One crazy night
A ringside account of the most anticipated fight of the year and the controversy that surrounds it
By Chris Jay 09/22/2011
Officially, and on paper, boxing history will hold that one of this generation’s greatest fighters and future Hall-of-Famer Floyd “Money” Mayweather knocked out Ventura’s “Vicious” Victor Ortiz at 2 minutes, 59 seconds of the fourth round of their fight this past Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Mayweather won the WBC Welterweight Championship of the world, improving to an astonishing 42-0.
In the murky world of prize fighting, however, nothing is really what it seems. For the more than 14,000 people in attendance and the millions who watched it on Pay Per View, in theaters and at bars across the world, one of the most anticipated fights of the year is now the most controversial fight of the year. Regardless of what side you take on the questionable outcome, everyone agrees it was a bizarre conclusion and that the real “winner” is certainly up for debate.
Much like the punch that ended the fight, simply, no one closely involved could have seen this coming. Despite replaying every possible scenario in one’s mind as the fight neared, no one saw it coming.
Not his head trainer, the soft-spoken Danny Garcia, who, after working early-morning shifts at the Coca Cola plant in Ventura, would train Ortiz even while it drove a rift between him and his own brother, fellow trainer and former champion Robert Garcia.
Not the countless celebrity athletes and entertainers who sat ringside — in some cases to enjoy the fight, like Magic Johnson and Denzel Washington, or in other cases, just to be seen, like Christina Aguilera.
Not Ortiz’s strength and conditioning coach, Joseph “Hoss” Janick, the intensely focused and mohawked former fighter who has spent countless mornings and nights training with Ortiz, all the while still finding time to operate his Knuckleheadz Gym in Ventura and train other fighters.
Not even the pundits like Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, who featured the fight on the magazine’s cover, and ESPN’s resident boxing guru Dan Rafael, two of the most knowledgeable men on the sport, who sat ringside.
Not even Ortiz’s assistant trainer Mario Aguiniga, the fearless former boxer and Oxnard resident who bravely traded verbal jabs that almost led to the real thing with a former champion, Zab Judah, when Judah bad-mouthed Ortiz at the final press conference.
Not the Hispanic fans who were out in Vegas in force for Mexican Independence weekend and temporarily embraced Ortiz as their hero. Their shock at the outcome led to a near riot at the closed circuit viewing party in the MGM Grand.
Not Rolando Arellano, the impassioned, fiery and fast-talking lawyer, who is Ortiz’s manager and relocated this summer to live in Ventura with Ortiz in preparation for the biggest moment of both their careers.
Not the entire city of Ventura, which embraced the 24-year-old surfing southpaw resident and packed local bars and theaters to watch the hometown boy take a shot at a lifelong dream.
And most of all, not even Ortiz himself, who, despite the enormous odds against him and the massive pressure of fame, remained calm and collected, embracing and enjoying the spotlight, telling all who would listen that this was his destiny.
No, absolutely no one could have seen how this fight was going to end, especially when thinking about how the fight came about.
Mayweather vs. Ortiz, billed as “Star Power,” had all the makings of a classic battle of good vs. evil. Whether true or not, it was presented and promoted that way.
Ortiz, the hungry young fighter who was abandoned by his parents as a child in Kansas, used boxing as an outlet, eventually landing in Oxnard, where he turned professional and quickly became a prospect. After his first major loss, though, his heart was questioned and he was chastised by the press. With a small but dedicated and supportive team that acts more as a family, he relocated to Ventura and, in a story begging to become a movie script, Ortiz, despite being a heavy underdog, out-slugged the undefeated welterweight champion Andre Berto this past April to win his first title in a contest that is a front-runner for the “Fight of the Year” award.
In the audience that night was Floyd “Money” Mayweather, widely considered, along with Manny Pacquiao, to be the best the sport has to offer. Undefeated and a title holder in multiple weight classes, Mayweather, a love-him-or-hate-him lightning rod for controversy, has been out of the sport for more than 16 months. He is also the defendant in a host of legal cases, both civil and criminal, that could cost him millions of dollars and possibly jail time.
The 34-year-old, brash, outspoken, master manipulator of the media, is rich beyond anyone’s imagination and is known to burn hundred-dollar bills and rolls with an entourage so big he claims not even to know everyone’s full name when they come in and out of his lavish Las Vegas mansion. The public, meanwhile, has seen enough of his antics and can’t understand why the superfight between him and Pac Man is in a constant state of on-again-off-again. Promoters, lawyers and accusations of performance enhancement drugs all seem to get in the way of what the fight fans really want to see.
So, as Mayweather tells it, he and best friend rapper 50 Cent find themselves ringside at Berto vs. Ortiz and decide right then and there that the unassuming 24-year-old with the polar opposite background and style would be the perfect opponent for his next appearance in the ring. The fight is announced to massive fanfare and has a buildup that is rarely seen. It’s the modern-day Cinderella story for Ortiz, the kid who was abandoned into poverty and figured to be a statistic, will earn his first-ever seven-figure paycheck. He also has the chance to do what no one has ever done before, beat Floyd Mayweather.
Now, in order to fight a seemingly unbeatable man, people have to become convinced you stand a chance. While Ortiz has long been known in the boxing world and is a champion himself, his profile needed to be heightened. Enter HBO’s award-winning TV show 24/7. Nothing gets the name out there like TV, especially a four-part reality series that follows both fighters leading up to the big night. All summer in Ventura, a film crew followed Ortiz, and he embraced the camera and came across as a genuinely nice guy.
Mayweather, on the other hand, came off as a grown man who one minute has to be separated from assaulting his own father and the next minute is hanging out with 50 Cent, the two talking to each other using bricks of cash as pretend phones. The show focused on Mayweather’s excessive lifestyle, ego and talent while highlighting Ortiz’s humility, gratefulness and laid-back attitude. It was the type of superb storytelling that sells tickets and creates anticipation.
Let’s get ready to rumble
Fight week in Vegas was an electric atmosphere complete with mudslinging press conferences, a rowdy weigh-in and a series of statements to the press that seemed to be head games and mental trickery by Mayweather, who insisted Ortiz’s background was fabricated and that he was inviting his former trainer and even his father to the fight. Team Ortiz, meanwhile, was thrust into the spotlight as well, being stopped for photographs and autographs at every turn, all the while maintaining that, despite being thrust on the sport’s biggest platform, they were relaxed, focused and ready to make history.
Then, after all the buildup, the pomp and circumstance, the moment had finally arrived. In a frenzied arena, after three rounds of feeling each other out, with Mayweather seeming to get the better but with Ortiz starting to move Mayweather to the ropes and land dangerous combinations, well, . . . to be frank, . . . all hell broke loose in the ring (see sidebar) and just like that, in the blink of an eye, in absolutely surreal fashion, Ortiz was on the canvas and Mayweather was once again victorious.
The final bell
In the post-fight interview and press conference, Ortiz took the high road and was his usual carefree self, still apologizing for the head-butt and surprising many for not being more outraged over Mayweather’s legal but dirty sucker punches. He admitted he made a mistake in not protecting himself at all times but he would learn from it and become champion again in the coming months. In a heartbreaking moment for his supporters, he admitted to crying while in the shower, having felt that “he let everyone down” but assuring everyone he was OK now and thankful for the opportunity. His team and promoter seemed more incensed over the outcome, and there was talk of tape reviews and potential protests to come.
Meanwhile, Mayweather insisted there was nothing illegal, or even wrong, about the knockout and that Ortiz was actually the dirty fighter. He claimed Ortiz should have been worried about fighting him, not hugging him. He then proceeded to profanely insult beloved 80-year-old commentator Larry Merchant in the post-fight interview for even suggesting the ending was anything but clean. Merchant then broke protocol and echoed a line that will undoutedbly be the mantra of 80-year-olds the world over, “If I was 50 years younger, I’d kick your ass.”
After Ortiz spoke candidly at the press conference, Mayweather entered with a small army of hooting and hollering women, men and children, and he heaped praise upon himself and his team at the press conference, claiming, among many things, that his actions were justified and that Ortiz was a dirty fighter, slyly implying that Manny was on performance enhancing drugs and saying he wouldn’t face him till he was clean and, of course, demanding Larry Merchant be fired by HBO for daring to question to him.
That night, an all-smiles Ortiz visited his official after-party where he was greeted by a thunderous ovation. He spent the next day lounging by the pool, finally getting to take some time off and have a well-deserved cold beer or two. The next night he was mobbed by supporters in the MGM Grand’s lobby and he graciously posed for photos, complete with a black eye, seemingly more popular now than ever before the fight.
It left one to muse about who the “real” winner was when all is said and done. Was it the now more than ever vilified Floyd Mayweather, who continues to stain his beloved legacy and whose next few fights are likely to be in a courtroom or the newly wealthy and young Ortiz, who is looking forward to doing some traveling and, of course, “checking out the waves in Ventura” when he gets back home? Offers for future fights and endorsements have already come pouring in, and his team has even been fielding calls from fighters and managers who saw the amazing work done in preparing Ortiz and are now interested in coming to Ventura to train under them.
As for the big fight, in the end, we don’t know, really, what the result would have been if the contest hadn’t taken an ugly turn. Mayweather did look sensational for the first three rounds but Ortiz was starting to corner him and land, and there were still eight long rounds left to go. Would the crafty veteran have continued to outbox the oncoming Ortiz and win on points, as most had predicted? Would Ortiz’s tenacity and weight advantage have started to weaken Floyd and, ultimately, would one perfect combination have landed for the history-making upset?
Such unanswered questions are often left from the sour taste of the sweet science; but for those who feel cheated, confused or depressed about the outcome, keep in mind one thing: This is the wacky world of boxing where, after all, just as the fight proved, anything can happen on a moment’s notice, and a promoter’s favorite word can almost be heard ringing out faintly in the hot Nevada desert night … rematch.
The fourth roundHere’s the blow-by-blow account of the bizarre mix of elements that led to the controversial fourth-round finish
While we don’t know the real reason why, in the heat of the moment, whether out of frustration, adrenaline or as a payback for elbows Floyd had started to use, Victor Ortiz aggressively head-butted Floyd Mayweather in the midst of perhaps his best flurry of punches toward the end of the round. The move cut the inside of Mayweather’s bottom lip. It was an uncharacteristic move for the normally rule abiding Ortiz.
The hug and kiss
As referee Joe Cortez intervened and called time, Ortiz seemed instantly to realize his mistake and walked over to Mayweather and apologized, kissing him on the cheek and giving him a hug in what seemed a sign of strange but sincere regret. The ref grabbed Ortiz by the glove and pulled him in front of the judges to rightfully deduct a point. As that occurred, Ortiz reached out and touched gloves with an understandably surprised and annoyed Mayweather. The ref warned Ortiz not to head butt again.
Referee Joe Cortez was someone whom the Ortiz camp had previously worried about due to his tendency to insert himself into the fights and not allow fighters to work on the inside, a place where Ortiz is most comfortable. After the head-butt, the fighters were not in neutral corners before the fighting resumed, as they are supposed to be, when Cortez said weakly, “Let’s go,” and motioned with his hands to start the fight back up. It was done in a way that many at ringside and watching at home didn’t perceive it as an official resumption.
The hug ... again
The two fighters approached and Ortiz reached out both hands to touch gloves and reached in for another hug. Ortiz, it seemed, was more concerned with letting Mayweather know he was sincerely apologetic and did not realize the fight has been called back on.
The sucker punch
Mayweather pretended to accept the hug but, looking for a second at the referee who was not paying attention, lightly pushed off on Ortiz’s shoulders to deliver a left hook to Ortiz’s jaw that, by any definition, was a sucker punch. Whether it was a tactical one or a retaliatory one is up for debate.
The ref … again
When the punch landed, referee Joe Cortez did not see it as he was trying to signal someone at ringside — presumably the time keeper, asking them “Are you ready?” — a huge mistake as a referee is never to take his eyes off the fighters and is supposed to maintain control at all times. Especially since, according to Cortez, the fight had resumed and therefore any conferring with a ringside official regarding time should have occurred prior to calling the fight back on. A shocked Ortiz, apparently thinking that time had not been called back in and that Mayweather had just illegally hit him turned to the referee, who had completely missed the punch and was seemingly at a loss as to how to handle the unraveling situation.
The sucker punch … again
With Ortiz’s corner screaming for him to look out, in a split second after the first punch, with his hands at his side and looking at the referee, Mayweather followed up the left with a massive straight right hand, dropping Victor on his back and temporarily rendering him unconscious. Ortiz’s trainer Danny Garcia briefly jumped up on the ring apron, to protest and check on his fighter, perhaps thinking, as many in the arena might have been doing, that Ortiz had been floored on two illegal punches and he was going to win by disqualification. Cortez, however, snapped back into action and began administering the 10 count to Ortiz, who, struggling to his knees, had no chance of beating it. Cortez’s ultimate ruling was that since he had called the fight back on, never mind that is was not in a correct or definitive fashion, it was a knockout. Ortiz broke the cardinal rule of boxing, which is protect yourself at all times. Of course, the counter-argument is in the unwritten rules of sportsmanship — Mayweather committed the unspeakable by twice sucker punching a man with his hands by his sides in the midst of an apology.