has to be ranked behind only Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. among the best welterweights in the world and a major player on the world boxing scene.
Victor Ortiz? The same Victor Ortiz who quit against Marcos Maidana? Believe it.
Photos / Emily Harney-FightWireImages