There are few things in sports that can hijack your undivided attention more quickly or easily than drama inside a boxing ring. It is exhilarating, captivating, and causes one's blood to rush.
The announcers' voice heightens, the crowd rises to its feet and fills the arena with the swelled noise of excitement, and your heart begins to beat with anticipation.
To me, the best of these moments occur when one man possesses the momentum and has his opponent in trouble, and it appears that a fight is nearing its final stages—when it looks like the referee could step in at any second to save a fighter from further abuse (Pacquiao-De la Hoya), when it looks like someone might not survive an early round (Pacquiao-Hatton), whenever a fighter senses he has his man and goes in for the kill (Mosley-Margarito), etc.
These scenarios can come in a variety of ways. Another way to get me hooked? When two guys exchange knockdowns within mere seconds of each other.
That's what happened during the first round of the Victor Ortiz-Marcos Rena Maidana clash that aired on HBO from the Staples Center on Saturday night.
I missed the initial broadcast and figured I would watch the second showing half-heartedly, at the same time I was resuming construction of my more than year long ongoing drawing of Anton Chigurh.
The first knockdown, a hard right hand by Ortiz that dropped Maidana along the ropes, caught the majority of my attention, and may have caused me to lose grip of my pencil.
The ensuing knockdown, a vicious straight right by Maidana delivered immediately following his taking of the mandatory eight count left me, as a fan, no choice but to close the cover of my 18"x24" sketchbook, put it in its resting place and take in the fireworks.
There were more explosions in the second round. Ortiz knocked Maidana down twice. Following the first, commentator Manny Steward remarked that it seemed to give Maidana a quitters disposition.
But he would fight on, however discouraged he appeared, both heavy handed men throwing defense to the wayside in your classic slugfest, as I predicted in my mind how the fight would be determined: One man either scoring a knockout or getting knocked out, himself.
This outcome seemed not only inevitable, but just a matter of time, as there had been four knockdowns, both men were considerably hard punchers, and neither one of them seemed particularly concerned with protecting themselves.
Then, it happened. Maidana had a huge fifth round, using a big right hand to open up a dangerous cut over Ortiz's right eye in the process.
Following the round Ortiz's corner threatened to stop the fight if he kept leaving his hands down. He seemed badly buzzed and was asked if he wanted the fight to be stopped—to which he was noncommittal—and it looked as though the fight could be over.
When the sixth began Maidana jumped all over him, beating and chasing him into a corner and knocking him down with a barrage of punches. This seemed to seal the deal in Ortiz's mind.
He was now swelling badly under his left eye, and the referee had the ringside physician take a look at the cut. The doctor decided that it was too bad to continue, and the bout was called to a halt, much to Ortiz's total contentment with the outcome, as it became conclusive that he was done mentally and wanted nothing more to do with the match.
Ironically, in the pre-fight lead-up of the telecast HBO showed a piece about Ortiz's difficult youth (he lived in a trailer home and he and his siblings were abandoned by his parents) and resiliency.
Max Kellerman stated that there were no questions about Ortiz's heart and Steward made a point of repeatedly touting the character of both fighters, birthed by their troubling lives.
But only one man showed character on this night: The Argentinean underdog Maidana, outgunned and fighting in front of his opponents hometown crowd but making the stand anyway, while Ortiz gave up in a startling display of cowardice.
"Vicious" Victor was thought to be a rising name and potential superstar, a handsome and likable young man handpicked by Oscar De la Hoya to be the fresh-faced poster boy of Golden Boy Promotions. That may all change now, as Kellerman said after the fight Ortiz may have just made the kind of mistake he will live to regret.
Although I hope I am being completely fair to Victor. He is a pup, and as Max said he made a decision in a rough moment, and of course young people make bad decisions.
In their post-fight conversation Ortiz admitted to being overwhelmed by the L.A. crowd that was so behind him, and this was the first event he has headlined.
Furthermore, I wonder if he was truly troubled by something greater—he told Max that he didn't want to go out on his shield, that he was young and didn't think he should be taking that kind of beating, and that he wants to be able to speak well when he's older.
Excuse me but, huh? Where did that come from? What happened to the hardened young man, and what kind of fighter talks like that?
I understand his rationale, it's the same reasoning that keeps me from going into boxing. But I don't understand it coming from Ortiz, who was, before this night, arguably the hottest young prospect in the game and participant in 26 professional fights. Very weird.
Ortiz was a quitter tonight, that's a fact, but there may be more to the story than that. I can only hope he is/was not experiencing something more pressing.
If he really wants to continue with boxing, I wish him success with that. If he does, then I hope people are understanding, and that he is given a pass as a young person who made a mistake, and that he is allowed another opportunity to be a main attraction.
Maybe one day what happened to him Saturday night will add to his narrative as a great fighter.
If he doesn't want to further pursue this career, then that is fine, too. All I know is that after the fight he said, "I have a lot of thinking to do," and it was the truest line spoken on the night and possibly the most concrete idea we'll take away from it.