With the boxing universe convinced that Victor Ortiz is destined for greatness, the fighter himself remains cautious but confident as he anticipates the next major step in his journey to the top, facing Marcos Maidana for the WBA's interim light welterweight title this Saturday night on Boxing After Dark.
Spike Lee once said of the early Muhammad Ali, "He was young, he was handsome, he was articulate, and he was whuppin' ass too."
You can ditto all of that for Vicious Victor. This Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Ortiz (24-1-1) fights for his first share of a world title, facing Argentina's Marcos Maidana for the interim WBA junior welterweight crown. You'd think this would be a dizzying moment for a boxer who is only 22 years old, yet it somehow feels like manifest destiny, fate's natural next move. Possessed of a startling poise for his age and a mega-watt smile that has been compared to the famous grin of his boss, Oscar De La Hoya, Ortiz long has been considered one of boxing's can't-miss rising stars. And now with De La Hoya's retirement from the ring, he's also the heir apparent in the vaunted fighting stable of Golden Boy Promotions.
For his part, Ortiz is quick to dismiss any talk of him being the next "Golden Boy." "Everybody knows there's only Oscar De La Hoya," he says. "There was only one Sugar Ray Leonard, one Sugar Ray Robinson. I'm not trying to fill anybody's shoes; I'm not looking to be "the next" anybody. I'm me. What you see is what you get, and that's going to be me for a long time."
This quote perfectly encapsulates the enigma of Victor's winning demeanor, quietly humble yet brimming with self-belief and a contagious sense of his own purpose. There was only one Ray Leonard, there will be only one Victor Ortiz. The point is crystal clear. This is a man with great plans for himself.
At the same time, he's in no hurry to seize the limelight. "I don't look to the future," he says, "and I rarely look to my past. I move forward and take it day by day. I really don't like to look ahead of what my task is right now."
Ortiz readily admits that his past is still with him, a painful history he speaks of openly. Growing up in the small town of Garden City, Kansas, his mother left him and his two siblings when he was seven, an abandonment that catapulted his father into a cycle of alcoholism and despair. By the time Victor was 13, his father was gone as well, along with his 16-year-old sister, who was pregnant. He was left alone in Garden City to fend for himself and his younger brother.
He did hard agricultural labor. He bounced around foster homes. He did some drug-dealing. In short, his childhood was a constant battle, and the sport of boxing, as it so often is for troubled young men, proved his sole refuge from the fight that was his life.
"I have some really big wounds, man," he says. "There's no doubt about that. And they're just... they're just there sometimes, you know? But I try my best to channel all of that negativity and turn it positive so I can become the figure that I want to be."
Maintaining this kind of zen-like equanimity is a tall order for a young boxer. All the worldly spoils of fame beckon beyond every next triumph, every crushing KO. It's the reason that patience is such a rare commodity in the fight game, where the only law of the jungle is "get that money, get it fast, get it now."
Perhaps the patience of Ortiz is particularly strong right now with the knowledge that, so long as he continues his winning ways, he likely won't have to be patient for much longer. HBO Boxing analyst Max Kellerman tends to speak of fighters rising through the ranks of stardom as if they were baseball players working their way to the majors. According to that analogy, Ortiz's last fight, co-headlining a Boxing After Dark card in March with James Kirkland, was akin to his proving moment in Triple A ball, and to say that he passed the audition is to put it mildly. Expected to face his biggest challenge from rough Greek fighter, Mike Arnaoutis, Ortiz made it a short evening's work, stopping Arnaoutis in the second round with a furious onslaught that more than lived up to his "Vicious" moniker.
The performance earned Ortiz a call up to the bigs. He makes his debut as an HBO headliner on this Saturday's Boxing After Dark card in L.A. And though his opponent, Maidana, is little known here in the States (he's never fought in the U.S.), the Argentinian promises to be anything but a live pinata at Victor's coming-out party. This past February, Maidana showed his mettle by fighting for the WBA light welterweight title against current champion Andriy Kotelnik, losing a hard-fought decision by only a single point on a single scorecard.
Ortiz is well aware that Maidana is no soft touch. He's pleased with his condition after what he calls a "brutal" training camp under his trainer, Danny Garcia. Studying Maidana's style on video has given him some specific ideas strategy-wise, although he's not about to give any of those away.
As for the bizarre situation with the WBA title at 140 pounds in which Ortiz and Maidana are fighting for the interim belt on the same night that Kotelnik fights Amir Khan for the actual belt in Manchester, England, it doesn't concern Ortiz in the slightest. "This is just another big fight that I'm very well prepared for," he insists. "The rest of it... I don't think about that stuff at all."
Strange as it is, though, the WBA situation has immediate implications for Victor's future. Should he get past Maidana, Ortiz is likely to face the winner of Kotelnik/Khan later this year. And should he win that fight, he then would be a bona fide belt-holder at 140 pounds, with his status solidified in boxing's big leagues. At which point, Ortiz conceivably could find himself in line to trade leather with some of the biggest names in the sport - say, for instance, the consensus champ at 140 and also the consensus pound-for-pound king, Manny Pacquiao.
So... do fantasy mega-fights against the likes of Pac Man ever cross Ortiz's mind?
"Thoughts do arise," he admits. "But honestly, I'm not about to focus on Manny Pacquiao. I'm focused on the person that's in front of me and that's Marcos Maidana. He's my target. For me to think seriously about somebody else would just be out of the question."
In other words, he's sticking ruthlessly to the plan that he believes destiny has laid out for him, and that's a plan that goes day by day, fight by fight, knockout by knockout.