By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s official, folks … Victor Ortiz is not in Kansas anymore.
And while I concede his hard-luck back story is still second to none, it’s just as clear that he came to Las Vegas Saturday night to participate in an event for which he was woefully unprepared.
In practical terms, the poor kid brought a knife to a gunfight.
Oh sure, he’d done all the right things going in. He flexed for the 24/7 cameras, boldly claimed Floyd Mayweather Jr. had outlived his shelf life and arrived at the MGM Grand ring with a strut typically reserved for those with more than one title-fight win in a seven-year pro career.
And once inside, bless his heart, he kept trying to play that leading man role. He landed a couple left-hand leads. He pushed and shoved his elder in the corners. And he resurrected a maniacal smile from the Berto fight during the short bursts when combat was intensified.
But when the fourth round arrived, he got himself in over his, errr… head.
Perhaps determined to exact a pound of flesh before being swept away by decidedly negative momentum, Ortiz initiated another roughhouse scrum, and – before Joe Cortez could intervene fairly and firmly – sprung forward on his toes to drive his skull into Mayweather’s face.
The true intent of such a punk move… who really knows?
Maybe he was looking to break a nose. Maybe he was hoping to open a cut. Or maybe, as he tried to sell to gullible microphones and cameras in the aftermath, maybe it was just an accident.
Regardless, the angry look on Mayweather’s face was visible.
And as he impatiently paced while waiting for Cortez to issue a penalty, his message was undeniable.
“You, my friend… just wrote a check that your ass can’t cash.”
The five-division elite showed his ire with a combo as vicious as there’s been this side of Manila, reducing his foe to ex-champ status and riling an 80-year-old blowhard to the edge of verbal senility.
It was both predictable and pathetic from the agenda-wielding analyst, whom Mayweather has clearly rubbed the wrong way since beginning a weight-class climb with a 130-pound belt in 1998.
The old coot has recited the same drivel repeatedly in Floyd’s HBO afterglows, most recently eschewing deserved praise to claim “everyone knew going in” that he’d whip Shane Mosley in 2010.
Of course, when his network’s latest cash cow beat the same guy a year later… it was parade-worthy.
And apparently, the fact the new cow was twice as heavily favored as his predecessor didn’t matter to the grumpy old man, who’s never been one to let truth get in the way of a good tantrum.
But fortunately on Saturday night, reason eventually prevailed.
Not only did the geezer’s own ringside colleague – a Hall of Famer named Emanuel Steward – immediately say Mayweather had done nothing wrong in answering Ortiz’s foul with brutal fairness, but Cortez spoke up as well later with a similar diagnosis.
“Time was in,” he said.
“The fighter needed to keep his guard up. Mayweather did nothing illegal.”
So, while Larry’s bratty in-ring challenge has been the lead item in early-week post-mortems, it’s an unfair smokescreen to obscure yet another elite performance.
Not only did the new kingpin beat a streaking title-holder 10 years younger and 14 pounds heavier, but he did so in a manner – stalking the bigger man, pressing the fight – that ought to at least temporarily shut the yaps of those still insisting he’s a safety-first, exchange-averse bore.
And while I know he’ll have pom-poms ready for November’s PPV sequel, even Larry’s got to look in the mirror and realize the guy who’s been feasting on table scraps – De La Hoya, Hatton, Mosley… Marquez – might not really be ready for a seat at the grown-up table when push comes to shove.
My only fear for Mr. Merchant?
The shock of actually seeing Mayweather topple his hero might just kill him.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBF junior bantamweight title – Mexicali, Mexico
Raul Martinez (No. 1 contender) vs. Rodrigo Guerrero (No. 3 contender)
Martinez (28-1, 16 KO): Second title fight (0-1, 0 KO); Beat Guerrero in 2010 (SD 12)
Guerrero (15-3-1, 10 KO): Second title fight (0-1, 0 KO); Two wins in last four fights (2-2, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Strong southpaw flips script in championship rematch.” Guerrero by decision
Vacant IBO welterweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Kaizer Mabuza (No. 12 contender) vs. Chris van Heerden (No. 38 contender)
Mabuza (23-7-3, 14 KO): Second title fight (0-1, 0 KO); Twenty-fifth fight in South Africa (19-2-3, 11 KO)
Van Heerden (16-1-1, 10 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten in South Africa (16-0-1, 10 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Veteran outpoints newbie to capture first title belt.” Mabuza by decision
Vacant IBO strawweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Michael Landero (No. 2 contender) vs. Hekkie Budler (No. 19 contender)
Landero (15-4-4, 5 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2008 (8-0-1, 5 KO)
Budler (18-1, 6 KO): Fourth title fight (2-1, 0 KO); Held IBO belt (2010-11, one defense)
Fitzbitz says: “Filipino youngster continues climb up world ladder.” Landero in 10
IBO junior flyweight/WBC light flyweight titles – Mexico City, Mexico
Gideon Buthelezi (IBO champion) vs. Adrian Hernandez (WBC champion)
(If Hernandez wins, IBO title is vacant)
Buthelezi (12-2, 4 KO): First title defense; First fight outside South Africa
Hernandez (21-1-1, 13 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (8-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Hometown edge for streaking 25-year-old incumbent.” Hernandez by decision
WBO middleweight title – Olimp, Russia
Dmitry Pirog (champion) vs. Gennady Martirosyan (No. 1 contender)
Pirog (18-0, 14 KO): Second title defense; Thirteen KOs in Russia (16-0, 13 KO)
Martirosyan (22-2, 11 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten in Russia since 2005 (19-0, 10 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Champion continues marked improvement since becoming elite.” Pirog by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “World Championships” are only included if no “Super Champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 2-0
Overall picks record: 244-80 (75.3 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .