By Jake Donovan
Floyd Mayweather returns. The boxing world is abuzz.
What else is new, right?
Well, quite a bit.
The undefeated longtime pound-for-pound entrant ended a 16-month hiatus on Saturday night with a fourth round knockout of Victor Ortiz at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It was Mayweather’s 7th straight appearance in the venue, though this particular showing – particularly its ending and the aftermath – created a world of controversy that will be discussed and debated for a long time.
Mayweather weighed 146.5 lb for the welterweight bout, while Ortiz came in at the divisional limit of 147 lb.
Ortiz constantly circled to Mayweather’s left early on, in search of a home for his power punches. Mayweather remained relatively stationary, but in his preferred range to shoot his jab and score with right hands the moment Ortiz offered the slightest of openings.
No such invitation was needed in a dominant third round, when Mayweather landed at will. Ortiz and his handlers taunted Mayweather before the fight, daring him to not fight in reverse, yet it was the 24-year old southpaw who was on the run as Mayweather couldn’t miss with his right hand.
The most dominant round of the fight to that point offered the appearance of an early and explosive ending for one of only two men who can rightfully claim to be the best fighter in the world.
Such an ending would be provided, but not even close to the suggested course of action.
Ortiz enjoyed a huge bounce back round in the fourth, landing several flush shots that had Mayweather backing up for the first time in the fight. A left hand had Mayweather pinned in the corner, but an overzealous Ortiz failed to contain his enthusiasm and lost control of the sequence. A combination was followed up by a blatant headbutt, which prompted intervention from referee Joe Cortez, who once again would become a part of a prizefight for all of the wrong reasons.
Time was called to deduct a point from Ortiz before action resumed. The fact that action had resumed was apparently lost on everyone in the ring – save for Mayweather.
Cortez not only ushered the fighters to center ring to have the fight continue, but even shouted, ‘Let’s go’ as he was doing so. For reasons only he can explain, Cortez then turned away to confirm with the timekeeper that everyone was back on the clock.
For reasons only he can explain, Ortiz seemed more interested in what Cortez was doing than the fighter standing in front of him.
Immediately after the foul, Ortiz embraced Mayweather and even kissed him on the cheek in apologizing for his actions. Once action resumed, Mayweather kissed him good night.
“We touched gloves, I hit him with a left hook, right hand and the fight ended,” was how Mayweather recalled the final sequence of events that advanced his ring record to 42-0 (27KO).
Ortiz’ view on the subject wasn’t quite the same.
“I obeyed as I was told. I looked at the ref and “Boom” I was knocked out,” was Ortiz’ recollection of the rest of the fight, which consisted of a left hook and straight right hand, the latter sending him flat on his back.
Cortez watched with his mouth agape – that is, after he turned and realized there was a prizefight going on – before picking up the count from the ringside official. The count reached eight before the third man waved off the bout as Ortiz was crawling on all fours, unable to bring himself to his feet.
The official time was 2:59 of the fourth round.
How the ending played out was immediately criticized. The HBO PPV broadcast team – while citing that no ring rules were broken – claimed Mayweather to be less than professional. The pro-Ortiz crowd on hand booed the verdict. Even at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, fights reportedly broke out shortly after the conclusion of the pay-per-view which aired live in the arena as did the opening two televised bouts of the evening.
On message boards and social network sites, fans and media alike claimed Mayweather’s actions to be unsportsmanlike, whether or not it was legal.
The one thing that seems to be agreed upon was that the five-division world champion was the only one who properly paid homage to an old but all-too-true saying – protect yourself at all times.
As a result, Mayweather picks up his first knockout since stopping Ricky Hatton in ten rounds in their December 2007 event that confirmed his mainstream appeal as the A-side.
But it wasn’t his ability to deliver the knockout so much as the means in which it was produced that dominated the in-ring post fight interview with longtime HBO color commentator Larry Merchant. The issue was touched on throughout the course of the brief Q&A before Mayweather gave up and instructed the veteran broadcaster to instead interview Ortiz.
“You never give me a fair shake,” was Mayweather’s claim, citing the harsh criticism often offered by Merchant, who has become infamous over the years for always asking the tough questions. "HBO needs to fire your a**. You don't know s*** about boxing."
Mayweather was unprofessional in his approach, both in what he said and also getting in the veteran broadcaster's face in doing so. However, Merchant's parting shot was a clear indication that he forgot who he represents and why he is on hand for such events.
“If I were 50 years younger, I would kick your ass,” Merchant barked back as Mayweather and his team proceeded to walk out of the ring.
The spirit of the discussion spilled over to Ortiz’ post-fight interview, as the 24-year old was asked his thoughts on how the end of the fight played out.
“I even apologized to him. I’m not a dirty fighter,” Ortiz insisted as he tried to justify the foul that initiated the fight ending sequence. “He came forward really fast and I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t do it intentionally.
“At the end of the day, I came to show the fans a good time and I think I did, except for the miscommunication with the referee. It was a learning experience.”
It was also his first loss in more than two years, snapping a six-fight unbeaten streak as he falls to 29-3-2 (22KO).
Ortiz, who earned $2.5 million for the fight – 10% of what Mayweather is guaranteed along with a percentage of the gate and pay-per-view upside – resurrected his career earlier this year with a gutsy 12-round decision over Andre Berto in an all out war that saw both fighter twice hit the canvas.
The bout went a long way towards restoring a lot of the credibility that was lost in his quit job against Marcos Maidana in June 2009. Ortiz scored three knockdowns in the fight, but was floored twice and decided early in the sixth round that he had enough.
On Saturday evening in Las Vegas, Mayweather decided that he had enough. He had enough of what took place in the ring prior to setting up the highlight reel knockout. He had enough of the attack-mode questioning directed at him immediately after the fight.
From the opening bell until the end of the fight, he had enough in his 34-year old, twice “retired” body to remind the boxing world that his name belongs on the very short list when discussion is of the best fighters in the world.
Even without Manny Pacquiao’s name not being mentioned until the very end of the broadcast, the course of events leading up to and including Mayweather’s return to the ring was enough to ignite a fire in the sports world.
MEANWHILE IN L.A....
In what was billed as a split-site co-feature but in actuality was the evening’s televised chief support, undefeated super welterweight Saul Alvarez scored a sixth round over fringe contender Alfonso Gomez.
The bout was the lone televised portion of the evening to come from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Alvarez floored Gomez in the opening round, but for whatever reason eased off of the gas and allowed the underdog back into the fight. Gomez took advantage simply by being the more active fighter, a strategy that worked well for the next several rounds.
That tune changed in the sixth, when Alvarez landed a right cross that left Gomez stunned. Alvarez immediately jumped on his wounded foe, and unloaded with punches as Gomez covered up along the ropes. It seemed as if a highlight reel stoppage was in place, only for referee Wayne Hedgepeth to jump in and deny Alvarez – and the viewing public – that opportunity by pulling the plug a tad early.
The consensus was that Gomez was hurt and on his way out but that the referee should’ve allowed for a more conclusive ending. To his credit, Alvarez recognized a situation and took advantage of it, while Gomez chose to cover up and not throw punches in return rather than clinch and clear his head.
Alvarez improves to 38-0-1 (28KO) with the win as his star power continues to rise on both sides of the border. Gomez loses for the first time in more than three years as he falls to 23-5-2 (12KO).
AND BACK IN VEGAS…
Mexican warrior Erik Morales added one more chapter to his legendary career, rallying back from a sluggish start to bludgeon and stop previously unbeaten Pablo Cesar Cano in the 10th round of their junior welterweight bout.
The first several rounds suggested that perhaps his effort in his war with Marcos Maidana earlier this year was Morales’ last hurrah. Cano dominated the action in the early going, constantly beating the older Morales to the punch and landing with conviction.
Morales rallied back in the third, drawing blood from a cut under Cano’s left eye and the fight was on from there. The future Hall of Famer punched his way back into the fight, one that lived up to its pre-fight expectations of an all-out war.
Cano held his own for the most part, but his skin was no longer able to cooperate. It appeared as if the fight was well on its way to a medical stoppage somewhere in the final two rounds, but Cano’s trainer Rudy Perez showed proper concern for his fighter and informed the referee to stop the contest.
Morales improves to 52-7 with the win as his improbable comeback continues. The efforts of a sanctioning body making a title available for the fight leaves Morales as the first Mexican to capture alphabet hardware in four separate weight classes, although the belt’s rightful owner is Tim Bradley, who returns to the ring in November after a forced 10-month hiatus.
Cano suffers his first loss as a pro as he falls to 22-1-1 (12KO). The Mexican took the fight on less than two weeks notice, replacing Lucas Matthysse who pulled out due to an untimely illness suffered late in training camp.
In the televised opener, Jessie Vargas edged Josesito Lopez in a closely contested 10-round split decision. Scores were 95-94 and 96-93 for Vargas, who was the busier fighter throughout, and 95-94 for Lopez, who landed the more telling blows but just not enough of them to win over the other two judges.
Vargas lost a point for a low blow and was rocked by a left hook in the final round, but showed tremendous heart and poise throughout the contest. The final outcome was disputed, though widely agreed that it was a terrific open to the telecast.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .