There are 20 seconds to go in the fourth round of arguably the most anticipated fight of the year. Everything is going to plan: Floyd Mayweather, the veteran tactician, is filling up the punch stats. Victor Ortiz is game, pressuring his opponent, making the punches that land count, and trying valiantly to find the hook that can put Mayweather on the canvas. And then—boom!—a blatant Ortiz head-butt changes everything.
Referee Joe Cortez breaks the fighters up, skips the warning (correctly so) and deducts a point from Ortiz. Then things get really weird, as Ortiz kisses Mayweather on the cheek. Then Cortez gives a half-hearted motion for the fight to continue—he says "let's go," brings his hands together, never says "fight"— but continues to look over at the judges.
Apparently not satisfied with his first apology, Ortiz gives Mayweather a hug, and the fighters touch gloves before Mayweather clocks his opponent with a left hook. Still convinced the fight had not yet re-started, Ortiz still has his hands down and is chirping at Cortez when Mayweather crushes Ortiz flush with a right. Ten count given. Fight over.
I keep watching the sequence again and again, and I'm still not quite sure what I saw. Who, if anyone, was in the wrong? Was it a cheap shot by Mayweather, or was he merely taking advantage of a dangerous fighter with his guard down? And if Cortez was indeed ready for the fight to continue, why is his back all but turned to the men as they come together, looking to the judges?
"Protect yourself at all times" is something we have heard a lot since the knockout, and will continue to hear whenever the legitimacy of the fight is debated between pundits and fans alike. By that same token, should the referee not be held to the standard of protecting the fighters at all times? Mayweather could have landed a round-house kick, and Cortez would have been none the wiser.
Who is to blame for Saturday night's debacle?
Listen, I like Cortez, he is a respectable ref who has overseen a lot of big fights. The man was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame along with legends Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez. However, this fight will likely tarnish his legacy the way baseball's Jim Joyce's was after he blew Armando Galarraga's perfect game: great official, but made the error of his life in a huge moment.
Cortez was definitely in the wrong.
As time goes on, Ortiz will receive a lot of sympathy for the knockout loss. He clearly did not know the fight was on and tried desperately to get up and continue.
Still, it was Ortiz who delivered the butt that created the whole fiasco. I have seen my share of head-butts in boxing, but never one as blatant as the one delivered by Ortiz. It was cheap and stupid. He had Mayweather where he wanted him: up against the ropes where a "Vicious" hook would have the best chance of landing.
Ortiz may as well have shaved his head and been wearing a Zinedine Zidane jersey. He cannot deny the butt, and as he continues to do so, it only discredits anything else he says to defend himself.
Ortiz, too, was in the wrong. Some may call the knockout a little bit of instant karma for doing something so flagrant and moronic. I would have a hard time disagreeing with those views.
It is easy to blame Mayweather for how the fight turned out. He has been painted, partially by himself, as the villain. By all accounts, he is an egomaniacal jerk. He delivered the blow, which some may call cheap, that ended the fight. It was a fight a lot of fans paid a lot of money to see, and the fans deserve the courtesy of a fight with true closure.
Do you want to see Mayweather-Ortiz II?
That being said, Mayweather is the last person to blame for this debacle. Like it or not, the fight was on. If it wasn't, the official ruling would read "DQ," not "KO." Mayweather had been on the receiving end of a potentially extremely damaging blow.
As a competitor, nothing ticks you off more than receiving a cheap shot, no matter the sport. Of course Mayweather was trying to damage Ortiz as soon as possible. He saw his opportunity and took it. He knew the fight was on. What was he supposed to do, wait for Ortiz to hit him first?
Ethically, was it a little cheap? Probably. Would it be nice if he had considered the fans before ending the fight? Yes, but Mayweather has never been accused of putting others first.
Of the three, Mayweather did the least wrong. If two wrongs don't make a right, three certainly don't.
Tyson's bite. The Fan Man. Now this: The Butt Heard 'Round the World? The Phantom Re-start? This fight will be discussed and debated for decades. What is not debatable is this: Once again, the fans lose. This is a trend that is becoming all too familiar in boxing.
There are only two things that can fix this mistake. The first would be an Ortiz-Mayweather rematch. The other? You know it: Pacquiao versus Mayweather. The fans deserve it.