By Cliff Rold
In July 1927, trying to recapture his mojo after losing the Heavyweight title to Gene Tunney, the great Jack Dempsey was getting outboxed by the younger Jack Sharkey. Sharkey would one day go on to win the crown. He had some learning to do yet. Working inside in the seventh, Dempsey went below the belt, threw his left shoulder into the face of Sharkey, and then hit him another couple stiff rights to the jock. Holding the left arm of Sharkey as Sharkey grimaced and turned his head to complain of the foul blows, Dempsey finished his man with a thunderous left hook.
It’s one of the many fondly recalled, chuckled about, almost Bunyan-esque elements of the Dempsey legend.
On Saturday night in Las Vegas, lineal World Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather was on the receiving end of one of the more blatant, nasty fouls in recent memory. Having what, to then, was his best moment and round of the fight, Victor Ortiz was doing good work along the ropes. He landed a couple rights.
Then, inexplicably, Ortiz all but leapt, forehead first, into the face of Mayweather for an intentional butt. It was a jaw dropping moment of stupidity. Mayweather didn’t bitch, complain, or go nuts.
Mayweather kept composed.
Had Ortiz gone to the neutral corner, shrugged, and snarled, it might have made sense. Instead, he came apart, hugging, kissing, touching gloves again, losing a point, and then going to hug again. Ten seconds later, he was done.
Was it a sucker punch? Absolutely. Was that a bad thing?
Dempsey would have been proud.
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Mayweather A+; Ortiz B+/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Mayweather B; Ortiz B+/Post: B+; B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Mayweather A+; Ortiz B-/Post: A; C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Mayweather A; Ortiz A/Post: A; F
Mayweather is a mean bastard in the ring and that is said with respect. Mayweather (42-0, 26 KO) may not be a great guy, can come off like an ass, but between the strands he is a fighter. It’s uncertain when all this hand shaking, overly polite nonsense so thoroughly infected boxing, but Mayweather is no subscriber. He dropped Arturo Gatti for spending too long being nice, popped Shane Mosley repeatedly in the mush for it, and the foul Ortiz got what for.
Ortiz is lucky he was in with someone as calculated as Mayweather. Imagine what Roberto Duran would have done to someone who went billy goat on him and then tried to hug it out? It’s not a pretty sight.
For those who feel it was a sucker punch, they are right but it wasn’t a foul like hitting on the break. If anyone is to bear the brunt of criticism, it is referee Joe Cortez. In most point deduction scenarios with a flagrant foul, referees bring both fighters together at mid-ring and offer some words of wisdom before a firm restart.
That’s not what happened here. Cortez doddered about, saying “time in” a couple of times but seemingly in the form of a question to the timekeeper. Mayweather wasn’t looking at Cortez but surely heard him. Mayweather accepted as Ortiz leaned in for his third dap post-foul, but when it lasted longer than a split second he saw an opening and capitalized.
Before that, fans were getting a decent fight. Mayweather won the first close and the third huge. Ortiz had a case for winning the second and was winning the fourth before it all fell apart. Ortiz actually made Mayweather miss a little as “Money” took an aggressive posture, coming forward and letting a carving right hand go. However, even missing a few, the right was ruling the night.
There’s lots of room for armchair psychology in the finish. Was Ortiz looking for a way out after the beating in the third? Was he really knocked out or did he elect to just take the count as a mentally defeated man? Did the sting of Ortiz’s shots before the butt leave Mayweather looking for a way to get rid of a dangerous man early?
Those questions get into mindset and it’s impossible to have a definitive answer in a chaotic moment like that. What is for sure is how unprepared Ortiz was. To lose focus, and butt when he did, was inexcusable for a professional with over 30 fights.
To have paid so little attention to film study, to not realize that Mayweather will punch through what are unnecessary gestures of hollow sportsmanship, was inconceivable. Great fighters don’t let their foes get away with fouling them.
Mayweather is a great fighter. Ortiz is not, and he isn’t going to be.
Now, as to the other albatross in the Mayweather room…
Mayweather’s discord with certain interviewers is always watchable at the least. Anyone as obviously surrounded by yes men isn’t likely to take kindly to being confronted. Mayweather has had terse exchanges with Brian Kelly many times and Max Kellerman after Juan Manuel Marquez. He and Larry Merchant have had more than their share as well.
The line between sports reporter and press agent is all too thin in an age where ESPN airs garbage like “The Decision.” Many superstar athletes are allowed to live in a bubble where tough questions just don’t come their way that often. Merchant is an old-school beat reporter from when that meant something. He was schooled in getting around the B.S. to get answers. Merchant’s style rubs some the wrong way because it’s not fawning and useless.
He might not have approached in the most genial manner, but his questions to Mayweather were not unreasonable and he wasn’t being even as prickly as he normally is with Mayweather.
Could he have been more objective?
Mentioning to Floyd that the crowd was booing was a statement without context. The fight was staged in correlation with Mexican Independence Day against a Mexican-American. Of course the crowd was booing. Everyone who missed their under/over bet was probably booing too. That didn’t mean Mayweather was wrong or that his legal punch deserved reference before the flagrant foul preceding it.
Mayweather’s tirade though? Yeah, that was wrong. Telling Merchant, a reporter asking direct questions, that he didn’t know anything about boxing was comical. How absurd would it be if Christiane Amanpour, during a serious grilling of a world leader, were told her tough questions were out of line because she’d never led a nation?
Listening to Mayweather’s comments at the post-fight press conference, where he referred to wanting to thank the fans and be positive, none of which are things Merchant is obligated to indulge any more than he did (and he did), it’s hard not to assume that Mayweather’s real problem with Merchant is that his job at HBO, unlike most of the network employees, isn’t to kiss Mayweather’s ass.
Make no mistake though. Merchant’s response was way out of line. If he’d told Mayweather to go to hell, even dropped an “F-bomb,” so be it. To say he’d ever have kicked Mayweather’s ass was absurd.
First of all, if Merchant was fifty years younger, he might have found out an answer to that retort on the spot and this column might have an address where cards and flowers could be sent while Merchant recovered.
Second of all, it’s important to remember that the athletes being covered here are fighters. No matter how much a member of the press without a boxing background knows about the history of boxing, the nature of boxing, the story of boxing, fighters are right to say they really don’t know what it is to be a fighter. It is something that can be known about, but not really known.
That line has to be respected. For a moment, Merchant did not. Before leaving HBO for Showtime in the early 1990s, Mike Tyson stipulated Larry Merchant could not interview him even if Merchant remained on broadcast.
Merchant should not be retired or fired as Mayweather insisted. He’s still one of the best that ever played his role on TV in the fight game and, given that he was responding to a temper tantrum, he can be allowed an error. However, as regards Mayweather, it’s hard to imagine him retaining what image of objectivity he had and Mayweather requesting not to be interviewed by Merchant again would be reasonable.
And what of the future? For Mayweather, what matters is Manny Pacquiao. That was as it was a week ago and as it will be in the weeks ahead. There’s no need to expound on the notion.
It should happen.
The wait continues to see if it will.
Report Card Picks 2011: 30-11
Jr. Middleweight: The weekend’s only real controversy was at 154 lbs. where Saul Alvarez looked silly for most of the night until hurting Alfonso Gomez and drawing what looked like a ‘save the big money prospect’ hook. He stays put in the ratings but certainly does not rise.
Welterweight: Despite the finish, there’s really nowhere for Ortiz to fall in the Welterweight ratings. Said Ouali was upset over the weekend and exits. Mike Jones, inactive over the weekend, nonetheless makes his ratings debut.
Jr. Welterweight: Erik Morales wins a belt at 140 but the packed class leaves little room to rise.
These results and more are reflected a page away.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]