Many boxing pundits maintain that Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr should already have a loss on his blemish-free 41-0 professional record.
And while I respectfully disagree, the fight in question remains Mayweather’s unanimous decision victory over Jose Luis Castillo in April 2002, a fight I scored 115-111 for Mayweather and right in line with the ringside judges.
The outcome of the fight can be debated back-and-fourth, but more importantly, it just may be the blueprint used by an up-and-coming puncher who this September aims to knock the boxer formerly known as “Pretty Boy” off his pedestal.
That slugger is “Vicious” Victor Ortiz.
In 2002, Mayweather was the super featherweight champion and took an aggressive step up the weight ladder for his first fight at 135 lbs to challenge Castillo, the then WBC lightweight champion.
While fans have grown accustomed to viewing Mayweather as the perennial favorite, nearly a decade ago viewers were wondering whether Castillo’s size, experience and offense-first style was too much for Floyd to handle.
On fight night, the unofficial pre-fight weigh-in gave Castillo a nine-pound advantage. To make matters worse, Mayweather complained during and after the bout of a shoulder injury that destabilized his left and lead-jab arm.
Castillo pressured the former US Olympian throughout the night, but for the most part failed to land anything knockout worthy and ate a significant number of jabs on his way in. As the fight progressed, Mayweather tired. He threw less and began to absorb more punishment from the Mexican champion Castillo.
Ringside announcers felt that Castillo did more than enough to earn the decision, but not only was the call awarded to Floyd, so was a rematch eight months later.
Over the course of four years following the controversial decision, Mayweather gradually built himself up to a certified welterweight (147 lbs.)—the division where he currently resides. Since obtaining the IBF welterweight belt in a victory over Zab Judah in 2006, he has dominated the division with wins over Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya.
While he began to collect names on his resume, Mayweather started to hear derisive comments from fans and media members who believed his handpicked opponents were doing little to cement his status as the game’s top fighter.
His victims were either deemed too small and slow—Marquez, Hatton, Gatti—or well past their primes and merely being used for brand recognition—De La Hoya and Mosley.
Say what you want, but there is undeniable truth in the criticism. And the lack of progress on a fight with eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao has done nothing but contribute to the chorus of critics.
But, to the surprise of many, enters Ortiz, the 24-year-old WBC welterweight champion from Garden City, Kansas, fighting out of Oxnard, California.
The affable and marketable boxer, not unlike the loquacious Mayweather, has a turbulent back-story that could make any responsible parent feel sick to their stomach. His mother abandoned her family at seven, and the alcoholism that consumed his father fed Ortiz and his siblings into foster care and homelessness.
To say Ortiz came from the bottom is a gross understatement.
Besides a fluke disqualification in 2005, Ortiz’ career was on cruise control until a disheartening TKO loss to Marco Maidana in 2009. After knocking Maidana down multiple times, the tide began to turn on Ortiz. He took some serious punishment before quitting on his feet—a decision that prompted analysts to question his heart and commitment to the sport.
In April, Ortiz may have silenced the naysayers for good, when he out-dueled former welterweight champion, Andre Berto, in an action-packed war that saw both fighters hit the canvas multiple times. While Berto has been known as a challenge-ducker himself, he remained an undefeated slick pugilist at the time of the fight.
The victory reinvigorated Ortiz and those who believe he has yet to reach his ultimate potential in the ring.
Surprisingly, after more than a year on the sidelines, Mayweather has chosen Ortiz as his next opponent. The two will do battle on September 17.
What gives? Ortiz is no household name that can assist in the ticket-selling department. Even more daunting for the now 34-year-old Mayweather is that Ortiz fights southpaw, has a one-inch height advantage, has tremendous speed and will bring a smothering style to the ring—the exact opposite of a standard Mayweather opponent.
Ortiz can dust off the Castillo fight tapes and see what happens when a pressure fighter blankets Mayweather. He runs, tries to keep his opponent off with a stiff jab and wraps them up when the quarters get too close for comfort.
The reason no fighter since Castillo has found much success is that they have been too physically inferior, sluggish or downright old. Mayweather has otherworldly hand speed, and there is no boxer that can avoid eating a few stiff shots to the chin while in pursuit.
Building on the Castillo model, Ortiz has the imposable frame and repertoire to bear down on “Money” right out of the gate and make Mayweather exhaust a tremendous amount of energy in trying to avoid getting knocked out by Victor’s prodigious power.
In addition, Ortiz possess a formidable jab—something Castillo woefully lacked. If his initial game plan goes awry, he can fallback onto a jab-and-counter rhythm.
If there is an opponent not named Pacquiao that has the potential, ability and guts to go at Mayweather full-throttle and put that elusive first loss on Floyd’s record, it appears to be this man and this fight.
A contrarian will highlight the amount of punishment that Ortiz regularly takes and there’s no denying the truth in that argument. He is too often easy to hit and has tasted the canvas too frequently for someone with his skill set. Mayweather’s backers view Ortiz as mere cannon fodder—an over-zealous kid who will charge in and take unbearable punishment for doing so.
But this isn’t a washed-up Mosley. This kid has been hit, been down, been embarrassed and come back for more. It’s going to take more than stiff jab or two from the undefeated ring general to derail this fighter from the biggest win of his career and one of the largest upsets in boxing history.
Mayweather has been off for too long and hasn’t faced a dog as live and eager as Ortiz in years, if ever.
It's funny, in that as we arrive at the possible precipice of a dream bout between Pacquiao and Mayweather, the one man who may shatter the dream could very well be a puncher who many are writing off as a mere tune-up opponent.
However it ends on September 17, there is optimism that the fight will not only be a step up from the habitual Mayweather snooze fest, but that we may very well witness a seminal moment in boxing.