By Mitch Abramson
Am I the only one disturbed by what happened to Victor Ortiz on Saturday? Am I the only one who felt a little embarrassed for the sport after witnessing the ending? Am I the only one who thinks the line of defense used to justify Floyd Mayweather’s actions, that Ortiz should have protected himself at all times, is absurd? Does it really matter what I think? Not in the grand scheme of things, but let me say this: I started the day as a Mayweather fan, a not-so-secret admirer, and walked away shaking my head after the card, wondering if I would ever watch the guy fight again.
For someone who values the importance of sportsmanship, whose favorite part of the fight (or one of his favorite parts) is when two fighters embrace in a show of mutual respect after the fight, Saturday’s ending was a little nauseating. After Ortiz was deducted a point for a head butt in the fourth round, he tried to embrace Mayweather as if requesting forgiveness. When he pulled back from the hug, Mayweather quickly unloaded on him while Ortiz's hands were down, dropping him for the count.
I kept asking myself if some of the great fighters of the sport, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard- if they would have ended a fight that way, hitting an opponent while his hands were down after touching gloves or hugging it out. I kept thinking they wouldn’t. Manny Pacquiao? Definitely not. I thought, maybe I’m being a little naïve here, that maybe I was looking at it from the wrong angle. I phoned Evander Holyfield on a Sunday night. Who better than Evander to weigh-in on a rough-and-tumble fight? (Besides, in what other sport can you just phone an all-time great on a whim and ask him questions?)
The “Real Deal,” said he wasn’t surprised that Floyd retaliated like he did after he was butted. Holyfield was of course looking at the fight from the perspective of a fighter who has been fouled repeatedly, as Mayweather was against Ortiz. (Ortiz tried to butt Mayweather a number of times whenever he got him in a corner.)
“Of course you’re dealing with someone who naturally is going to get you back,” Holyfield said in his southern drawl, speaking of Mayweather. “And there is no doubt in my mind that he would get him back, and of course he waited for the perfect time to do it. And what happened is, he took advantage of the things that had been said, you know, you have to hold your hands up all the time.”
Holyfield thinks Joe Cortez, the referee on Saturday, should have given Ortiz five minutes to rest after he was decked by Mayweather because he obviously wasn’t ready for the onslaught that put him down at 2:59 of the fourth round.
As for whether Holyfield would have reacted the same way that Mayweather had, attacking Ortiz when he wasn’t ready, Holyfield said, “No,” though he can understand why Mayweather did.
“Me personally, I wouldn’t because that’s just not me,” said Holyfield, who is in discussions for a title bout with WBA heavyweight champion Alexander Povetkin, perhaps for Dec. 17. “But it’s hard to say if that happens,” Holyfield went on. “If someone fouled you on purpose first, every person that I know who is tough already has an attitude already, [so anything can happen].”
Holyfield drew from his own history, speaking of a bout in 1989 with Michael Dokes. He said that Dokes kept hitting him low, without getting a point deducted. Eventually, Holyfield took matters into his own hands.
“The referee kept saying he was going to take a point away, but he never did,” Holyfield said. “The next time he did it, I didn’t wait for the referee. I hit him [low] on purpose. He went down and then I stood over him and started talking to him. This is the kind of stuff that happens.”
Holyfield’s point is that stuff, sometimes sordid stuff, happens in boxing. Sometimes if a fighter fouls another fighter hard enough, it may cause the other fighter to foul back in frustration, which is kind of what Mayweather did, without being called on the foul.
“In the fight on Saturday, it’s a little different because the referee did take away a point from Ortiz,” Holyfield said. “He did take the point off.”
So does that mean Floyd was wrong to do what he did? Holyfield wasn’t sure.
Holyfield watched the fight on television surrounded by people who were making a lot of noise, and he admitted it was hard to hear what the referee was saying to the fighters at the end. I watched the fight in the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan, with around 20 other hardcore fans in my company. We all saw Mayweather dominate the first three rounds, take an illegal head butt from Ortiz in the fourth- for which a point was deducted- and watch, as if in slow motion, when a clearly oblivious Ortiz dropped his guard to embrace Mayweather, apologizing again for butting him. Mayweather leaned in, and then quickly nailed Ortiz twice while his hands were down. Fight over.
Since Cortez had instructed the fighters to resume the fight after the penalty, Mayweather was not wrong to carry on as he did. But was he morally right to continue the fight like that? Was he justified to conduct himself like that? Did he do the right thing when Ortiz clearly wasn’t ready? Did he act like a champion in that moment when he chopped Ortiz down with a left-hook, right-hand combination? Did he act like a role model in that instant? Am I being a bit dramatic here? Perhaps. But I don’t think Mayweather comported himself like a champion. He was winning the fight. He would have stopped Ortiz eventually. It was only a matter of time. I wanted to see Floyd break down Ortiz systematically.
I wanted a conventional ending. Instead, the ending was messy and painted the sport as disorganized and chaotic and lawless even if Mayweather was within his rights to do what he did. It just didn’t look right. Cortez didn’t help things. He should have been close to the fighters at the end. Instead, he was talking to someone outside the ring, not even paying attention. Maybe he could have coordinated that last embrace between the fighters a little better.
In any event, Mayweather shouldn’t have attacked a defenseless Ortiz, just as he did against Arturo Gatti more than six years ago when Gatti was leveled by a left hook he didn’t see because he was too busy talking to the referee. Mayweather revealed himself to be, once again, a win-at-all-costs fighter who doesn’t care how he does it, just as long as he gets his hand raised at the end. And of course Ortiz was too trusting and naïve. Not ready for the big time, or a ring predator like Mayweather.
No one can doubt Mayweather’s genius in the ring. He’s a ring savant, a brilliant strategist. He will probably go down as one of the best defensive fighters ever, one of its smartest tacticians the sport has seen. But no matter how strange he acted outside the ring, I always fancied him a sportsman, someone who respected the sport’s unspoken etiquette because of his background, from his father to his uncle to his amateur pedigree. Mayweather always seemed to train hard, always came prepared. He was a student of the game, it seemed. He’s still most of those things, just not the sportsman part. And to me, that’s a big deal. It's simple, really. Mayweather should have waited a second until Ortiz put his hands up.