LAS VEGAS – Respect, or the lack of it, seems often to be the subplot in the days and weeks leading up to a major prize fight. Wednesday was no different.
At the final press conference called to hype Saturday night’s WBC welterweight title fight between 24-year-old champion Victor Ortiz and undefeated 34-year-old challenger Floyd Mayweather, Jr., one was giving no respect and the other was acting offended about it. It is how it goes in a sport where it would seem one should be able to muster up a pretty fair amount of bile simply over the fact the other guy is coming to punch you in the face. That being the case, who cares if he does it respectfully or not?
But there is etiquette to all things, including legalized assault but young Ortiz, perhaps exhibiting the petulance of youth, was having none of it. To him there is nothing to respect about Floyd Mayweather, Jr., not even his resume. Or so he wanted to convince himself.
“I sense a little bit of nervousness over in this section,’’ Ortiz said from the podium as he looked in the direction of Mayweather and his supporters. “I’m going to teach you what it feels like to have that one (loss) on your record, bro.’’
Mayweather quickly reminded him he’d heard that from all of Ortiz’s 41 predecessors and not a one had made him experience the deep sense of shame and emptiness that can come from defeat. He reminded him that he had faced boxers, punchers, guys with bigger reputations than Ortiz and guys trying to make their reputation at Mayweather’s expense and always the result had been the same.
Ortiz looked at him for a moment after listening to Mayweather’s soliloquy and then snapped, “Forty-one of those weren’t me!’’
Good point but not a reaction either Mayweather or his chief aide and confidante, Leonard Ellerbee, cared to hear. To each of them there was a belief that when a fighter has won world titles in five different weight classes, grossed nearly $400 million in pay-per-view sales, twice been named Fighter of the Year and remains in the minds of many the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world attention must be paid and respect given.
Clearly the public Ortiz did not share that feeling.
“He ain’t s–t at 147,’’ Ortiz has said in response to such a notion, conceding that perhaps Mayweather was a great fighter at junior lightweight and lightweight but the move to 147 pounds has taken from him something hard to define, but Ortiz clearly believes – or at least hopes – has changed the dynamics for Mayweather.
“Saturday night I will hold my hands up (in victory),’’ Ortiz said to Mayweather. “I’m gonna put you on your asssss!’’
Mayweather looked at him the way a big brother does after his younger sibling has made a boast he cannot back up. He chastised Ortiz for not understanding the level he was about to ascend to, later claiming, “That press conference was as big as his fights have been.
“(Fighters) can talk all the trash they want but when they get face-to-face with me the skill level is different than they thought. It looks different from the outside than it looks on the inside.
“It’s different on this level. The young fighters just don’t understand. This level is totally different. This is all new to him. Saturday night is kill or be killed. Period. He may not respect me now but he will respect me after the fight.’’
Respect, like Floyd Mayweather, is an elusive thing. Fear is not respect. Often neither is wide-eyed adulation. Respect, like a great prize fighter, is cut from a different cloth.
It is something that cannot be given. It can only be earned. In boxing it most often comes after two fighters have taken the full measure of the other and that will not be done until late Saturday night. Only then, when Mayweather and Ortiz are alone with each other, four strands of rope separating them from civilized society, that the price will be paid to gain that respect.
Who pays it and how high the price will determine who wins the respect of whom.