By Robert Morales
It was Tuesday, about 1:20 p.m. in Ventura, Calif, some 60 miles from Los Angeles. Walking around the corner to get to an area behind Knuckleheadz Gym, a reporter is hit by a sea of blue t-shirt-wearing boys and girls from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
They were there to see welterweight world champion Victor Ortiz, who was named national spokesman for the organization, which has 370 agencies nationwide and serves 250,000 youths per year. It's a match made in heaven since Ortiz was abandoned by his parents as a boy.
In speaking with Ortiz, he seemed truly inspired about working with a company that is over 100 years old.
"It means quite a bit, man," said Ortiz, of Ventura via Garden City, Kan. "Some of these kids, they've grown up just like I have - no direction, no guidance and just to be part of that, then hey, if I can be make a difference in somebody's life, why not go ahead and do something?"
Hector Cortez is Chief Diversity Officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters. He said Ortiz became involved with the organization about a year ago, doing personal appearances at some of its events in the greater Los Angeles area.
"A little over four months ago, we had a conversation and he said, 'I want to do much more,' " said Cortez, who is stationed in Philadelphia. "And he agreed to talk about being our national ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters."
Cortez said 18 percent of the 250,000 youths represented annually by Big Brothers Big Sisters are Latino; nearly 70 percent in the Ventura County chapter are Latino. Cortez agreed Ortiz is a perfect fit.
"One of the things he says on tape is, 'It's not how you get knocked down, its how you get up,' right?" Cortez said. "And our kids see that every single day. They get knocked down in school, in the community - sometimes by their peers - and Victor shows them you don't have to stay down; you can get up.
"You don't have to be a fighter, per se. You don't have to fight with anger, because he (Ortiz) took his anger and channeled it and became a superstar. I think for the kids, 'He's just like us, he didn't stay down, he got strong, he was able to get up.' "
That indeed rings true for Ortiz. Not only did he have to overcome a terrible childhood, he had to get past his June 2009 technical knockout loss to Marcos Maidana at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Ortiz appeared to give up the ship and made post-fight comments that put him a negative light.
"Anything's possible," Ortiz said, when asked about his motivation in connecting with Big Brothers Big Sisters. "I've been told my whole life I'm not supposed to do anything. Like, I wasn't supposed to graduate, supposedly. According to statistics, I'm not supposed to be anywhere near the person I am right now."
Floyd Nunez, 15, is one of the young men represented by Big Brothers Big Sisters. Raised in the tough La Colonia section of Oxnard (next door to Ventura), Nunez said Ortiz's story gives him inspiration.
"It just proves that if he can make it, I can make it," Nunez said.
Cortez would like to see more adults take a page from Ortiz's book.
"The other thing is for our Latino men, step up to be a man and take care of those who are vulnerable ... and say you can make a difference in the life of that young child," he said.
De La Hoya Chimes In
Ortiz and his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, played host to a conference call Wednesday. A day earlier De La Hoya told the Spanish-language television network Univision that he was in rehabilitation for two months because of alcohol and cocaine abuse, and that he also cheated on his wife during those days he was using.
De La Hoya was asked if, based on his own current trials and tribulations, he can appreciate everything Ortiz has overcome.
"Obviously, I didn't live what Victor lived and I can't speak for him or even get close to what happened," De La Hoya said. "But all I can say is, what he has accomplished with the obstacles that he had in front of him ... sooner than later he was able to overcome all that adversity.
"He was able to overcome it and it shows you what a great person he is and true champion he is. And I can honestly say with a clear head that Victor is my hero."
De La Hoya was then asked if he wanted to expound on what he told Univision on Tuesday. His answer was a flat "No."
Ortiz's Opinion on Mayweather Fiasco
The first edition of HBO's 24/7 for Mayweather-Ortiz was this past Saturday and it's well-known that Floyd Jr. went off on his pops, Floyd Sr. Interestingly, Ortiz said he didn't watch it, but that many called to give him the skinny.
"I heard quite a bit about it," he said Tuesday. "But, you know, that's too bad. I don't know, there are people out there that maybe wish they had something like that, a dad, a mom, or a family like that. But you know, hey, to each his own. I think everybody has their different ways of thinking, and that's just too bad."
He Thinks He's Going To Hand Mayweather His First Loss
As Mayweather will tell anyone who will listen, 41 have tried, 41 have failed. So, Ortiz was asked, what makes him think he's going to be the first other than Mayweather to have his hand raised after a Mayweather fight.
"It's not I think, it's more along the lines I know," he said. "This guy can't stop me. He thinks he can, which I can applaud him for that. He can definitely try to take my crown, but all that trying is not going to be enough.
"I've been too hungry for too long, I've been down for too long; people have put me down for as long as I can remember for too long. I hit hard with both hands, I'm left-handed and I'm not stopping for anyone. And Floyd is definitely not the guy to take me."
Ortiz intimated Mayweather hasn't had a tough road.
"Well, I'm just thinking he's fighting all of the right fights at the right time," he said. "This time I think he went into the wrong den with the wrong lion at the wrong time."
Palomino Talks De La Hoya
De La Hoya may not have wanted to talk about his problems during the conference call, but former welterweight champion and Hall of Fame fighter Carlos Palomino had a few things to say on the subject when contacted Wednesday via telephone.
"I heard through some people that really know him well that he really had some problems," said Palomino, who lives in the San Fernando Valley (near Los Angeles). "I heard he used to like to hit the bottle quite a bit. I heard he liked to drink quite a bit even when he was fighting. I heard he used to get carried out of places, that he liked Tequila.
"It's hard for me to imagine why guys go down that road, especially when you're still active and competing."
Palomino, who said he was surprised to hear De La Hoya admit he had also been using cocaine, said he learned early on that mixing partying with fighting is not the way to go. The lesson learned came from the late, great Mando Ramos, who died in July 2008.
Palomino, fresh from a stint in the Army, had been summoned by his co-manager/co-trainer Jackie McCoy to spar with Ramos for a lightweight title defense against Chango Carmona at the Los Angeles Coliseum in September 1972. Ramos - who had been sober for years when he died - was notorious for his drug and alcohol abuse. And for sometimes training very little - if at all - for a fight.
Palomino said when he and McCoy went to where Ramos was staying, Ramos was in no shape to train.
"As soon as you walked in the house, you could smell the pot," Palomino said. "He would just be smoking a joint and then get ready to go to the gym and spar, and then not really spar. I thought to myself, 'How can a guy do this for a 15-round fight?'
"For that fight, we sparred one day. I was in camp four weeks and the rest of the time I spent sparring with the other sparring partners. Then to watch him almost get killed (Ramos was stopped by Carmona in the 8th round of a fight he was losing handily) in the ring, that really scared me. That taught me there is only one way to do this job, and that is to work hard."
Palomino probably didn't need any lecture after that, but he said McCoy made sure he understood the ramifications of partying while active.
"He used to tell me all the time, 'That just takes it out of you and shortens your career by years, just takes a toll on your body,' " Palomino said. "I think I learned more from Mando Ramos than I did with anyone in my career."
Ramos (37-11-1, 23 KOs) was seen as a fighter who could have been an all-time great had he done things differently. De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs) retired in the spring of 2009, just months after his eighth-round TKO loss to Manny Pacquiao the previous December.
Over the last four years and three months of his career, he fought just five times and went 2-3. It makes one wonder if those numbers at the end had anything to do with alcohol and/or drug abuse.
Marquez Looking Good
Lee Samuels, a spokesman for Top Rank Inc., said he was in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago for a Juan Manuel Marquez photo shoot. Marquez will square off with Manny Pacquiao for the third time on Nov. 12 in Las Vegas (on HBO pay-per-view).
Samuels said Marquez looked great, and that he was on the lookout for a strength and conditioning trainer.
The press tour for that fight begins this Friday in the Philippines. It will continue Tuesday in New York City, move to Beverly Hills on Wednesday and culminate Thursday in Mexico City.