Floyd Mayweather hasn't been in a Fight of the Year caliber bout since....well, ever. He's had some close fights, twice against Jose Luis Castillo, and some entertaining ones, Zab Judah, Ricky Hatton and Diego Corrales come to mind. The fights have never reached FOTY status because there's usually not enough action and they generally evolve into one-sided clinics in the late rounds.
On September 17, Floyd Mayweather returns from his sixteen month hiatus to face Victor Ortiz, a young fighter coming off the biggest win of his career. Ortiz is no stranger to FOTY candidates, with the multiple knockdown slugfest against Andre Berto as his most recent action-packed fight. A bloodbath against Marcos Maidana two years ago featured five knockdowns and a stoppage, the infamous "quit-job" some critics labeled Ortiz's unwillingness to continue. Those same critics, according to Ortiz, have fueled and motivated him as he's soared near the top of the welterweight division after the Berto victory.
Opinions on this fight are varied. Some predict Ortiz's youth, aggression, power and athleticism could trouble this latest incarnation of Mayweather, over a year removed from his last fight and not getting any younger. Note that I said "could trouble" because I haven't seen many people going out on the full limb and declare that Ortiz "will win". The consensus seems to be (and the 7-1 Vegas odds are telling) that Mayweather's efficient, counter-punching style and ring generalship will overwhelm the inexperienced, defensively-flawed Ortiz.
The fight has one big thing going for it. The Event. It's the headliner of the biggest pay-per-view of the year, a card that's shaping up to be great, by the way. Mayweather, as he's gotten older and taken less fights, always has a certain degree of mystery to his game: at some point he has to lose a step...but when will that be? Will anyone be able to get through on his sterling defense and land a clean shot, wobble him? The reaction when Mayweather got caught with one good punch and a handful of follow-ups in the second round against Shane Mosley was hysterical. You would have thought someone had just whacked him in the head with a refrigerator.
Because of the microscopic intensity with which we scour Mayweather's every vulnerable moment in the ring, this fight has incredible possibilities to be dramatic because he's facing a guy who has hurt almost everyone he's ever fought. Ortiz packs serious power and he's not a one-punch knockout specialist. He throws in flurries and aggressively comes forward with combinations. Mayweather will have to dance or go toe-to-toe. I don't at all rule out Mayweather boxing on the inside, like he did against Shane Mosley, and outclassing and out-crafting the young Ortiz in a more entertaining style, especially in the early rounds. Then he can build up a lead, do some damage of his own, and play defense against a semi-wounded opponent wary of counters in the late going.
If Mayweather does choose more of a run-and-gun strategy, is it inconceivable to think the 24-year old Ortiz, a speedy big man, might still be able to catch Floyd and eventually pin him somewhere to unleash his potent attack? I think not. I have all the respect in the world for Floyd Mayweather as a fighter. As a boxer, he is an absolute master of his craft. As an athlete, he's a world-class physical specimen. And that's the part that concerns me. No man defies Father Time. The significant advantages Floyd has always enjoyed in speed and particularly reflexes, the ability to see things and react faster than anyone in the sport, will only diminish with each fight. Especially if he keeps fighting 24-year-olds.
In the end, I think Floyd is going to rise to the occasion against Ortiz. He's just too skilled and I have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he's still close enough to peak physical shape to comfortably do whatever he needs to do in the ring to get the job done. Ortiz is one of the most talented young fighters in the sport. But he's still raw and clearly vulnerable. He went down twice in his last fight, how can you not have a few questions about his defensive limitations? I don't, however, think that Mayweather's going to walk all over him. Ortiz will bring it. He'll make it an entertaining fight. How much damage he can do will decide how great the fight can be.
Will Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz be the Fight of the Year? Don't bank on it. But I do think it will be a lot more entertaining and competitive than many of the "all of Floyd's fights are boring" contingent would have you believe.