Published September 16, 2011
LAS VEGAS – Victor Ortiz knocks people down, and he's done it every time he has stepped into the ring. He also goes down, twice in his last fight alone.
It's a pattern that can make for exciting fights. It's also a style that plays right into the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Mayweather returns to the ring for the first time in 16 months Saturday night, facing Ortiz in a fight for a piece of the welterweight title. His experience and great defense make him a big favorite, but Mayweather vows this fight will be entertaining from the opening bell.
"I'm coming straight ahead," Mayweather said. "This fight is not going the distance."
In most instances, Ortiz would be seen as little more than a tuneup for a possible Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight next spring. But the 24-year-old is young and strong and coming off a huge win over Andre Berto that not only made him a champion at 147 pounds but, more importantly, got Mayweather's attention.
Mayweather was at ringside in April when Ortiz came off the canvas in the second and sixth rounds to win a bruising decision over Berto, a fight that so impressed Mayweather he hand picked Ortiz to be his next opponent.
"It was such an exciting fight that it motivated me to get back in the ring and display my skills," Mayweather said. "I wanted to get back in there and rock and roll."
Mayweather will earn another massive payday — possibly more than $20 million — to try to remain undefeated in the 42nd fight of his pro career. If there are any questions about him, it's that he's not getting any younger at the age of 34 and has fought so infrequently recently there's a chance he could have ring rust.
Ortiz is a decade younger at 24 and is both strong and fast. But he's in the spotlight for the first time in his young career, and he's facing a fighter who has tremendous defensive skills and is a master at adjusting to what the man in front of him is doing in the ring.
Mayweather also has shown some mastery in the prefight buildup, extending invitations to the estranged brother of the man who trains Ortiz, along with Brandon Rios, a former stablemate at odds with Ortiz. But Ortiz said he's paying attention to nothing except what he has to do in the ring in the scheduled 12-round fight.
"I understand his tactics," Ortiz said. "He has a loud mouth and has to put somebody down. But it's always been me against everyone, and this is no different for me."
Ortiz weighed in at the class limit of 147 pounds Friday, while Mayweather was 146½.
As is usual with Mayweather fights of late, the plot line involves a fighter who will be thousands of miles from the ring at the MGM Grand hotel arena. So far Mayweather has resisted agreeing to a fight with Pacquiao, insisting that without Olympic-style drug testing he will not get in the ring with any fighter.
Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, indicated recently, though, that drug testing wouldn't be a roadblock to a fight next May, assuming Mayweather beats Ortiz and Pacquiao tops Juan Manuel Marquez in November.
"You keep hearing Pacquiao, Pacquiao, Pacquiao," Mayweather said. "I'm not ducking and dodging anyone. I'm not hiding from any opponent. If you're the best, take the test and we'll fight."
Although Mayweather claims he hasn't ducked anybody, a close look at his record might indicate the pay-per-view buys he generates are based more on what fans see on HBO's "24/7" reality series than what he has done in the ring. Count Oscar De La Hoya — who gave Mayweather his first big starring platform when they fought in 2007 — among those who think he has carefully selected his opponents.
"I fought guys over the hill, guys who were too small," said De La Hoya, who promotes Ortiz. "I won world titles that maybe were questionable. It's the truth. Mayweather is a victim of this, too. He has fought guys too small, washed up. He also hasn't fought nearly enough."
Indeed, Mayweather has fought only two times since stopping Ricky Hatton in 2007. He announced his retirement once and took off for more than a year for this fight. He says he needs the time to properly build up a big pay-per-view bout, but his inactivity and his refusal to fight Pacquiao have tarnished his legacy in the eyes of many in boxing.
"When all is said and done, all roads still head to Floyd Mayweather," Mayweather insisted.
He's expected to sell more than 1 million pay-per-views at $59.95 each for a card that also features Mexican legend Erik Morales in a 140-pound title fight against unbeaten Pablo Cesar Cano. Also on the televised card will be a fight from Los Angeles featuring Saul Alvarez in a 154-pound title defense against Alfonso Gomez.