I'm from Ojai, Calif., just up Highway 33 from Oxnard. Oxnard is an agricultural town, and populated mostly with Latinos who follow the harvesting season. As such, it's a rough town. Although not as bad as East Los Angeles, it definitely has its share of poverty and gangs.
There's a famous, some would say notorious, boxing gym in the heart of Oxnard called "La Colonial."
Ferocious Fernando Vargas trained at La Colonial. So does Victor Ortiz.
La Colonial is famous for turning out brash and cocky fighters. They talk a lot of smack and are pretty disrespectful towards their opponents.
Victor Ortiz is the exception to the rule.
He's congenial and soft spoken and seems to be a genuinely good guy.
That might have something to do with the fact that Ortiz spent much of his life in Kansas with his two siblings. The three of them had been abandoned by their mother when Victor was seven and by his father when he was 13. Bouncing around the Kansas foster care system, Ortiz and his younger brother finally landed in Colorado to live with his older sister.
Boxing, literally, saved his life.
In Colorado, Ortiz was going down the path of drugs and gangs when a boxer named Robert Garcia noticed the young Ortiz. Garcia's father trained Fernando Vargas in California. When the father heard of the talented young Ortiz, he offered to move Ortiz to California and train him under the condition he give up the gang life.
Ortiz happily accepted and has been terrorizing other boxers ever since.
He turned professional in 2004 and easily won his first seven fights. He was cruising to an eighth win when he was controversially disqualified for hitting Corey Alarcon while the referee was warning both fighters for clinching. Ortiz had already knocked down Alarcon and was dominating the fight.
Ortiz went on a 17-1 streak and building his record to 24-1-1. He was being touted as the next darling of the sport and being featured on HBO. He was good looking, articulate, respectful, and headed for glory.
He signed with Golden Boy and Oscar De La Hoya picked him for stardom.
Enter Marcos Maidana of Argentina.
Maidana was an impressive 24-1 with 23 knockouts. He'd lost his last fight against Andrily Kotelnik and, perhaps wrongfully, was thought to be a fight that Ortiz could win.
Perhaps nobody in Ortiz's camp watched tape of Maidana's previous 24 fights? He was a brawler and aggressive and very, very strong.
Too strong for Ortiz, as it would turn out.
Both fighters hit the deck in the first round, and then went toe to toe for five rounds, with Maidana hitting the deck twice more in the second. He hit Ortiz with some massive shots in the sixth and finally ended the fight.
Ortiz was devastated.
Not only had he suffered the first knockout of his career, it had happened in his hometown and in front of a massive crowd at Staples Center.
He took some time off and then beat-up on a couple of journeymen named Antonio Diaz and Hector Alattore. A couple of fights to regain his confidence and get his mojo.
On Saturday night comes his first real test since the Maidana loss.
Ortiz is stepping in with Nate Campbell, some would say the second best light welterweight in the world behind Timothy Bradley.
In fact, Campbell had a NC against Bradley back in August.
At 38, he's old for a fighter, but age is seemingly just a number in today's world. Campbell has looked good in his past few bouts including a win over Ali Funeka and Juan Diaz.
Quite frankly, I'm surprised Ortiz would agree to a fight with Campbell this soon after his loss to Maidana. Campbell is crafty, smart, and in some ways a lighter version of Bernard Hopkins.
It's not going to be an easy fight for Ortiz.
It could either launch him back on the path to glory or knock him down a few pegs similar to what's happened with Juan Diaz after his three losses.
Ortiz has said the crowd and lights flustered him in his fight with Maidana and he's more focused and prepared for Campbell.
He better hope so.
The fight is being held at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas, not exactly the local boy's club in Oxnard.
I wish Ortiz the best. He's a dynamic young fighter who will have a real test on Saturday night. I hope he passes. He deserves it after the struggles he's had to endure.