It looks like the dust is finally settling after last Saturday’s bizarre fight between Victor Ortiz and Floyd Mayweather Jr. and we’re going to take a crack at having the last word on what may go down as the most noteworthy boxing event of 2011. Herewith, the 10 burning questions you can’t stop thinking about, with the answers that will help make sense of the nonsensical.
1. Were the two punches that ended the fight legal?
Yes. The left hook and straight right which concluded the match were technically legal shots. But it was also an ambush. Ortiz was waiting for a clear signal from the referee that the fight was back on. His hands were down and he was intent, not on resuming the battle, but on apologizing to Mayweather. This was obvious to everyone. Floyd encouraged Ortiz to stay in that frame of mind by putting his hands on Ortiz’s shoulders and nodding to him. However, referee Joe Cortez had signalled for the fight to continue. Sort of. In fact his indication that the bout resume was done so poorly that ringside officials weren’t sure if time was back in or not, which is why Cortez was preoccupied with the timekeeper instead of refereeing the fight. Meanwhile, Mayweather, aware Cortez was distracted, and with his hands still on Ortiz’s shoulders, snapped a short, sharp left hook to Ortiz’s chin, stunning him, before slugging him with the straight right. Legal shots? Yes. Cheap ones? You bet.
2. After the Ortiz headbutt, was this debacle avoidable?
Of course. If a competent referee who understood exactly what the situation demanded had been officiating, Mayweather would never have had the opportunity to blindside a defenceless opponent. Instead the ref would have first given a clear warning to both men that no further fouling would be tolerated, had them touch gloves under his watchful eye, before making them take a step or two back and then clearly signalling that time was back in and the fight was back on.
3. Is it time for Joe Cortez to retire?
The better question is when hasn’t it been time for Cortez to retire. The last time Joe Cortez was an excellent referee the Spice Girls were at the top of the charts, so do the math.
4. Will there be a rematch?
No. While it likely wouldn’t have made any difference otherwise, you can’t get up from being cold-cocked laughing, joking around and telling Larry Merchant it was a positive “learning experience” and then expect to get a rematch. Unfortunately, Ortiz has all the mental toughness of Andrew Golota and flakes don’t get second chances unless they’re kicking someone’s ass before they get disqualified. Which brings us to …
5. Who was winning the fight?
The consensus is this was a mismatch and Mayweather was headed for an easy win, but this seems based as much on what people thought was going to happen, not what actually transpired in the twelve minutes of action we saw. While it’s likely Mayweather’s greater speed and accuracy would have eventually determined the outcome, there was evidence to suggest the fight was turning into an entertaining, rough-and-tumble scrap involving plenty of toe-to-toe action, exactly the type of fight Ortiz wanted.
Contrary to popular belief, Mayweather was not dominating Ortiz. Landing more clean punches? Definitely. Smacking him from corner to corner and wiping the floor with him? Hardly. Rounds one and two were close, the second arguably belonging to Ortiz, and while the third was definitely Mayweather’s, the fourth was another close round that Ortiz might have stolen with that spirited (unfortunately, too spirited) rush at the end. This is the primary reason the fans at the MGM Grand booed Mayweather. They felt they had been cheated out of watching a competitive fight. And they were right.
6. Does this fight add to Mayweather’s legacy?
Not in the way he thinks. Almost no one involved in boxing gave Ortiz a serious chance at winning this fight. How does defeating a huge underdog add to one’s “legacy” as one of boxing’s great champions? The fact that Mayweather scored the knockout in such questionable fashion further undermines any degree of accomplishment. However, there’s another legacy being built up, that of being boxing’s biggest weasel. Whether it’s hitting opponents while their hands are down (yes, he’s done it before; Arturo Gatti, round 1), being inactive for long stretches, taking on only easy fights, or ducking Pacquiao, Mayweather continues to cement his legacy as a fighter who pockets enormous paydays from boxing while giving precious little back.
If Mayweather were asked this question he would no doubt point to his undefeated record, now 42-0. But guess what? László Papp, Sven Ottke, and Terry Marsh all retired undefeated and last time I checked, nobody cared. In fact coming back from a tough loss against a top-level opponent often counts for much more. Do we hold Ali’s loss to Joe Frazier against him? Or Sugar Ray Robinson’s to Carmen Basilio? Or Ray Leonard’s to Roberto Duran? Quite the opposite actually. In defeat, we learned something about the grit, heart and character of these fighters that added something truly valuable to their reputations and their standing in boxing history.
7. Did Ortiz get what he deserved?
The butt was a blatant intentional foul and deserved to be harshly penalized. Cortez could have taken two points from Ortiz for that brutal head-smash and no one would have batted an eye. But this is why we have referees. When fighters commit fouls, the referee metes out the punishment, either point deductions or disqualification. Boxing is still a sport; there is a rule book. One of the more interesting questions raised afterwards was what if Mayweather had butted Ortiz and Victor then landed the sucker punches? Would the same people deriding Floyd for his lack of sportsmanship be shouting just as loud? Maybe not. But here’s another good question that no one I know of has asked: what if Ortiz had been seriously injured? It’s possible: he was caught completely off guard and hit flush on the chin. I have a funny feeling few would be saying Ortiz got what he deserved for the head butt if he’d ended up in a hospital afterwards.
8. How does this rank in boxing history in terms of the biggest cheap shots of all time?
Oh, it’s up there, especially when you take into consideration that up to the second Mayweather threw the left hook he pretended to be accepting an apology and had his hands on Ortiz’s shoulders, effectively preventing Victor from getting set to defend himself. This involved a degree of calculation you don’t often see. But boxing has a long history of cheap shots. You can go all the way back to 1908 when Stanley Ketchel offered to shake hands at the start of his bout with Billy Papke and Papke took the opportunity to slug Ketchel in the face and break his nose. They say love springs eternal; so too does the urge to cash in on a defenceless opponent whose chin hangs in the air like a pinanta just waiting to get clobbered.
9. Where does Mayweather go from here?
Your guess is as good as mine. Since Mayweather is above it all, including the sport of boxing, he may again decide to take a lengthy hiatus. But even he must realize that would not be in his best interest. First, he’s not getting any younger. In February he will be 35 years old, an age that, Bernard Hopkins notwithstanding, certainly marks the beginning of the end. If Floyd continues to compete once a year at the most, he can likely count on only two or three more fights before his speed and reflexes start to reflect his age. Second, everyone is already impatient with his low activity level and his reluctance to fight Manny Pacquiao. After this unsatisfying outing, another long vacation is not going to help his popularity or standing as a pay-per-view attraction. Since he’s not going to fight Pacquiao, the betting here is he will continue to take on younger opponents whose inexperience can be capitalized upon. Amir Khan, should he get past Lamont Peterson in December, stands out as a likely opponent.
10. Will Mayweather vs Pacquiao ever happen?
No. It’s time to be unequivocal. We’ve been waiting and wondering about this match for more than two-and-a-half years and Mayweather has painted himself into a corner. The blood testing issue is no longer an obstacle; the only obstacles are Mayweather’s ego and his hatred of Bob Arum. Since accepting the fight would put Mayweather in the uncomfortable position of acknowledging that the excuses he’s made for not taking the fight are bogus, plus that Pacquiao may now be a bigger draw than he is, it’s just much easier for him to continue side-stepping the whole issue and giving the sport and its fans the proverbial bird. Judging from his comments after the Ortiz fight, that’s exactly what he plans to do. It’s sad but it’s time to accept it; one of the great ring talents of the last thirty years or more lacks the confidence and pride to be a true competitor. — Michael Carbert