By Jake Donovan
A failed drug test is bound to be a low point in any fighter’s career. For Luis Ortiz, the potential crisis instead turned out to be a reminder of the strong support system by which he’s surrounded.
The unbeaten Cuban southpaw was riding high following what at the time served as a 1st round knockout win over Lateef Kayode last September. With the win came an interim version of the heavyweight title, a reign he briefly enjoyed before learning a little over one month later that he tested positive for a banned substance.
Two separate hearings followed before ultimately receiving a fine and nine-month suspension, retroactive to the night of the fight. The win was changed to a No-Contest and his reputation was immediately tarnished. While most in the industry were ready to move on from the now 36-year old heavyweight, Golden Boy Promotions stood by his side.
“Oscar was a boxer and understands what a fighter goes through, during the good and bad times,” Ortiz noted to BoxingScene.com ahead of his upcoming HBO-televised heavyweight clash with Bryant Jennings this Saturday at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. “I couldn’t ask for a better, more loyal promoter than Golden Boy Promotions.”
The decision by Golden Boy to stand by its fighter wasn’t out of blind loyalty, though.
“The thing is, we knew what we had in Ortiz,” points out Bernard Hopkins, the legendary former two-division champ who is a managing partner in Golden Boy Promotions. “There are guys, they have all the talent in the world, but the stuff that goes bad – it defines who they are and the ones you don’t want to waste your time on.
“Then you get those – yeah, sometimes something happens, but it’s a mistake. You know that somehow, someway they can move on from it, learn from it and know what they got to do to make it right. That’s who we have in Luis Ortiz. We needed to know that he knows it, before letting him know that we’re all the way with him.”
Golden Boy Promotions placed Ortiz (23-0, 20KOs) on its first available show following his suspension, having appeared on the undercard of David Lemieux’ vacant middleweight title winning effort over Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam this past June in Montreal. Ortiz made quick work of Byron Polley, stopping the American journeyman inside of a round in his best effort to shake off any lingering ring rust.
He’s since returned in October, stopping Argentina’s Matias Vidondo in three rounds to reclaim the interim title he previously claimed under suspect circumstances. The fight came on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin’s one-sided 8th round knockout of Lemieux at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Not much was thought of Ortiz’ matchup, though in his defense the opportunity was initially offered to Jennings, who held out for an offer ultimately worth his while.
The two will now meet on Saturday evening, but with such a fight coming on the condition that both parties undergo random pre-fight and post-fight drug testing as conducted by Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA). Ortiz willingly agreed - not just out of obligation, but based on the trust held by those who’ve stood by him throughout his career.
“The first thing, even before the suspension we told him that he had to own up to it, admit that he (messed) up and accept whatever punishment comes from it,” Hopkins reveals, offering an example in his unmatched ability to draw parallels between boxing and sex. “It’s like, you have a partner, you’re together for years. You come home one day and you find your partner in bed bare-ass naked.
“You know they did some foul (stuff) in there, but you don’t want to throw away years of love. So you just want to know they never gonna do it again. That’s basically the conversation we had with Luis. We know what we got. We just needed to know what he did, wanted him to admit that he did something stupid and that it ain’t ever gonna happen again.”
Ortiz and Jennings headline the 2015 season finale of HBO’s Boxing After Dark (Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET).
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox