Victor Ortiz knows a thing or two about adversity. He's been facing it since he was a child growing up in Garden City, Kan., the son of an alcoholic father and a mother who abandoned the family.
Shortly after his mother left, he took up the sport of boxing, and not long after that, his father exited his life as well, leaving him and his siblings to the Kansas foster care system.
Ortiz has been dodging punches—both literal and figurative—since a very early age, and given all he's had to overcome, he's grown tired of people questioning his toughness and commitment to boxing, and he feels that he still has something to prove.
And this might just be his last shot to do it.
"I'm just hitting my prime. I'm 26 [years old]. I didn't get to live my championship [the WBC Welterweight Championship] or fulfill my championship, so at this point in time, there's a lot I have to do still in this game to be happy and to be satisfied," Ortiz told Bleacher Report.
"I'm not satisfied where I'm at in my career in boxing. There's still many championships to capture."
But before he can even think of competing for titles again, Ortiz needs to get by veteran former welterweight champion Luis Collazo on Thursday night at the Barclays Center. The match would seem to be the definition of a crossroads fight for both men, and the WBA International Welterweight Championship is on the line, but Ortiz says he isn't worried.
"It's not a make-or-break fight for me," Ortiz said.
"I mean, what do I have to lose? Nothing. I'm still young, I'm still good. But I'm not there to take a defeat. I'm there to take a victory home with me—end of story."
For Collazo, who won the WBA Welterweight Championship in 2005, the hour is definitely getting late, and he understands that, given the depth of the 147-pound division, he'll need to perform well in this fight to get back into the title picture.
But he says he's not worried about his age—he'll be 33 in April—and that in today's boxing world, experience often trumps youth.
"There's a lot of fighters now who are up there in age and shining like they're young," Collazo told Bleacher Report.
"Marquez, Pacquiao still. You have Maidana who just beat Broner. Experience is a beautiful thing. Youth these days doesn't mean nothing. It's how you take care of yourself out of the ring and how you prepare yourself."
Collazo has heard a lot about what his opponent will bring to the ring on Thursday night, but he's not terribly concerned. He's been in the ring with some of the best in the business, and he's not one to be intimidated.
He's just focused on fighting his fight and letting his skills do the talking.
"I'm gonna bring it. I'm gonna box. I'm just gonna go in there and do what I do best," Collazo said.
"A lot of people say he can punch. So what? I fought Ricky Hatton. He could punch. I fought Shane Mosley. He could punch. I fought Andre Berto. He could punch. It doesn't matter. You can punch as hard as you want, but if you can't catch nothing, then what? That punch isn't going to do anything for you."
Ortiz can definitely punch—with 22 knockouts among his 29 victories—but in the past, fairly or unfairly depending on your viewpoint, he's been criticized for being less than all-in when it comes to his commitment to boxing.
That chorus swelled in the wake of his stunning loss to Josesito Lopez in June 2012.
Way ahead on the scorecards, and with a potentially huge fight against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on the line, Ortiz was forced to pull out of the fight after suffering a broken jaw. Many questioned the decision—and his toughness, which is something he says he understands but disagrees with.
In his view, maintaining your health and living to fight another day are primary.
"Anytime my jaw is going to be hanging for five rounds getting hit, I may throw in the towel," Ortiz said.
"Any time my eye is gashed wide open and the other is closed, hey, I think it's wise to look to the coaches, look to the doctors and take their advice."
Ortiz doesn't worry about the criticism. He's very comfortable with who he is as a person and as a fighter, and he takes each and every experience, good and bad, as a learning opportunity.
It's what motivated him to quickly get back into the gym after the Lopez loss and to ensure he stayed on the top of his game with other opportunities on the horizon.
"About two weeks after my jaw broke, I was in wires and back at the gym, hitting the punching bag, going over things. I never left the gym," Ortiz said.
"I take everything and learn from it. I'll keep holding my head up high and work hard to make sure there's a better tomorrow."
Like Ortiz, Collazo has also encountered his share of trials and tribulations inside a boxing ring.
In two of his highest-profile bouts—a title defense against Hatton and a title challenge against Berto—he's come up just short in decisions that were controversial.
Those are the type of experiences that can be eye-openers for a fighter. The frustration of feeling that you did your best, did your job, and it just wasn't good enough in the eyes of the judges can change a fighter. And it did for Collazo, but he maintains it was good for him.
"I think it changed me for the better. Those experiences made me mentally and physically stronger as a fighter. Going through that, you don't wanna go through that again," Collazo said.
"It's a lesson learned—not to leave it that close for the judges, and not to go out there and perform just for the people, but perform for yourself, do what you do best. You just live and learn."
Collazo, who is a Brooklyn native and will be making his third appearance at the Barclays Center, will be carrying one potentially big advantage into the fight.
He'll be getting a chance to main event a card in his hometown, with his fans and friends in attendance and with an overwhelming desire to send the crowd home happy. It's a big deal for him, and it's an opportunity he's very grateful for.
"It's one of the best feelings in the world. These are the people you grew up with. To [have them] come out and support you, and to be having those people there screaming your name out, it's an amazing feeling," Collazo said.
"I've fought there [Barclays] several times as an undercard, but now to headline it, to actually just see people come out to support me, is a beautiful thing."
Ortiz, who has fought in hostile environments before, will need to do his best to keep the crowd out of the fight. He's the favorite coming in, but he won't find a ton of friends inside the arena, and he'll be facing an opponent who's highly motivated.
It's a situation he says isn't new to him and one he had to overcome in order to lift his first world title with a victory over Berto.
"It won't be a first. I did it with Andre Berto," Ortiz said.
"The difference is Andre Berto was undefeated. I had no chance of beating him whatsoever. I'm aware that Luis is coming. He's coming hungry, he's coming strong, he's coming to take his spot."
Of bigger concern for Ortiz is the possibility that a long layoff—he'll have been out of the ring for more than 19 months by fight night—could leave him rusty. He's only boxed 13 rounds in the past two years and change, and that could leave him a tad out of practice.
But after a good training camp and some good rounds with high-quality sparring partners, Ortiz feels that he's more than ready and won't have any issues.
"I don't think so. I've done everything possible. I've obeyed my coaches day in and day out. I've hired some of the best sparring partners out there, some top contenders in the boxing world. So at this point in time, January 30 will be the truth," Ortiz said.
Collazo, for his part, isn't concerned with how rusty or not his foe will be.
"Maybe. I'm gonna go in there and do what I do. It doesn't matter how long he's been out. But he better be ready on January 30 because it's not going to be a walk in the park," he said.
This much is clear: When the dust settles on fight night, one man will have a new lease on life, while the other will fall way back in line in a deep and talented welterweight division.
Ortiz, for all his recent struggles in the ring, remains one of the most confident fighters around. For him, this is just step one of a larger plan.
What's next, should he get this win?
"I'll be pound-for-pound. There's no doubt in my mind," Ortiz said.
"I'm cleaning out the division. I'm cleaning out the division and then I'm cleaning out 154."
That much remains to be seen, but if he can't get by Collazo, he might not get another chance.
Kevin McRae is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.
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