Floyd Mayweather Vs. Victor Ortiz: Keys To The Fight, Part I

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. Next: keys to the fight, part II.

Mind. Matter. How do Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz stack up in those categories? In the first of two parts, we compare their physical attributes.

(The [Black] Keys to the Fight. [Note: That’s not a racial joke. It’s a hipster joke.])

Size. You would think, with Mayweather having spent every year since 2005 at welterweight and once, above it, that he would be the “bigger” of the two, what with Ortiz having a mere solitary fight at 147. I say unto you: Non, monsieur. By measurement, they are very similar in two key aspects of a fighter’s dimensions: Floyd is 5’8″ to Ortiz’ 5’9″, Floyd has a 72″ reach to Ortiz’ 70″. At the lower weights, those dimensions were assets for Mayweather; you don’t encounter many junior lightweights with arms that long. But at welter, he is a good, solidly-sized ’47 pounder, is Mayweather, but he’s probably a touch over his ideal fighting weight. Ortiz? We learned in his most recent contest that he was probably no junior welterweight, after all.

Ortiz bullied around Andre Berto, himself a solid welter but not one who is particularly big for the division — a welter who could conceivably shrink to 140 if he tried hard enough. But really. Ortiz bullied him, physically. Ortiz’ back is broad. He is a balled up coil of muscle. He’s kind of got one of those Miguel Cotto mini-tank physiques, Cotto being someone who’s not big for a welterweight but whose stocky, sturdy build makes him “bigger” than he looks. That’s good news for Ortiz, naturally. Yeah, Mayweather is terrific at judging, and preserving, distance with his long arms. But Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley — both of whom are bigger still than Ortiz, but also are examples of two rare cases where Mayweather opponents physically bigger than him — had luck in part because of their superior size and strength. The stocky, powerfully built Jose Luis Castillo also came closer than anyone to beating Mayweather. Ortiz’ size advantage translates potentially into other good things for him, too, as we’ll get to momentarily. Ortiz, it goes without saying, needs every advantage he can get. Edge: Ortiz

Speed. Let’s cut directly to the chase. One of Ortiz’ best hopes for beating Mayweather is an assumption, and not an unrealistic one, that the speed Mayweather has at age 34 — a key aspect of what makes him such a special fighter — is decayed plutonium. Looking back over Mayweather’s career, I’m not as convinced as I once was that his speed was/is of the ultra-elite variety. Oh, it’s been good all right, even elite. But Zab Judah was faster, early on. And even a very, very old Shane Mosley in the 2nd round — Mayweather’s most recent fight, in May of 2010 — looked to be similar to him in speed. It is conventional wisdom that a “speed” fighter suffers at an advanced age and with long layoffs, both of which Mayweather is in the midst of. And Ortiz isn’t slow. Scanning the division’s Ring Magazine top 10, Ortiz not as fast as Manny Pacquiao, plus he was maybe a hair slower than Berto, and that’s about it outside of a comparison to Mayweather.

But even with a 34-year-old, potentially rusty Mayweather before him, it’s a safe bet that until Mayweather proves otherwise, he’ll be faster than Ortiz. Speed is often about more than just raw physical ability. Mayweather’s economy of motion and cat-like reflexes and instincts showed no signs of being gone, let alone signficantly diminished, in his last ring appearance. Some thought he was more flat-footed than usual and that might be a product of slower legs, but that’s speculative. Maybe Mayweather isn’t as fast as Pacquiao, and maybe he’d get a run for his money from Berto, but based on their respective recent outings, there’s little choice but to assume that Mayweather is the faster of the two men. Still, having major speed has proven to be a significant factor in being able to trouble Mayweather. And Ortiz is quick of foot, not just of hand. That could improve his chances of cornering a version of Mayweather who gets on his bicycle and hides. I’ll pick Mayweather in this category, but that Ortiz is even within 50 yards is a better head start than most anyone else gets. Edge: Mayweather

Power. Mayweather, his opponents have been known to say, hits harder than you think. At junior lightweight, he had a lot of knockouts. At lightweight, he had a lot, even if technically those were over-the-limit junior lightweight bouts earlier in his career. But at junior welterweight, where he had a brief stay, and at welterweight, where he has been since 2005, the knockout ratio is way, way lower. His two KOs are over a shot Sharmba Mitchell and over Ricky Hatton, THE case study for a fighter whose potency is signfiicantly degraded when one weight class outside his best.  Of course, the old concept about how Mayweather “hits harder than you think” still holds true at welterweight. Mosley might’ve been knocked out by Mayweather, had Mosley not spent the late rounds trying NOT to be KO’d. The same goes for Judah, who resorted to balls-punching and smacking Floyd on the back of his hunched-over, balls-holding noggin to stifle Mayweather’s momentum toward a stoppage. On the other hand… how in the world did Mayweather not stop a blown-up Juan Manuel Marquez in 2009? Mayweather at 147 gets most of his power from accuracy, not from actual fistual dynamite. His overhand right is his big power punch, but he’s also got nice power in his left hook.

You shouldn’t be surprised that there’s reason to disbelieve the “fact” that Ortiz is said to have, at minimum, knocked down every opponent he has ever faced. After all, no one is sure exactly who Ortiz is at all. It is nonetheless remarkable how most every Ortiz opponent has spent at least a fleeting vacation on the mat, even if it’s the kind of vacation where people go to Jamaica thinking it’s going to be totally sweet and mellow (like Oriz appears to be) and it’s beyond depressing (like Ortiz’ decking you appears to be). He has spent most of his time at junior welterweight, but the power carried up to welterweight. Berto had been wobbled prior to meeting Ortiz, and even dropped… but not twice going on thrice depending on what you think of the referee’s various rulings in the Ortiz bout. This Ortiz has power, and as a converted southpaw, he has it in both fists. Maybe Mayweather can stop Ortiz, the biggest bettor’s dilemma for this fight. But that’s nothing to do with a power-off between the two men. Edge: Ortiz

Chin. Whether Mayweather has that great a chin is something we cannot know. There are fights where his opponent connects on a mere 16 percent, and rarely are any of those coonect all that clean. How can you comprehend a man’s beard without seeing it tested even an iota of a percentage of his career? We do know this: The handful of times he has been in trouble — via Mosley, twice; when he was dropped, whatever the ruling by the ref, by Zab Judah; and the couple occasions at the hands of DeMarcus Corley — he has recovered exceptionally quickly. He is very strong, strong enough to tie up an opponent even when his brain isn’t right. He is such a good counterpuncher that if you get hungry for the kill against even a disoriented version of Floyd, he can still be accurate enough to back you off. And he’s only ever been in trouble momentarily, a tribute to his conditioning and perhaps some kind of gift at birth. You can hurt Floyd, however improbable that might be. Finishing him off is a whole ‘nother realm of impossibility.

Ortiz, though, is someone whose chin has been tested, and his grade is approximately a C-. Ortiz gets hit a lot. Even as a ballyhooed prospect, he would sometimes hit the canvas, and there is a whole canon of gym war reporting that has Ortiz spending time sitting on a tuffet. Yet it must be said that, with the very, very notable exception of Ortiz quitting against Marcos Maidana, Ortiz has been repeatedly dropped only to respond by coming back harder. Berto learned that in a very personal fashion. As badly as he had Ortiz hurt in the 6th round of their fight, Ortiz survived and ultimately proved dangerous even when hurt, because later in the round it was Berto doing the backward ass-stroke. That said, Ortiz’ chin might be passable in the “Hey, he usually stays up by bell’s end and more often than not, with a victory” sense. But Mayweather’s chin is a known unknown. Ortiz’ is a known known. Edge: Mayweather

Condition. As sick as I get of hearing Mayweather’s training mantra of “dedication, hard work,” those are most certainly accurate descriptions of his training habits. Among elite athletes, I suspect one of the most underrated qualities they all have is a natural-born stamina amplified by a psychopathic commitment to maximizing that. A born talent can succeed despite himself. A born talent who is monk-like in his adherence to bettering himself — that’s almost illegal. Manny Pacquiao has it. And Mayweather has it. Maybe at age 34, he could, on Saturday, suddenly show signs of aging by wearing down late. It’s not the kind of “maybe” that I’d count upon, is all. In his lifestyle, even with all that champagne popping (which he claimed in recent documents was phony, simply part of marketing the Mayweather image) Mayweather’s devotion to physical perfection probably rivals that of Bernard Hopkins, whose fighting still these days at age 46.  Mayweather is so well-conditioned that he does his best work in the later rounds, usually. As with all things, the effect of age is a mystery here. One day, the phenomenally athletic Roy Jones, Jr. was dominating all comers; the next day, he was nearly a vegetable on his back courtesy Antonio Tarver, and he was never again so untouchable.

Ortiz is a mutli-faceted athlete who surfs and runs marathons and participates in a gazillion other sporting endeavors. I’ve not seen him ever get tired in a fight. But as is often the case here, Ortiz’ youth vs. Mayweather’s age is a central dilemma. Until such point Mayweather shows himself capable of getting exhausted in a fight, I won’t believe it can happen. And in terms of ring damage accumulated, neither man is much worse for the wear. Edge: Mayweather

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.