By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Here’s a news flash, folks… I love sports.
I played football, baseball and hockey to moderate success as a youngster, picked up distance running as an intermittent hobby in my 30s and have been fortunate enough to scratch out something resembling a post-college living watching and writing about athletes in action.
But I’ve always had a special affection for boxing.
Whether it was the feel of hitting a heavy bag, landing a right hand or simply sitting back with the wife and watching a couple high-enders mix it up on pay-per-view TV, it’s had me since hello.
I never kidded myself into thinking I had mettle to compete on anything near a respectable level, but through some middling training in a north Philly gym, a sparring match in Tampa with a female world champion and years of simply being around fighters and trainers, I do have a feel for what it requires.
And even in the midst of his second major career crisis, I think Victor Ortiz has it.
Yes, I was watching his fight with Josesito Lopez on Saturday night – P.S., I heart Sky Sports – and yes, I was as stunned as a battered Lopez appeared to be when referee Jack Reiss waved his arms to signal the fight would not continue into its final nine minutes at Staples Center.
I’ll even concede that my split-second gut reaction was… “Holy sh*t, this guy’s career is over.”
But then, upon comprehending why Ortiz chose to stay on the stool rather than wrapping up the systematic nine-round rearrangement he’d already done on Lopez’s face, I quickly came to my senses.
Because the reasoning in this case went far beyond the balky shoulder, cramped stomach and waning heart excuses previously given by consensus bad-asses who ended up with Canastota plaques.
No, he didn’t invent an exit after a few rounds with a guy he knew he couldn’t catch – a la Liston ’64 and Duran ’80 – nor did he simply give up upon realizing his best was no longer sufficient, like Tyson ’05.
Let’s all say it together, people… he had a broken jaw.
Still, the impromptu surrender prompted the predictable round of morning-after cheap shots from all manner of wannabe tough guys, who no doubt tossed back donuts and milkshakes while going all caps with “Ortiz QUITS” or rehashing old claims that his retirement indicated cowardice.
It’s a reason I hate the sport that I love.
While tapping out manly manifestos from poster-laden “apartments” in the comfort of mom’s basement, these clowns repeatedly have the gall to criticize athletes with the guts to attempt things in circumstances that their own raisin-sized weaponry would never have pondered.
And when one of those athletes has the audacity to choose long-term health over short-term glory in the face of legitimate injury, the mini-testosterone factories get to pumping on overdrive.
Forget broken jaws. I’d wager that most of them wouldn’t go outside in a heavy rain.
But it won’t stop the comparisons.
They’ll bring up Ali’s continuing against Norton with a jaw injury of his own, or erect another wordy statue to a more recent hero – Arturo Gatti – and wax poetic on how no one short of a sissy-boy would have ever considered abandoning a fight short of a flat-lining EKG.
As if permanent disfigurement or debilitating brain injury was somehow a badge of honor.
Here’s a tip, macho men… it’s not.
Had any of the punch-addled ex-fighters whose tragic stories you read these days had it to do over again, it’s my wager that the majority would look back and admit they’d have rather taken one or two fewer combinations in exchange for the ability to still tie their shoes without assistance.
Ali might still be the ambassador he was destined to be, and Gatti might have avoided the post-ring freefall that resulted in a mysterious hotel room demise that’ll be debated for decades.
They can’t change their histories, but Ortiz can still chart his.
Three years ago this week, he got up from two knockdowns, thought about the future and decided that prolonging a declining battle against a rock-hard Marcos Maidana wasn’t the best course of action for a 22-year-old with better options than imminent loss of consciousness.
And in the interim 1,091 days before Saturday, he won five fights, beat three former champions and rode shotgun to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a pay-per-view event that wound up the second-highest grossing non-heavyweight fight in history, according to ESPN.
This time, with blood clearly visible in a mouth he claimed was impossible to close, Ortiz decided that three more rounds’ worth of shots from an insistent – if not incapacitating – Lopez paled in comparison to an immediate hospital exam and a less-prolonged absence before a chance to win a rematch, and regain his place on the big-fight stage between 147 and 154 pounds.
It cost him dollars against Canelo Alvarez for now.
But it saved him sense for later.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior middleweight title – Indio, Calif.
Cornelius Bundrage (champion) vs. Cory Spinks (No. 1 contender)
Bundrage (31-4, 18 KO): Second title defense; Won title from Spinks (TKO 5) in August 2010
Spinks (39-6, 11 KO): Thirteenth title fight (7-5); Title fights at 147 (4-2), 154 (3-2) and 160 (0-1)
Fitzbitz says: “First result notwithstanding, Spinks is the more talented fighter. If he comes in at the right weight after the right prep, another of his boxing clinics should ensue.” Spinks by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. For example, fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 0-0
Overall picks record: 318-106 (75.0 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 on Twitter – @fitzbitz.