So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2011, Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz on Sept. 17 on HBO pay-per-view. Previously: the stakes of Mayweather-Ortiz; get to know Victor Ortiz; keys to the fight, parts I and II; the undercard, previewed. Next: a TQBR staff roundtable.
After all the tawdry family feuding between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and his father, after all the fruitless speculation about when or if Mayweather will ever fight Pacquiao and after all the other sideshows that have accompanied Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz, there’s one question that keeps coming up over and over again as the fight nears, building to a crescendo that won’t subside until Saturday night:
Does Ortiz have a chance?
The answer is, yes, he does. And I don’t mean that in the sense that any time a professional steps into a boxing ring, he has a chance. One punch can always change everything. There’s a whole movie series thought to have been inspired by lowly Chuck Wepner having once decked Muhammad Ali, a little film or six called “Rocky.”
When asked that question about Ortiz’ chances a couple weeks back, I started at “15-20 percent.” But having delved into tape and seen some things that are encouraging about the match-up for Ortiz — things in Mayweather’s history, along with things in Ortiz’ arsenal — my answer is now “25 percent.” And I might even make the percentage a little higher, if not for yet other things that are whiplashing back against Ortiz.
Mayweather might be the best boxer in the world today, but he is no Ali. And Ortiz might be a massive underdog, but he is no Wepner.
The nearest parallel to the Ortiz fight in the Mayweather ouevre is his 2007 clash with Ricky Hatton. Hatton had his moments, although he never truly was in the fight. Like Hatton, Ortiz has quick feet. Like Hatton, he is a committed inside fighter. On the negative side of the ledger, Ortiz is like Hatton in some other senses: He is easy to hit, and he is prone to getting rocked. That 2007 fight ended with Hatton victimized by a “check hook” as he rushed in and Mayweather stepped back with a counter shot, and a follow-up assault put an exclamation point on matters in the 10th round.
Yet Ortiz is not like Hatton in some crucial senses, for better and worse. Even though both had only one fight against a welterweight contender going into the Mayweather fight, Hatton never, ever was a welterweight; he was good at 140 pounds, and above that he was going to struggle against fringe top-10 contenders. Ortiz’ frame is much larger than Hatton’s, and he has shown that he is a very solid welterweight. That means he can probably withstand the best shots from Mayweather, won’t be at a strength disadvantage up close and has better odds of being able to hurt Mayweather with what punches he lands on the defensive master.
Hatton had a good, hard jab, thought to be one of the keys to disrupting Mayweather’s defense. Ortiz does not. But what he does have that Hatton did not is his southpaw stance, thought to be another of the keys to disrupting Mayweather’s defense. Ortiz, at age 24, is nowhere near as experienced on the world stage as Hatton was, either in dealing with the pressure of the spotlight or in facing formidable competition. That youthful quality could well serve Ortiz against Mayweather, however, from whom he is separated by a decade.
If I seemingly focused too much on Mayweather’s age in earlier posts this week while sizing up the bout, it is because I view it as the real X factor in whether Ortiz can beat Mayweather. There are some who perceive Mayweather to have slowed in his last fight against Shane Mosley, a bout where he was more stationary and didn’t use his legs very much. Physically, he looks older. His boyish face, once such a glaring contrast to his villanous demeanor, is now marked by the deeper lines that begin to set in on some of our visages as we move into our mid-30s.
Even with older legs, Mayweather is very capable of beating a variety of foes, because his defense isn’t entirely predicated on moving his feet. But if you watch Mayweather use them in the Hatton fight, you can see that they were a big asset to his victory, as he coasted away from Hatton and kept him at the desired range. They weren’t the only asset, of course. That lead right hand, that sharp jab to the head that stifles momentum and to the body that paralyzes movement, that counter left hook, and at times that famous shoulder roll defense were all valuable.
If Mayweather deliberately sets up in front of Ortiz as he claims he will, or if he simply has no choice because he’s 34 now — four years older than he was when he faced Hatton — then Ortiz’ could make it very, very interesting.
Unfortunately for Ortiz, Mayweather on Saturday will have another asset that he had during the Hatton fight: referee Joe Cortez. Cortez didn’t win the fight for Mayweather or lose it for Hatton. But in one of the worst performances of a good career that has nonetheless declined terribly, Cortez most certainly hampered a vital aspect of Hatton’s game plan by relentlessly breaking the pair during clinches, warning Hatton for his tactics and refusing to warn Mayweather for his own fouls that messed with Hatton’s inside maneuvering. Perhaps Cortez has heard the criticism of his handling of Mayweather-Hatton and won’t be so one-sided in his officiating, but it’s probably not a good sign that just last year, Cortez once again came under criticism for being too quick to break up Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana at important moments during the fight. (Unless you think that Cortez was making it up to the Brits who despise him for messing with Hatton by bailing out Khan, then it’s more than “probably” not a good sign.)
And let’s say Mayweather’s age catches up with him. There are gains for him there in the passage of time, too. With each Mayweather round, with each Mayweather fight, he gets smarter and harder to beat because of that brain. He’s a little like Nimrod from the “X-Men” or the Borg from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”: You can’t beat him the same way twice. After Jose Luis Castillo gave Mayweather his closest fight with swarming pressure and body punching, the book on Mayweather was that the way you beat him is with swarming pressure and body punching. And yet, no one has been able to use that tactic to any great success since. After Oscar De La Hoya gave Mayweather a decently close fight by working his jab, the book on Mayweather was that a good jab beats him. And while he’s not faced anyone with as good a jab as De La Hoya since, no amount of jabbing from his opponents has proven that effective. Mayweather hasn’t faced a southpaw since Zab Judah troubled him early in their fight, but want to bet he hasn’t figured out some things about how to beat a southpaw since?
The two most common predictions for Mayweather-Ortiz that I’ve seen are Mayweather by unanimous decision or Mayweather by late stoppage. I think it’ll go like this: With his list of things that Mayweather has been troubled by in the past but in a different blend of them than he’s previously encountered, Ortiz might encounter some rare success against Mayweather early on. He might even rattle Mayweather to the bone a couple times. But even if Mayweather has aged a little, and I am in the camp that there’s much evidence that he has, his steely determination to hold on to his undefeated record and his ring mastery are more than enough to adapt and capitalize on Ortiz’ weaknesses for a victory. Ortiz might be in bad shape by fight’s end due to all the hard, accurate shots he will have taken, and because — having been hardened by the brutal shaming he took for quitting against Marcos Maidana and then redeeming himself by hanging tough against Andre Berto — he won’t stop trying no matter how much he gets hit. But if the powerful Berto didn’t have enough to keep Ortiz down, neither will the relatively knockout-deficient Mayweather.
The most frequent reason I get asked, “Does Ortiz have a chance?” is because people hate Mayweather. He’s a villain par excellence. When news broke that Mayweather was inviting lightweight Brandon Rios and his trainer Robert Garcia to the Ortiz fight, Ortiz’ trainer Danny — brother to Robert — thanked him, since he hoped it would give him a chance to speak to his estranged sibling and repair old wounds. But when it surfaced that Mayweather wanted Brandon and Robert to walk to the ring with him, it became clear that Mayweather’s intentions were cold psychological warfare. It was a brilliant idea, but one filled with such evil intent that you don’t know whether to admire or despise him. At any rate, you can see why someone would want Ortiz — who, while controversial in some quarters, seems like a nice guy more than not — to knock his block off.
There is a hope, if you hate Mayweather, that Ortiz can defeat him.
But I wouldn’t get my hopes up. The odds aren’t in Ortiz’ favor, and with good reason.
As HBO’s Jim Lampley once said: “If Floyd Mayweather were fighting God tomorrow, I’d make him the favorite to win by unanimous decision. Until proven otherwise, the logical prediction in every Floyd Mayweather fight is Floyd Mayweather by unanimous decision.”