By Jake Donovan
For decades there has existed the claim that it’s not the belt that makes the fighter, but the fighter that makes the belt.
Far too often has been the case where the efforts made to have an alphabet trinket at stake in a fight debunked that theory, but we’re seeing more and more these days a transition away from that mindset.
Case in point is the February 11 rematch between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto.
Perhaps the right amount of persuasion could have allowed Berto (28-1, 22KO) to have the belt he acquired last September at stake for a rematch to last year’s 12-round war with Ortiz (29-3-2, 22KO). There is precedence for sanctioning bodies to grant exceptions to mandatory defenses being due, especially when it’s a sequel to what was universally recognized as one of the best fights of 2011.
But shortly after his HBO-televised title win over Jan Zaveck five months after losing to Ortiz, Berto decided that it was more important to avenge the lone loss of his career rather than wait out the politics of the sport.
“I’m probably a little bit (upset about no belt at stake). But I’m at a place where realistically it’s about the fights,” Berto said of his return go with Ortiz, which airs live on Showtime from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “I won two belts in the sport, but I’m at a point where I’m just going back to the basics. It’s a fight that I wanted and definitely that the people wanted and it’s going to be an exciting one.”
Their first thriller produced four knockdowns – two for each fighter – before Ortiz pulled ahead in the second half of the contest to secure the biggest win of his career. The Californian parlayed the victory into a high-profile showdown with Floyd Mayweather, which came two weeks after Berto’s aforementioned win over Zaveck.
Ortiz’ night didn’t go quite as well, suffering perhaps the most spoken-about knockout of the year, getting caught off guard and knocked out cold by Mayweather at the end of the fourth round after repeatedly apologizing for an earlier intentional foul.
Both fighters could’ve traveled in a different direction for the first fight of 2012, but instead preferred to once again square off in a fight that is expected to be as close and thrilling as their first encounter.
“It says a lot about both of us,” Berto insists. “You see a kid go through a lot of success but also a lot of criticism and a lot of hate, on both sides. In me, you have a fighter comes back and wins a world title but give it up and make an exciting fight. Same with Ortiz, he came off a lost to Floyd and het knocked out but he signed to make another exciting fight.
“When we’re done with our careers, we won’t have any regrets about just fighting our hearts out for the love of the sport.”
While they obviously don’t agree on how the fight will turn out (both sides are predicting a knockout for their guy), Ortiz co-signs with Berto’s thoughts on the rematch.
“I did initially say (when I was a kid) that I want to take every belt in the world,” Ortiz admits before realizing the bigger picture as he arrived at this opportunity. “But given the circumstances, where this guy supposedly wants the rematch and saying whatever – I am more than welcome to give him a shot. He gave me a shot.”
Ortiz’ win over Berto marked his only title fight win in his otherwise promising career. His lone other attempt was in another thriller, scoring three knockdowns but suffering three of his own in succumbing to Marcos Maidana in the sixth round of their June ’09 instant classic, which featured an interim belt at stake.
More than two years later, more people remember the fight itself (and the aftermath) then the fact that a belt was at stake. Berto’s welterweight belt was hardly as significant as the 12 rounds that took place prior to it changing hands.
But for those who thrive for there to be a belt at stake, Ortiz’ handlers have a resolution.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to spend $5,000 on a beautiful belt called ‘The People’s Champ’ belt and I’m going to give it to the winner,” Rolando Arrellano, Ortiz’ manager, mockingly insists. “And it will probably be f*ckin’ cheaper than anything else out there.”
Given the anticipation surrounding the fight, it’s probably just as significant as anything else out there as well.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]