Victor Ortiz: Ortiz needs to start working on thank you cards to all of those who dismissed him as gutless. Of course, the courage was always there regardless of his decision to opt out of a war against Marcos Maidana in 2009. Anyone who steps through the ropes to do battle is brave. The critics simply created a monster by suggesting that Ortiz didn’t have the cojones to become an elite fighter, fuel to the fire Oritz revealed in stunning fashion against unbeaten welterweight titleholder Andre Berto on Saturday night on HBO. Ortiz fought with Arutro Gatti-like ferocity, taking one punishing blow in order to deliver two or three of his own in a fight-of-the-year candidate that saw both fighters go down twice. And, in the end, he emerged with his first major title and – finally – the respect of the boxing world. The Maidana disaster occurred less than two years ago but now seems like ancient history. Ortiz the warrior has arrived.
Andre Berto: Berto ran into the wrong fighter at the wrong time. The now-former titleholder also was brave and effective, putting Ortiz down twice – once with a pulverizing right — and landing dozens of other power punches that might’ve destroyed a lesser opponent. Ortiz was just too determined to be denied regardless of what Berto threw at him, the end result being Berto’s first loss and a blow to his image. Indeed, he failed the biggest test of his career. To his credit, the Floridian handled the setback with grace. He said simply that he wasn’t himself and that he would be back. He apparently injured his right hand in the second round but didn’t use it as an excuse. That’s class. No one knows how Berto will respond to this setback but, after the courage he showed in the fight and his grace afterward, many people will be rooting for him.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Orlando Salido: The first question I had after watching the Mexican slugger beat up previously unbeaten Juan Manuel Lopez was: “How the hell did this guy lose 11 fights?” Well, he turned pro at 15 and was 8-6-1 in his first 15 fights. He learned, though. And eventually he built himself into a world titleholder, a distinction the now-30-year-old earned only last year. He has had trouble against elite boxer-punchers, losing one-sided decisions to Juan Manuel Marquez and Yuriorkis Gamboa, but has fared well against less-talented boxers. Such as Lopez. An opponent willing to engage Salido – even an opponent as accomplished as Lopez – is tailor made for the new titleholder, whose combination of punching power and good chin can be lethal. The result? Salido delivered a fearful and shocking beating against one of the best fighters in the world, lifting himself to a new level in the process.
BIGGEST LOSER II
Juan Manuel Lopez: True warriors live by landing powerful punches … and die by taking them. Lopez has always taken great risks to please the fans, one reason he had become so popular. He was bound to fall at some point. And Salido was exactly the type of fighter to get that done – good boxer, experienced, good chin, a lot of power. Lopez was as fierce as ever, taking dozens of punishing blows to deliver his own in a typically compelling war. He just ran into an opponent who was better at that dangerous game, one who figured out that Lopez couldn’t avoid his right and kept throwing it. Lopez’s first loss isn’t a death knell. He’s still the warrior who stepped into the ring on Saturday night. Promoter Bob Arum reportedly already is working on a rematch. And don’t be surprised if Lopez wins the next time. He just needs to figure out how to avoid that big right.
Khan-McCloskey: Paul McCloskey demonstrated some slick defensive skills in his sixth-round technical-decision loss to Amir Khan on Saturday in Manchester, England. He was extremely difficult for Khan to hit cleanly. The Irishman didn’t mount much of an offensive attack, though, leaving him with almost no chance to win the fight. He said afterward that he believed Khan was getting tired and that he would’ve rallied to win. Rubbish. Khan was too good for him, which is why he had won all six rounds on all three cards when the fight was stopped because of a cut above McCloskey’s left eye. Khan thus cleared the last obstacle between him and Timothy Bradley, with whom he has an agreement in principal to meet on July 23 to determine the best junior welterweight in the world. Can’t wait. McCloskey? Talented boxer. Needs to throw more punches.
Made by various officials on Saturday: Let’s start in England. The cut on the side of McCloskey’s left eyebrow was bad but he should’ve have allowed to finish the round and see what his cut man could do with the gash. Countless fighters with worse cuts have been allowed to continue. The performance of referee Mike Ortega in the Berto-Ortiz fight was infuriating. He injected himself too much into the action. He missed the first knockdown. And I don’t agree with his point deduction. Ortiz is bound to hit Berto behind the head if he lowers it or turns away, as occurred several times. That happens all the time in the heat of action. And, finally, the Lopez-Salido stoppage certainly wasn’t horrible because Lopez was hurt but it was questionable. Lopez was still fighting back when referee Roberto Ramirez stopped it. I might’ve given him a little more time. I don’t want to be too hard on Ramirez, though. Lopez probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway.
BEST BACK-TO-BACK WEEKENDS
The past two: I don’t remember back-to-back weekends that provided more drama and action than the last two. Here’s a recap. Last week: Erik Morales turns back the clock in an unforgettable loss to Marcos Maidana, Robert Guerrero has a break-out performance against always-tough Michael Katsidis, unknown Nobuhiro Ishida stops unbeaten James Kirkland in one round, Marco Antonio Rubio stuns also-undefeated David Lemieux and a ShoBox card gave us several upsets. This week: Ortiz has his break-out performance in a fight-of-the-year candidate and a fierce Salido stops one of the sport’s biggest stars in a wild slugfest. Does it get better than this? Next up is the bantamweight tournament Saturday on Showtime, with two more compelling matchups – Joseph Agbeko-Abner Mares and Vic Darchinyan-Yonnhy Perez. This is a heady time for boxing. Let’s continue to enjoy.
Ruslan Provodnikov: The rugged U.S.-based Russian is an intriguing prospect. It’s difficult to believe that he is first learning how to throw a jab and move his head properly, lessons he’s learning under new trainer Buddy McGirt. After all, the man had more than 100 amateur fights. The relatively raw talent is obvious, though. The hard, straight punches. The warrior mentality. The physical strength. The good chin. He broke down and then knocked out a pretty good fighter in Ivan Popoca on Friday Night Fights with all the above, as well as a few jabs thrown in. He seems to have renewed confidence and determination after he was outpointed by Mauricio Herrera on ESPN2 in January. Provodnikov is a work in progress but the foundation is there. I won’t be surprised if he wins a major title one day.
Lou DiBella, Berto’s promoter: “Yesterday would have been the 39th birthday of Arturo Gatti. Arturo Gatti would have been very pleased (with) the fight tonight.”