Victor Ortiz will bring a power-punching attack and, it turns out, the heart of a fighter into the ring when he faces Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday. Beginning with his disappointing 2009 loss to Marcos Maidana, Ortiz has scored 14 knockdowns, flooring all seven opponents he has faced. More important, he has proved to skeptics that he isn't a quitter after all. Can he be the first to solve the puzzle of the undefeated Mayweather? Ortiz's previous key fights may offer clues.
1. Marcos Maidana
When and where: June 27, 2009, Los Angeles
Result: Maidana by TKO in 6
What it means: It was Ortiz's postfight remark after this thrilling brawl -- as much his actual loss to Marcos Maidana -- that came to dog Ortiz for almost two years, labeling him a quitter. Facing HBO's camera with a bloody gash over his right eye and a swelling purple circle under his left, the 22-year-old Ortiz told Max Kellerman: "I'm young, but I don't think I deserve to be getting beat up like this. So I have a lot of thinking to do." It wasn't Ortiz's first pro loss (he had dropped one fight years earlier on a low-blow disqualification), but it was the first time he had been truly beaten up, and it seemed like he was contemplating a career change. It became his "no mas" moment.
Ortiz had come out of the gate strong, getting off a crisp right hook that floored Maidana in Round 1. They stayed toe-to-toe, and with a minute left in the opening round Maidana landed a giant right that put Ortiz on the canvas. Ortiz came back to deck Maidana twice in Round 2, but couldn't finish off the nails-tough Maidana, who surged back. By Round 5, Ortiz's Golden Boy face was cut and swollen. In the sixth, Maidana cornered Ortiz and pounded to the head and body until Ortiz fell to his knees, and when the ringside doctor and referee Raul Caiz took Ortiz aside to examine his cut, none of the three men seemed eager to have the fight continue.
Ortiz would need two fights against easy opponents before testing himself at a major league level again. Maidana is as different as you can get from Mayweather, but memories of the loss -- and of Ortiz's resurrection in its aftermath -- are likely to serve Ortiz when he faces Mayweather's inevitable late-innings rally.
2. Lamont Peterson
When and where: Jan. 11, 2010, Las Vegas
Result: Majority draw in 10
What it means: This isn't a blueprint for a fight against Mayweather, but it demonstrated Ortiz's ability to find the chin of an elusive, cautious fighter, which Mayweather is. Ortiz pursued and pressured from the start and found the knockdown button early, flooring Peterson twice in Round 3. It's not a good sign that he failed to finish the job and allowed Peterson to bang his way back into the fight and earn the draw. It's not a good sign, either, that Ortiz landed only two jabs (out of 121 thrown) in the entire 10-round fight, nor that Peterson landed more total shots overall, at a higher connect percentage.
One thing that a walk-into-the pocket fighter like Ortiz probably will need against Mayweather is a hard chin (see the endings of Floyd's Ricky Hatton and Arturo Gatti destructions for visual evidence). Ortiz's chin had been considered questionable, but late in the Peterson fight he walked through numerous hard lefts to the head. That said, Lamont Peterson is no Mayweather. Floyd is far more talented on defense, a more experienced, cerebral fighter who adapts to any style. And even with his historically sore hands, Mayweather probably hits harder than Peterson. Still, this was a small but key step -- against a game, name opponent -- in Ortiz's ring rehabilitation.
3. Nate Campbell
When and where: May 15, 2010, New York
Result: Ortiz by unanimous decision in 10
What it means: Underestimating the wily, tough, veteran Nate Campbell was a mistake that one hot prospect had made before. In 2008, Campbell pounced on then-undefeated Juan Diaz with a nonstop offensive attack, snatching Diaz's IBF lightweight title by decision and demonstrating that Campbell wasn't going to be any young star's sparring partner.
Ortiz, showing increasing maturity, didn't allow Campbell to ambush him like that (maybe, at least in part, because Campbell was 37 by the time they met). Ortiz fought backing up in early rounds, letting Campbell come to him but answering with precise power shots. In Round 2, a short right to Campbell's head (plus a foot tangle) forced Campbell to touch the canvas with his gloves -- for a knockdown. By the sixth, Ortiz was the one walking forward and applying the pressure, never letting the experienced "Galaxxy Warrior" get any kind of rally going.
4. Andre Berto
When and where: April 16, 2011, Mashantucket, Conn.
Result: Ortiz by unanimous decision in 12
What it means: All this epic fight did was convince everybody that Ortiz just might have the guts to be a champion after all. He showed the fortitude we had always expected him to bring, inner strength he had forged outside the ring to overcome poverty as an abandoned child -- but a perseverance that skeptics still weren't convinced he carried inside the ropes. Here, Ortiz had multiple opportunities to fold his cards. Instead, he surged. Ortiz's boxing -- outgunning one of the fastest-handed welterweights -- also augurs well for a matchup against the speedy Mayweather, though Berto is nowhere near the master of defense that Mayweather is.
This was a slugfest from the start. With about a minute left in Round 1, Ortiz wobbled Berto with a straight right and unleashed a barrage that put him down. But Berto evened it up by catching Ortiz with a quick right to the side of the head to floor him near the end of Round 2. Ortiz took the fight right back, dominating Berto until it seemed Berto's knockdown punch had been just a lucky shot. But in the sixth, Berto started landing a long, whipping right -- and, again in the final minute of the round, he clocked Ortiz to put him down.
Berto promptly teed off, driving Ortiz from ringside to ringside, and as referee Michael Ortega appeared almost ready to stop it, Ortiz connected with two hard left hooks, with seconds remaining in the round, scoring his own second knockdown. The rest of the fight was just as important: Ortiz hung tough and didn't let Berto back into the game. The gutsy job was enough to show that Ortiz belongs in the ring versus Mayweather, and allows some to imagine he might have the tools -- and even the willpower -- to score an upset.
Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.