Victor Ortiz put on a star-making performance on Saturday night, taking the fight to Andre Berto and snatching his WBC welterweight belt in the process. He dispelled many doubts about his courage and heart, taking numerous big shots from Berto and marching forward all night.
Ortiz was put on the canvas twice, and hurt badly in the sixth round. He was also the victim of an unfortunate point deduction later in the fight: in my opinion, when a fighter like Berto constantly ducks and holds, he is liable to be caught with incidental shots to the head in a typical exchange, particularly when his opponent is as aggressive as Ortiz was.
Nonetheless, Ortiz rallied to win a clear-cut decision victory (despite ESPN scribe Dan Rafael tweeting that he, and "other writers" scored the fight narrowly for Berto—whaaaa...?!).
Ortiz was crowd-pleasing, acting as the aggressor from the opening bell, stunning Berto early in the first round with a series of head shots that forced the champ to take a knee. Earlier in the round, Ortiz was also unfairly not credited on what looked to be a legitimate knockdown.
He stayed on track and did exactly what he needed to do, never allowing the talented Berto to settle into a groove. Thank Zeus the judges didn't agree with Rafael and his fellow "writers at ringside." Had Ortiz not been awarded the decision, it would have been a true outrage, and made Berto's undefeated record illegitimate.
Ortiz threw more punches, landed more punches and clearly did the most damage. He also walked through some of Berto's best shots throughout the fight, and when he was hurt badly with less than 30 seconds left in the sixth, he bobbed, weaved and held his way to safety, then caught the attacking Berto with a clean shot to the jaw, putting the champ down before the bell to cap off a thrilling round-of-the-year.
This was a hugely compelling performance from Ortiz, who now emerges as a strong candidate for many intriguing bouts.
Who should Victor Ortiz fight next?
Before looking ahead to Victor's future, one other quick thought. Berto's brother chirping away in the corner, at times yelling and cursing in Andre's ear while trainer Tony Morgan sought to calm his fighter during turbulent times was distracting and completely counter-productive.
One voice in the corner, that's a basic rule. If he wanted his brother to win, which he obviously did, he needed to pipe down and let Tony Morgan, a very good corner man, do his job. Morgan was obviously reluctant to take charge of the situation and tell the guy to shut up, which is understandable as intervening in family relationships is awkward.
But when he was telling Berto to settle down and box, his brother was telling him to go for the knockout, conflicting strategies that could only rattle a wounded fighter trying to regain his focus.
Victor Ortiz, meanwhile, has quite a few good matchups on the table. Let's rule out the inevitable Pacquiao talk, as Golden Boy and Top Rank have shown no signs of putting a detente to their ongoing cold war. Floyd Mayweather, shining his spectacular grin last night at ringside, is a complete mystery, but we can assume he would want no part of Ortiz at this juncture.
If he wants a dangerous fight, he'll fight Pacquiao for a lot more money than a guy who just tore apart the supposed next-best in the division. That leaves at least two very compelling options.
I would love to see Victor get back in the ring with his biggest nemesis, Marcos Maidana. That is the only way to completely exorcise the demons of his notorious meltdown. We all know it would be an action-packed, bloody affair, and Ortiz should have all the motivation in the world to stomp Maidana after the public embarrassment surrounding his exit from their previous encounter.
If Maidana/Morales II is not made, this would, in my opinion, be the next best fight for both fighters. But it would have to happen at welterweight. I think Victor clearly showed he belongs in that division. If Maidana is willing to come up, and that crazy brawler seems game for anything, this fight should be made, while both fighters' stocks are on the rise.
If Ortiz can't get a huge name or Maidana/Berto, who's the best opponent?
The other option is an immediate rematch with Berto. It was a very close fight. I thought Ortiz clearly won, but there were several close rounds. It was action-packed and exciting. And this loss has to light a fire under Berto. A year ago, he could have fought Mosley. He was on the shortlist for Pacquiao.
Now his best fight is a rematch with Ortiz? Make no mistake, this was a huge setback, and one that Berto will want to avenge and erase as soon as possible. Ortiz has a lot less to gain from a rematch, but he can further improve his stock if he decisively thumps Berto a second time. A rematch would be sizzling, no question, but does Victor want to go into another war this soon with a guy who will be incredibly fired up to even the score?
And what if Maidana/Morales II goes forward, and the Ortiz team decides to pass on the Berto fight right away and go for something a bit softer? Then I would suggest, bear with me, Ortiz take on either Paully Malignaggi (an in-house GB fight) or undefeated contender Mike Jones.
Malignaggi's antics are always entertaining, and Ortiz brings enough aggression you would think Paully would be forced to exchange. It's not a great fight, but it's a decent "soft" fight coming off a violent "big" fight.
Mike Jones is another slick, talented boxer a la Lamont Peterson, and this would give Ortiz a chance to knock off a top-10 contender in the division, give another guy his first loss and work on the issues that let Peterson get back into that fight in the late rounds.
Or Victor can always do the standard welterweight Joshua Clottey test, if he's ready to come back.
While I would prefer the stark drama and compelling subplots of a Berto or Maidana rematch, there are other decent, lesser fights, that Ortiz will have to consider. In any case, those options are a lot better than what he had six months ago.
Much as in his heartbreaking childhood, nothing was given to Victor Ortiz last night. He went out and seized the opportunity by the throat, and there's nowhere to look but up for Vicious Victor Ortiz. As a boxing fan, and an Ortiz fan, I couldn't be happier for the guy.