Four years ago, Victor Ortiz was 24, had been defeated just twice in 32 fights and was rising from 140 to 147 pounds to challenge an unbeaten titleholder. What’s more, Ortiz’s 28-2-2 record at the time included 22 knockouts, with three of the stoppages coming in his previous five fights, in which he went 4-0-1.
Yet despite this success heading into his his April 2011 clash with then 147-pound champ Andre Berto, the Southern Californian southpaw was being viewed as an over-hyped underachiever still being defined by a sixth-round stoppage loss to Marcos Maidana in June 2009.
“They billed me as the next Oscar De La Hoya,” Victor Ortiz told one publication at the time. “Then I made one mistake in six rounds, and I got sliced open by the media. They destroyed me.”
Fueled by the media’s less-than-flattering portrayal of his accomplishments, Ortiz entered the Berto fight hell-bent on rewriting his career narrative. Rewrite it he did—but it wasn’t easy.
In what many dubbed the 2011 Fight of the Year, Ortiz and Berto each hit the deck four times, but it was Ortiz who earned the unanimous decision to dethrone Berto in his sixth title defense.
“[Going into the fight], you wanted to know if Ortiz not only had the heart to win, but would he carry the power from junior welterweight to welterweight? That was a big question,” recalls Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood. “Ortiz climbed off the floor to win. Whatever it took, Ortiz was going to be victorious that night, and he showed so much heart and guts in doing it.
“Ortiz was just not going to be beaten, which was something that had been lacking in his previous fights.”
It’s taken more than four years, but Ortiz and Berto are finally set to dance again, as they meet Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card on Fox (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
Both fighters have struggled since their first meeting. Ortiz went on to be stopped in three successive bouts before rallying to win his last two (both by knockout), while Berto is 3-3 with two KO victories and one stoppage defeat.
As a result, there will be no world championship on the line in Saturday’s 12-round contest. But that doesn’t mean Ortiz is any less eager to get another crack at Berto.
“I’m super-excited to prove I can beat this guy again,” Ortiz says. “Styles makes fights, and mine overcomes Berto’s any day.”
“ I’m 29, a bit wiser, and I’ve grown oblivious and numb to [criticism]. I don’t listen to it or waste any sleep on it. ” Victor Ortiz
Against Maidana, Ortiz was ripped for “quitting” when he was twice floored and suffered a bloody face and a broken wrist. But he also scored three knockdowns of his own and was actually leading the fight 48-45 on all three scorecards when the bout was halted 46 seconds into Round 6.
He certainly regained some respect after going 5-0-1 in his next six fights, capped by the courageous performance against Berto. But when that was followed by the three-fight losing streak, the critics started chirping again.
“I’ve got no courage, I’m a quitter,” Ortiz says sarcastically. “I’m 29 [now], a bit wiser, and I’ve grown oblivious and numb to [criticism]. I don’t listen to it or waste any sleep on it.”
Ortiz’s three losses came against Floyd Mayweather Jr. (fourth-round KO, September 2011), Josesito Lopez (ninth-round stoppage, June 2012) and Luis Collazo (second-round KO, January 2014). In the fight against Lopez, Ortiz suffered a broken jaw in the fourth round.
“I told my corner to stop the fight,” Ortiz says. “They said I was lying and wouldn’t stop it. So five rounds later I couldn’t stand the pain and took it into my own hands. So I get criticized?”
Against Collazo, a former titleholder, Ortiz got caught by a big left cross in Round 2, hit the canvas and didn’t make it to his feet. It’s the latter part that irked some observers.
“Victor turned the corner against Berto, but against Collazo, he took a good shot and just didn’t get up,” says Paulie Malignaggi, a former two-division champion and boxing analyst for Showtime and PBC. “Victor had finally conquered those questions and demons about whether he’s quitting and became a force to be reckoned with. But against Collazo, it’s like he didn’t feel like digging down to win.”
The loss to Collazo ended a 19-month ring absence for Ortiz, who during his ring hiatus was cast in the third installment of Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables and also participated in the 16th season of Dancing With the Stars.
After losing to Collazo, Ortiz took 11 months off before returning to face Manuel Perez in December 2014, earning a third-round stoppage win. That was followed by another yearlong ring absence that ended December 12 with an eighth-round TKO of Gilberto Sanchez Leon in San Antonio, Texas.
Now, in this second fight against Berto, Ortiz is determined to prove he’s got a lot left in his tank.
“Everybody thought I had retired, but I was just chilling,” Ortiz says of his time away. “I’ve been to the bottom, the top and made the choices that were best for me. Now I’m back where I belong, to fight another day.”
For full coverage of Ortiz vs Berto, visit our fight page.