Who’s on First?

Who’s on First?

 

Forget Who’s on First? this month, let’s round the bases and take a look back at all of the stories we covered in 2014!

When it comes to sports in the county, nothing is bigger than high school football. This year’s annual game between Ventura High and Buena High was proof, as it had the feel of a rock concert complete with actual beer drinking, tailgating in the next-door neighborhood turned parking-lot party. Thousands of all ages and backgrounds packed Buena’s stadium to watch the home team lose by a fairly wide margin, but no matter the outcome, it’s got our vote for local sporting event of 2014.

At the game, Ventura High alumni were all smiles, including mixed martial arts fighter, and former Ventura High wrestling standout Chris Beal. You may remember Beal from our feature on him in this column earlier this year detailing his battle with cancer and his being selected to appear on the TV show The Ultimate Fighter. While an injury led to a heartbreaking loss on the show, Beal was offered a surprise opportunity to fight in the UFC a few months later. To say he seized the day would be an understatement. With an action-movie-worthy flying knee stopping his opponent cold, not only did he make ESPN’s Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day, he also earned a $50,000 performance of the night bonus, instantly changing the young man’s life and bank account. He went on to fight again last year, and win, and he will now travel to Stockholm, Sweden, in January for his third fight with the UFC. With another victory or two, a title shot and fame in the MMA world could be in Beal’s future in 2015.

Everybody loves titles and championships and two Ventura schools made us all proud in 2014. The Ventura College Women’s basketball team took home the state championship; and more recently Ventura High’s boys’ cross country team led by running protégé Garrett Reynolds, won the state championship as well.

Spencer Makenzie’s Throwdown, the annual cornhole, aka beanbag, tournament that took place this summer outside of the downtown restaurant is shaping up to become a bona fide national event. Two-man teams, from as far away as Illinois, did battle, and with a $3,000 prize on the line, the tournament was technically the third-biggest cornhole competition in the country.

For now, what the world thinks when it comes to sports in the 805 is undoubtedly boxing. The popularity of pugilism continues to grow with the success of locally based fighters, and former champions like Brandon Rios and Victor Ortiz, and the influx of world-class fighters from around the world like Argentina’s Marcos Maidana and Russia’s Evgeny Gradovich, who came to the 805 in 2014 to train at gyms like Robert Garcia’s Boxing Academy in Oxnard and Knuckleheadz Boxing in Ventura. Three local cards took place this past year, which saw homegrown fighters like Oxnard’s Abraham Lopez and Santa Paula’s Indian Banuelos notching the Ws. This new crop of local boxers, led by Oxnard’s Hugo “The Boss” Centeno, who made his debut on HBO last month in stunning fashion, should continue to keep the spotlight on Ventura County.

The main-event headliner of two of those previously mentioned local fights was “The Real Million Dollar Baby” Maureen Shea, who scored a lightly regarded women’s belt, technically making it the first-ever world title fight to take place in Ventura County. Now 2015 is set to be a dream-come-true year as Shea is in negotiations for a legitimate world title shot, a fight that could end up being the first female title fight on national television in years.

The unlikely, and awesome, rise of Ventura BMX and its dirt track at Kimball Park located on the East End of Ventura, got the star treatment when it hosted the Seaside Nationals, an official stop on the National BMX USA tour that saw thousands in attendance. The event will be coming back in 2015 and is only expected to be bigger and better, officially making Ventura a hotbed for the “rad” sport.

BMX wasn’t the only massively popular sport of the ’80s that’s in the midst of a full-on resurgence. Professional wrestling is back in a big way, too. There’s a few regional promotions that have decided to fight the Goliath, and one has set up shop in Port Hueneme at the Oceanview Pavilion. Championship Wrestling from Hollywood (CWFH), has been holding totally free television tapings at the supercool beachside venue.

Keep the tips and suggestions coming on who you want to see covered in Who’s on First? in 2015 and be sure to have a sporting year!

Who’s on First?

Who’s on First?

 

It was a little over three years ago that Ventura-based boxer Victor Ortiz stepped into the ring at a sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas to face arguably the best fighter on the planet, Floyd Mayweather. Since that bizarre night, Ortiz’s boxing career has been a downward spiral of epic proportions. Simply put, if it could go wrong, it did. At the same time, however, while things in the boxing business were a disaster, his almost accidental career in film and TV exploded.

Last Saturday night, Ortiz returned to the scene of the infamous fight for what many considered to be a “win or retire” comeback fight. The circumstances and environment were about as different as could be from the last time he fought in Vegas; but luckily for Ortiz, so were the results. Before we get to that, let’s recap Ortiz’s recent career.

In April of 2011, “Vicious” Victor Ortiz, an underdog given little chance of winning, defeated the undefeated welterweight title holder, Andre Berto, in a fight-of-the-year candidate.

But before the fact that he “made the cover of the Reporter” could sink in, he found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he landed the boxing equivalent of winning the lottery, a fight with the undefeated pound-for-pound king of the sport, Floyd “Money” Mayweather.

In a bizarre and controversial fight that saw illegal elbows, an intentional head butt, two sucker punches and even a kiss on the cheek, Ortiz was knocked out by Mayweather in the fourth round.

Having made a seven-figure payday and an element of fame from the fight despite the outcome, Ortiz’s next fight was delayed several times until Riverside’s virtually unknown Josesito Lopez scored a massive upset in 2012, breaking Ortiz’s jaw leading, giving Ortiz his second straight loss and, worse, a potentially career-ending injury. It also saddled Ortiz with the unfair reputation of being a quitter in the eyes of many fans.

During that time in recovery, however, Ortiz was selected to appear on the monster hit TV show Dancing With the Stars. Ortiz managed to stay on the show for several weeks and in the process became a household name for non-boxing fans.

The stint on the show then led to Ortiz being cast in the third film of the blockbuster movie franchise The Expendables, alongside a who’s who of action-movie stars, a massive opportunity for a fighter with no acting experience or thoughts of trying to act whatsoever. Ortiz, who usually could be found surfing by the Ventura pier or watching local bands in downtown bars, was now filming in Bulgaria, hanging with A-listers like Sly Stallone and Harrison Ford.

After filming, but prior to the movie’s release, with his jaw healed, Ortiz returned to the ring this past January. In a televised main event on Super Bowl weekend in New York City, Ortiz was knocked out in the second round in another shocking upset, leaving many, including his own promoter, Hall-of-Famer Oscar De La Hoya (who just a year earlier was praising Victor as his protégé and the future of the sport) now calling for Ortiz’s retirement.

Despite having trainer, management and promotional issues, and becoming the butt of jokes to many boxing fans, Ortiz’s acting career continued to explode, landing him a role in the upcoming big-budget film Southpaw as well as seeing the release of The Expendables 3 and already talk of a sequel.

Still, his first love and chosen profession, boxing, beckoned. Even with an offer for another major movie on the table, Ortiz longed for redemption. So after nearly a year out of the ring, Ortiz returned this past weekend for far less money than he made in his last fight, and appearing so early on the card that the arena was virtually empty.

As for the result? Though his many detractors raged on social media about how they expected him to lose and finally retire, Ortiz not only won, but he looked impressive doing it.

Like the Ortiz of old, he was all business, remaining calm and focused while dominating his opponent, Manny Perez, a game but outclassed veteran. The end came in the third round when a straight left hand landed flush on Perez’s chin.

The small smattering of friends and fans who ventured to Vegas from Ventura to support Ortiz seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief, and Ortiz flashed the big smile that has launched an unlikely movie career.

So now, one of boxing’s most unpredictable and also exciting fighters is officially back. What happens next is anyone’s guess, including Ortiz’s. He’ll be filming another movie in early 2015 and promises to fight shortly thereafter, against stiffer competition. He says his ultimate goal is to win another world title and then — and this would be impressive — win an Academy Award, making history by being the first man ever to do both.

As unlikely as that is, if there’s anything that Victor Ortiz’s life and career prove, it’s crazier the possibility, the more likely it is to happen.

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