Saturday, June 27, 2009

Don't Let the Smile Fool You

Baby-faced contender Victor Ortiz was all smiles earlier this week when he worked out in front of the press in Los Angeles.

He might just be the most famous person ever born in Garden City, Kansas.

And that's saying something considering the fact “Vicious” Victor Ortiz has only boxed 87 rounds as a professional prizefighter. He has yet to win a world boxing title, although he'll take the first step on that journey tonight when he faces Argentina's Marcos Maidana for the interim WBA 140-pound title. While he's still a baby in fistic terms and he's still cutting his teeth in the world where they punch for pay, Victor Ortiz is one of the most promising young prospects in the sport of boxing today.

Now aligned with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, the similarities between he and “The Golden Boy” are an inevitable fact of his life. Photogenic, engaging, amiable and outgoing are just some of the same complimentary adjectives that have been used to describe the young southpaw with a record of 24-1-1, 19KOs. He does remind you a bit of Oscar, too, especially when he smiles or when he chuckles at his own good fortune.

He looks younger than 22, and it would be a safe bet to say that it's not necessary for him to break out the Barbasol and a Gillette razor every morning in order to keep his baby face looking the way it does. The big silver watch he wears, the one that looks like it might be a Rolex, give him the appearance of a son that may have raided Dad's jewelry box. Since when does such a young kid worry about time?

At this early stage of his career, only four years removed from graduating from high school, Ortiz already seems more relaxed in front of the cameras and microphones than De La Hoya perhaps ever did. It's obvious that Ortiz is ready for the fame that is coming his way and he's comfortable in the spotlight.

Ortiz is promoted by Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. The pair are pictured above displaying their pearly whites.

He is on the verge of the proverbial “big time” as tomorrow night he will appear on HBO as the headliner at the STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles. With success coming relatively quickly, Ortiz has managed to remain grounded because of his middle American upbringing and his humble Kansas roots.

“I always go back home, back to Kansas, after a fight,” says Ortiz who fights out of Oxnard, California. “After my fights, I'll go back home and maybe I'll look like I've been in a fight, but I just like to go back home. That's where I was brought up and that's where I'm from.”

When the ill-fated main event between WBA featherweight titlist Chris John and challenger Rocky Juarez fell apart earlier this week because of an irregularity discovered with John's blood, the promoters were left with little choice but to elevate the Ortiz vs. Maidana fight to the top of the bill.

“You know, it's kind of crazy and it's kind of nuts for this to have happened,” said a smiling Ortiz. “The fight is on HBO, I'm finally going to be headlining something. My career is definitely coming together and things are falling into place for me. This is something that I've always looked forward to and have always worked towards. I mean, I grew up watching fighters and fights on HBO and now it's me.”

If Ortiz comes away with a win tomorrow night, which is no sure thing since his South American opponent has a record of 25-1, 24 KOs (with 21 of those knockouts coming in three rounds or less) he will likely find himself in a major title fight situation before this year closes out. There are a multitude of talented fighters at or around the 140-pound division and the opportunities for attractive match-ups with some of the biggest names in the sport are limitless.

Ortiz and Maidana will meet again tonight under vastly different and less friendly circumstances.

“It's a world championship on the line and I just turned 22,” emphasizes Ortiz. “So, I'm staying hungry and I'm keeping on top of my game because I know there are a lot of guys out there that are very hungry right now, too. (Insert Pacquiao, Hatton, Mosley, Cotto, Khan, etc., etc. here) When you think about it, whoever is in my way is not going to be a walk in the park for me.”

And speaking of walks in the park, Maidana will likely not be a tip-toe through the tulips. Most fighters you see that come from Argentina don't cry for you - and they are usually wild bull types who rush ahead with wide, powerful punches. That being the case, Maidana looks to be straight from central casting. Aside from his impressive pro credentials, “El Chino” was an accomplished amateur who won the 2002 and 2003 Argentine nationals. He was a quarter finalist at the 2003 world amateur championships and he just missed the 2004 Olympic games after dropping a competitive decision to Philadelphia's Rock Allen in a semi-final match-up.

Despite the fact that most of these types of showcase events with young Golden Boy prospects on HBO are generally one-sided mismatches, this one could be different and Ortiz admits as much.

“Hey, I'm fighting a guy that is going to be very, very tough,” he says. “I mean, Maidana has a record of 25-1 with 24 knockouts, so I think it's going to a pretty good night. He'll come to fight and I think he'll fight hard.”

So how did such a nice kid, with such a bright smile, wind up with such a “Vicious” nickname? Ortiz claims it goes back to his amateur days when he was only 16 and he beat 43 other fighters in the 132-pound open division at the 2004 Olympic Trials.

“I was one the youngest fighter in the tournament and maybe the youngest in the history of it. I was knocking out men back then,” he says. “From then on I've been known as 'Vicious' Victor Ortiz."

So don't let the smile fool you.

June 2009

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