The immediate reaction to the ending of Saturday's Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz was, in many quarters, damn, that was a cheap shot!
Then people got their DVR's cookin–and once again, apologies to my late pal George Kimball who looooathed the idea of covering an event off TV, which had us at odds because I think I can usually communicate what happened at an event better, because I have access to instant replay–and pored over, frame by frame with Zapruderish attention to detail. And then sentiment shifted somewhat. (Maybe with an assist from Twitter. My theory is that writers' analysis can tend to shift more quickly than used to be the case, because colleagues and peers might open up their eyes to a point they missed, or realize their call was erroneous, not shared by the majority, and thus needing to be adjusted.)
Many folks still didn't care for Floyd's move. They determined after some study that the sneaky combo didn't seem illegal, as it looked like ref Joe “I'm Distracted But Well Meaning” Cortez had in fact called for action to resume, but more of them focused on Ortiz' part in the fray.
First, people came around to the realization that hello, Ortiz started the bad blood with a ludicrously obvious head butt. I'd written as I watched the first three rounds about two attempted butts which were not commented upon by the HBO team. They pondered and said to themselves, wait a second, what if I were in a fight, and someone fouled me in such a blatant fashion? The temptation, for most of us, would be to retaliate. Yes, ideally, you want the referee to mete out punishment, not take it into your own hands. But most of us can at least understand why a fighter might go all Dirty Harry on a foe. (There is a reason I use this dated film reference, wait for it.)
Then, they studied the attempt at reconciliation, saw Ortiz step back a quarter step, and saw Floyd crack him, and saw Ortiz look at Cortez for help, before he was hit by the second launch. The Zapruders shook their heads. What was Ortiz thinking? Why did he react in that fashion, why didn't he–hello??–fight back.
Some fans started to have flashbacks. They thought Ortiz' eyes looked OK, and wondered if he didn't stay down, to try and earn a DQ win. They saw him smiling after the bout, they saw him smiling and hugging Floyd like they were best pals RIGHT AFTER HE GOT SUCKER PUNCHED AND KNOCKED OUT and wondered if he was secretly relieved that it was over. Basically, they again found themselves asking themselves about Ortiz' heart. Fair or not, they saw some elements, they thought, that were on display back in 2009, when Ortiz indicated that he didn't want to absorb more punishment, and opted out against Marcos Maidana.
Such speculation is allowed. Is it polite? Does it involve a bit too much mind-reading for my taste? Maybe…I think we all, the writers, the fans who put in their two cents on message boards and social networking sites, need to be mindful of maintaining a degree of respect for any and all who enter the ring and give full effort. Even if they give full effort, and then the going gets tough, and their resolve diminishes. Not every fighter can have a Gatti heart, after all.
After people had some time to rewind, and watch, and watch again, more folks had more of an issue with Cortez. Ole “Firm But Fair,” or, is it “Fair But Firm,” I can never get that straight, seemed to be paying more attention to the timekeeper, or someone else ringside, than he did the fighters. He should have, in retrospect, kept them separated, with explicit and ultra-firm directions, while he hashed out that ringside issue. Instead, after Ortiz twice went to Floyd to say I'm sorry, once with a kiss on the cheek, the 66-year-old Cortez re-started the action. “Don't be doing that!” he commanded to Ortiz. Then, “Let's go.” And then, as the fighters came together, to begin fighting again, Cortez drifted away. He appeared confused, not in the moment. He walked towards the commission officials ringside, and interacted with someone or someones there. “Time in?” he asked, as Ortiz offered Floyd his hands, and a mini hug. Victor began to step back, his hands at his side, and Cortez wasn't looking at the boxers as Floyd attacked.
As much as anyone there's your culprit in this portion of the sordid affair. I attach some blame to Ortiz, for getting crazy, and starting the atmosphere of fouling…and to Floyd, for going cheap when he could have simply used his skills as the best boxer in the world to get the job done…but Cortez, if he had handled the situation by the book, would have prevented all talk of a suckerpunch ending.
If we're parceling out blame, Cortez has to receive the lion's share, because he is there to keep order. When in the fog of war, when emotions boil over during a stressful time, the ref has to be the voice of reason, the person to keep order. Cortez didn't.
He was neither firm, nor fair, he was flawed.