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

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, part I. Next: the undercard.

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

(The [Ken] Ke[se]ys to the fight.)

Offense. It’s hard to say here what the essential nature of Ortiz’ offense is, as of now. Before his tragic downfall against Marcos Maidana, and even during it, he was all two-fisted assault, hooking to the head and body and mixing uppercuts into his combinations on the inside — including a nifty lead right hook/right uppercut combo. Post-downfall, he was more of a circling counterpuncher, albeit with the same arsenal. Then, against Andre Berto, he was back to swarming offensive machine. Overall, he is more comfortable on the inside than on the outside. He’s really good at firing short, powerful punches in close. As a southpaw, Ortiz has one of the tools said to bother Mayweather, and it’s true that Mayweather has had a harder time with Zab Judah and DeMarcus Corley and the like than some other fighters. But one of the other tools said to bother Mayweather is a good jab, and Berto does not have one. He paws with it, finds range with it, distracts with it. It’s not a real weapon. Still, even without it, he’s among the top offensive fighters in the game today.

Mayweather — now he’s got a good jab. It’s stiff and hard and fast and precise, and he’s one of the rare fighters who throws it to the head and body, the latter a paralyzing shot. Actually, he’s got a good everything. His favorite weapons are his straight right and left hook, but he can do anything else he wants, and is comfortable leading or countering; he just rarely wants to do more than jab, straight right and left hook, upstairs and downstairs, and he prefers to capitalize on his opponents’ mistakes. What makes him particularly dangerous is his outrageous accuracy. When he wants to hit someone, he does. The only knock on Mayweather’s offense is that he tends to throw solitary shots. But so far in his life, that’s not been a real problem with winning. I’ve given Mayweather’s opponent the edge in this category in his past two fights, because Juan Manuel Marquez was more well-rounded and aggressive, and Shane Mosley was more aggressive, stronger and decently versatile. It was a close call in both those fights, and it is here, too. But on aggression, strength and a little bit of versatility (despite his lack of a jab), I’m going to go against Mayweather one more time. Edge: Ortiz

Defense. Mayweather is one of the best few defensive fighters ever, so until Pernell Whitaker or Willie Pep’s reincarnations grow to full maturity — by which time Mayweather should be retired, actually — Mayweather will be much better (to the infinite power) than anyone he faces. He’s perfected that shoulder roll technique, where he can stand in front of you with his right hand tucked against his chin, his left arm draped across his body, and with subtle adjustments to his posture, make you miss or block his shot with his arms, shoulders and gloves. When he was younger, he used his legs more and ducked or sidestepped punches, and if he wants he can give you a totally different look with a more conventional both-gloves-up defense. The only times anyone has really caught Mayweather in recent years — Judah, Mosley and Corley — were times where he was distracted by a jab or in had been in the middle of his own offensive move. In that regard, it’s a bad thing for Ortiz that he doesn’t have much of a jab, but it’s a good thing that he can punch in the middle of another boxer’s offense.

But it’s only a bad thing that Ortiz isn’t much of a defensive fighter. When he went through that post-Maidana phase of being a circling counter-puncher, he was a bit better. When he focuses on it, he’s not bad on his feet or with upper body movement. It’s just that usually, he doesn’t focus on it. So he gets hit a lot. That’s a given. Whether he hits you more, and how he reacts to being hit, are the real issues for Ortiz. Edge: Mayweather

Intelligence. This is another 1st round knockout. Mayweather is one of the most cerebral fighters in boxing, alongside the Klitschko brothers, Andre Ward and Bernard Hopkins. I’d put him on top of all those men. He is exquisite when it comes to figuring out his opponents flaws and adjusting to what they do. Here’s the deal about Mayweather: You get one chance in a fight, at most, to beat him. Let’s say you do something he doesn’t expect, and he loses a round to you or gets wobbled. If you don’t finish him off right then and there, it’s over for you. Because the next round, he’s going to come back and rectify with a vengeance. Whatever trick you pulled? You can’t pull it again. It’s evaporated. As for trainer Roger Mayweather, he’s a decent trainer independent of Floyd, but they apparently make a good team when it comes to the right game plan.

Ortiz doesn’t seem to really think in the ring. Against Maidana, he just found himself in a slugfest and went with it. Post-Maidana, he was sort of mechanically going through the motions of doing what he was supposed to with the counterpunching and circling. I’ve never seen him make an adjustment in a fight. He just does what he does. He and trainer Danny Garcia have, usually, come in with the right game plan. But even a good game plan against Mayweather isn’t much salvation, given his own innate intelligence. Edge: Mayweather

Willpower. As much as insecurity lurks in the core of Mayweather’s personality, it never manifests itself in the ring. Dude’s got heart, and reacts with the right mix of determination and intelligence on those rare occasions where he’s gotten in a bind. Maybe someone can make him dig deeper than he ever has before and find that he’s empty in the bottom, and maybe that’s Ortiz. More likely, the insecurity is such that he fears losing so much, hates the idea so much, that his perfection in the ring is the central component of his identity, and he’ll protect it as fiercely as he can until the one day he retires or isn’t as good as he used to be.

Ortiz is the real fascinating case here. We’ve seen two very different fighters, in the heart department: against Maidana (there’s that name again), where he quit when the going got rough, and against Berto, where he was pathological in his commitment to victory, no matter how many times he had to get knocked down to win. So which one is it? My suspicion is that he’s learned his lesson and will fight with the right level of passion through pain, but you never know. As discussed earlier this week, Ortiz’ hero Oscar De La Hoya would alternate between gritty and soft. There’s another issue for Ortiz, though, separate from whether he can take punishment, and that’s whether he can put up with frustration. Against Lamont Peterson, a third generation carbon copy of Mayweather, Ortiz late in the fight appeared flummoxed and out of sorts about being outboxed. Maybe the Berto win has given him the confidence to overcome that, too. But we don’t know the pattern yet in Ortiz’ young career. Edge: Mayweather

The Rest. Normally, this is just a round-up of some odds and ends that rarely play as big a role as anything else. But there are two things that are potentially very problematic for Ortiz in this fight, and could prove determinative. One is that the referee Saturday is Joe Cortez. Cortez hasn’t been a good referee for years, but his handling of a specific Mayweather fight is especially foreboding for Ortiz. When Mayweather fought Ricky Hatton, Cortez separated them and warned Hatton far too much for him to be able to establish the inside game which was Hatton’s strength and is Ortiz’. Meanwhile, he let Mayweather get away with murder, particularly with him using his elbow and forearm to mangle and foul Hatton to further keep him from getting anything done up close. Second, Ortiz has come across like a nervous kid in the mega-fight spotlight, and it’s probably because he is. But if anyone’s going to get intimidated by the moment, to get frozen in the lights, it’s Ortiz, not Mayweather, who lives in the spotlight.

The rest of the rest: Las Vegas is Mayweather’s turf, but Ortiz fights and trains in Southern California where he has a big fan base, so he very well could have the crowd on his side, depending on how many people travel to the fight. That should help him, even though he said the crowd “got” to him in the Maidana fight and cheered him into getting into a foolish slugfest. It won’t hurt Mayweather, who’s used to being booed, and even seems to enjoyed it… If Ortiz gets Mayweather hurt, he’s a good finisher, but he’ll have to be smartly aggressive, because Mayweather recovers quickly and can make you pay if you rush him. If Mayweather gets Ortiz hurt, he’s a good finisher when he decides to be, but knockouts aren’t his priority. And if Mayweather does go for the knockout, he has to know that Ortiz is capable of counterpunch knockdowns even when wobbled, because he’s managed it a few times… Both have skin that tends to hold up against cuts, although we’ve seen Ortiz swollen on occasion and Mayweather has suffered the rare nick. For a while there, Mayweather had a variety of maladies, like bad hands and elbow injuries and the like. But it’s really not been anything that’s made a big difference in the ring in any fight I can think of. Ortiz doesn’t have an injury history of note. There was a brief scare there a few weeks ago in training, when Ortiz sat out a day with back soreness. Everyone downplayed it as a problem, though, so we really don’t know what the situation is. 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.