A few days before Oscar De La Hoya faced Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas on Dec. 6, De La Hoya took to the podium at the final news conference to make his remarks.
De La Hoya, of course, did his job to hype the pay-per-view fight. He also took time to thank his team and the numerous sponsors involved in the year's biggest fight. But just before wrapping up, De La Hoya had a special thank you to dole out.
This one went to "Vicious" Victor Ortiz, a 21-year-old junior welterweight who had recently signed with De La Hoya's company, Golden Boy Promotions. Ortiz, a southpaw, spent time in De La Hoya's training camp as a stand-in for Pacquiao, who's also a hard-hitting, quick southpaw. But Ortiz was also there because he was training for his undercard fight against Jeffrey Resto, which would take place in the prime position immediately prior to the main event.
"One person I really want to thank, who made me move my head more, was Victor Ortiz," De La Hoya said. "For giving me that shiner under my eye that they showed on TV [on HBO's '24/7'], and I wasn't too happy about, but thank you very much."
It was high praise from boxing's biggest star. Although reaching the same stratosphere of stardom that De La Hoya has reached is unlikely, the talented Ortiz (23-1-1, 18 KOs), with a crowd-pleasing, aggressive style, two-fisted power and boyish charm, has a chance to be a star for years to come, making him the choice as the 2008 ESPN.com Prospect of the Year in a year that had several quality candidates, including Alfredo Angulo, James Kirkland, Devon Alexander and Yuriorkis Gamboa.
Ortiz, who along with his older sister and younger brother was abandoned by his parents in Kansas when he was a child before he found his way to Oxnard, Calif., didn't start his year until May because he filed for bankruptcy and had his promotional contract with Top Rank voided by the court. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is suing co-managers Shelly Finkel and Rolando Arellano over the matter, saying they engineered the bankruptcy to get out of his promotional contract so they could take Ortiz to Golden Boy Promotions, which signed him after the court said Ortiz was free of Top Rank.
Finkel and Arellano, who bought Ortiz's contract from manager Cameron Dunkin at the time of the bankruptcy filing, deny Arum's charges.
So while the nasty business of boxing plays out for Ortiz, who turned pro in 2004 at age 17, outside the ring, he's doing his job inside the ring. He turned in three ruthless knockouts against opponents who represented a mild step up in competition.
Ortiz's first fight of the year came on short notice after a court ruling allowed him to fight for Golden Boy, which added him to the May undercard of De La Hoya's fight against Steve Forbes.
Ortiz shook off the rust of a six-month layoff by stopping hard puncher Dairo Esalas in the fifth round. Although Ortiz was knocked down in the third round, he finished Esalas in exciting fashion, dropping him three times in all.
In September, Ortiz authored a dynamic fifth-round knockout of veteran Roberto Arrieta, before returning to destroy Resto in two rounds.
If you're curious about the loss and draw on Ortiz's record, pretend they don't exist. In his eighth pro fight, Ortiz was disqualified in the first round for knocking Corey Alarcon cold with an uppercut off a clinch in a mismatch. The first-round technical draw came in January 2007, when Ortiz was thrashing Marvin Cordova and about to knock him out when an accidental head-butt opened a cut on Ortiz's forehead and rendered him unable to continue.
Ortiz's 2009 campaign will start against an opponent to be determined on HBO's "Boxing After Dark" in March. It surely won't be the only time you see the rising star on HBO.
Other future stars (in alphabetical order with age, division, promoter and record):
Also coming: award for fight of the year
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.