Sports fans: It took over two years but you finally got what you wanted.
Floyd Mayweather is returning to the ring this fall to challenge an explosive, speedy, powerful, in-his-prime, left-handed welterweight.
“Finally, a fight against Manny Pacquiao!” you say? No, not quite—not yet at least.
Mayweather’s opponent is 24-year-old “Vicious” Victor Ortiz, a dangerous southpaw willing to comply with USADA Olympic-style drug testing.
Ok, so it is not exactly what the world wanted—but it is close.
Ortiz is a significant adversary—the most deserving challenger that Mayweather or Pacquiao has fought since Mayweather dismantled Shane Mosley, last year. In his last fight, this past April, Ortiz trounced undefeated Andre Berto for the WBC Welterweight championship in a sensational Fight of the Year candidate.
He is Ring Magazine and Dan Rafael’s No. 2 ranked welterweight behind Pacquiao. With Pacquiao already scheduled to face 38-year-old lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez in November, Ortiz is Mayweather’s most logical dance partner.
The boxing industry and fans have reacted favorably to this fight. Mayweather deserves to be commended for returning against a hungry, young knockout artist like Ortiz.
And with Mayweather already expected to earn the lion’s share of the purse—sources insist that Mayweather’s financial guarantee is $40 million, compared to Ortiz’s $2 million—you can be sure that Ortiz is not merely showing up for an easy paycheck. He is headed to Las Vegas to win, which is far more than could be said about Pacquiao’s most recent opponent.
The general sports public has not reacted as positively. Mayweather-Pacquiao is a carrot that has been dangled in front of their noses long enough. They are ready for the payoff.
Believe me, we all are.
But until the fight happens—if it ever does—it is pointless for the sport to be hamstrung by failed negotiations. Not one Mayweather or Pacquiao story leading up to their respective fights will go without mention of the other.
This is unfair to game opposition like Ortiz, whose story of redemption will be overlooked by the fact that his name is not Pacquiao.
Golden Boy Promotions signed Ortiz to inherit Oscar De La Hoya’s throne as the company’s crowned jewel. When De La Hoya saw this charismatic, good-looking, bilingual, Mexican-American, with skills and power to boot, he saw himself—and boatloads of dollars.
The company secured him dates on HBO, where he fought regularly. As he wiped out the competition set in front of him, the De La Hoya comparisons grew larger.
Ortiz was 22 years old and he was boxing’s next star. His coronation was set to take place June 29, 2009 against Marcos Maidana, a hard-hitting Argentinean who lacked Ortiz’s pure boxing skills.
Ortiz and Maidana went to war in a classic "Boxing After Dark" main event. Ortiz knocked Maidana down three times; Maidana knocked Ortiz down twice. But during the sixth round, Ortiz quit. He told Max Kellerman in his post-fight interview, “I do not deserve to get beat up like that.”
In boxing, the ring has a funny way of revealing the truth. Stars are not built; they are revealed.
And that was the end of “Vicious” Victor Ortiz—or so we thought.
Ortiz spent the next 18 months trying to shed the scarlet “quitter” letter that he earned that night. But boxing fans are a fickle bunch. We write fighters off at age 22 and label them heartless and expect powerful monsters like Andre Berto to make quick work of them en route to their own eventual super-stardom.
Did I mention that the ring has a funny way of revealing the truth?
Ortiz altered the Berto script, just as Maidana once altered his own. He showed tremendous heart, picking himself off the canvas twice to hand Berto, the best welterweight not named Mayweather or Pacquiao, his first loss. And now he’s fighting Floyd Mayweather, Jr. for a place atop pound-for-pound lists everywhere.
Ortiz earned his opportunity against Mayweather. If he wins, boxing’s next star will be born. It may not be the path that Golden Boy once envisioned, but hey, that’s boxing.
There are fights created to make money and there are fights created to make fights. Mayweather-Ortiz kills both birds with one stone.
So, will Ortiz win?
Well, I don’t pick against Floyd Mayweather, Jr., so I highly doubt it.
But I don’t know for a fact. And that’s far more than I can say about Pacquiao’s last four opponents.