LOS ANGELES – Recent history of both Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto suggests that the welterweight contenders may have to grapple with their own self doubts before they battle it out in their Showtime-televised rematch at Staples Center on June 23.
Ortiz won their thrilling first bout, THE RING’s Fight of the Year for 2011, but he suffered a bizarre knockout at the savvy hands of Floyd Mayweather in his very next bout. Now Ortiz faces Berto again in the downtown arena where he suffered the most humbling defeat of his career, his punishing sixth-round stoppage loss to Marcos Maidana.
Berto, who traded knockdowns with Ortiz (both were down twice) before fading down the stretch to a close unanimous decision loss last April, rebounded with a fifth-round TKO of IBF titleholder Jan Zaveck. He vacated his new title in order to face Ortiz again. However, the 28-year-old Floridian sustained a torn biceps muscle on his left arm while training that postponed the anticipated rematch from February 11 in Las Vegas to June 23.
Both Ortiz and Berto were on hand to announce the new date and venue to the Southern California boxing media at a recent press conference held at Staples Center. The media members asked the same basic questions:
Will Ortiz’s mind be beleaguered with the demons of Maidana and Mayweather? Will Berto lack his usual confidence in facing the only man to beat him as a pro? Will he be able to work his left jab and hook – underused punches in the first bout – as much and as hard as he needs to given the recent injury?
Both young contenders assured the press that they enter their rematch with clear heads and healthy bodies. However, when they faced each other during the customary staredown pose for the photographers, they traded verbal jabs in an effort to attack – or perhaps test – the other’s confidence.
“He told me ‘You remember what I did to you in the last fight, don’t you?’” said Ortiz, when asked about their brief-but-intense face-to-face conversation. “I told him, ‘Yeah, I beat you and I’m going to do it again.’ He tried to tell me that I got lucky. I told him that I’d get lucky again. Then he tried to throw Floyd in there. I told him ‘Keep it between you and me. This is between us. Don’t bring up Floyd or anyone else.’”
Of course, the media brought up both Mayweather’s and Maidana’s names numerous times when interviewing Ortiz. He didn’t mind mention of Maidana, who got up from three knockdowns and overwhelmed him in June of 2009. That’s old news to Ortiz, who has fought seven times since.
“It doesn’t bother me at all to be fighting in the same arena where Maidana beat me,” said the 25-year-old Kansas native. “I fought at Staples after the Maidana fight when I knocked out Vivian Harris (in September of 2010). It wasn’t a main event like the Berto fight will be, but to be honest, I never think about where I’m fighting and I see all of my fights as main events.”
There are main events and then there are “mega events,” which is what Ortiz’s bout with Mayweather last September was. Most observers believe Ortiz, who was frustrated by future hall of famer and resorted to blatant headbutts in the fourth round, couldn’t handle the pressure and enormity of the fight.
Ortiz said he’d like another shot at Mayweather, who knocked him out with a right cross shortly after he had been penalized a point by referee Joe Cortez (and while he was foolishly still trying to apologize for the foul).
He believes he’ll be in position for that rematch once he wins the return bout that’s in front of him. Ortiz, who maintains that he beat Berto in one-sided fashion, says he has no doubt that he’ll win on June 23. He questions if Berto has as much self-belief as he does.
“He tries to act confident when he talks to the media but he can’t hide his emotions from me,” Ortiz said. “I see in doubt in his eyes. He’s a great fighter. I don’t deny that. But he’s unsure of himself in this situation. He’s not sure what he’s doing here and he’s not sure about what’s going to happen when we step into the ring again.”
Berto says he’s pretty sure Ortiz has a screw loose.
“He’s not living in reality,” said Berto, who claims his left arm feels stronger – thanks to two months of daily rehab – than it did before the biceps injury.
“It’s like everybody says, Victor is a little off, mentally. He’s a crazy type of guy. He changes from one minute to the next. Once minute he’s happy, the next he’s angry. The guy gets knocked on his ass by Mayweather and he gets up smiling. That’s just how he is. He doesn’t bug me.
“He knows our first fight wasn’t one-sided. Everybody saw the fight. You all know it was close, and he knows it.”
Showtime, which outbid HBO for the rematch, is literally banking on their second fight being close – and just as exciting as the first bout.
Most fans believe the network, which will chronicle the build up to the rematch with three episodes of Fight Camp 360 (debuting on June 13), made a safe pick.
With the junior welterweight fight between hard-punching contender Lucas Matthysse and classy former three-division beltholder Humberto Soto added as the televised co-feature to Ortiz-Berto, there’s no doubt the June 23 show is worth tuning into.
Photos / Carlos Delgado – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions