Floyd Mayweather brings upon himself many of his own problems, a fact boxing fans were reminded of Saturday night not when he landed two legal punches to knock out a billy goat named Victor Ortiz but when he got into a dust-up with HBO’s Larry Merchant that became a YouTube favorite until HBO began hollering about copyright infringement.
By now you all know the third time was the charm for the 24-year-old Ortiz, who at least twice tried to head butt Mayweather before finally successfully leaping into his face and busting up his mouth and lip barely 30 seconds after referee Joe Cortez pointed to his forehead and warned him, ‘Watch your head! Watch your head!’’
Instead Ortiz used it as a battering ram late in the fourth round of a fight he was losing badly, launching himself into Mayweather’s face with the crown of his head in a way that would have gotten him a $50,000 fine and a suspension from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Cortez took a point away for a deliberate act of mayhem after Ortiz finished profusely apologizing and kissing Mayweather on the cheek. Ortiz tried to continue that charade of remorse after Cortez clearly said, “Let’s go!’’ and then clapped his hands together between the combatants, the universal sign that the armistice was over and they were back at war.
Cortez then looked at the timekeeper, not noticing Ortiz again reach out toward Mayweather as if to embrace him. Mayweather extended his arms, his hands touching Ortiz and then suddenly rocked back and nailed him with a left hook and right hand that knocked him senseless. Although you can argue that it wasn’t sporting, it was completely within the rules and within the proper boundaries of the sport. They were, in other words, legal blows not, as Merchant later termed them, “legal sucker punches.’’
If one went to Twitter, the social media website, hundreds of boxers tweeted defenses of Mayweather, including former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who was always known for his gentlemanly manner yet unloaded on a defenseless Oliver McCall when his hands were at his side and tears were streaming down his face in the midst of a heavyweight title fight.
The heavily pro-Ortiz crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena booed lustily as Cortez counted the stunned and lifeless Ortiz out at 2:59 of the round and just after that the enmity Mayweather seems to engender whether he deserves it or not spilled over into the post-fight interview by Merchant.
Merchant asked Mayweather to explain his action and he did, pointing out that he “got hit with a dirty shot’’ and reminding viewers of the oldest boxing axiom there is: “Protect yourself at all times.’’
It was then that Merchant’s distaste for Mayweather seemed to reveal itself when he said, “Even though it appeared he wasn’t protecting himself…you unfairly took advantage of it.’’
It was not a question. It was a statement. A statement that ignored both the rules and the conventions of the sport and minimized the clearly illegal and repetitive efforts Ortiz made to butt Mayweather. At that juncture Mayweather instructed Merchant to go interview Ortiz and then laced into him with an expletive-laden, disrespectful tirade, calling for his firing and surrendering what might have been the high ground had he simply walked away.
Merchant then lost it like Ortiz had when he was under assault from Mayweather, snapping that, “If I was 50 years younger I’d kick your ass.’’
Mayweather’s rudeness toward the 80-year-old Merchant does not ameliorate the way the latter handled those interviews. He seemed argumentative toward a fighter who was fouled and apologetic toward the perpetrator of the crime that caused the fight to degenerate into what it became.
When Merchant turned to Ortiz he gave him none of the same kind of pointed grilling. He asked him to describe what happened after first pointing out to him the roar of the partisan crowd.
Merchant asked “Was it your fault?’’ and Ortiz replied, “Absolutely not. I obeyed exactly as I was told.’’
Clearly he had not because Cortez A) told him to watch his head only seconds before he used it and B) said “Let’s go!’’ and clapped his hands together before stepping away from the fighters, a clear sign the time for apology had ended and the time to fight had recommenced.
Merchant did not call him on that. Instead he said, “You butted him. Was that just some reflex action?’’
In a court room Mayweather’s attorney would have jumped up and said, “Leading the witness!’’ and any judge worth his salt would have said, “Objection sustained.’’
According to Merchant, the guy who got butted in the face and then punched his assailant after the referee signaled the fight was back on “…unfairly took advantage’’ while Ortiz was an innocent overwhelmed by his emotions. Some people don’t believe in global warming either.
When I spoke with Merchant the next day he said he had seen no other butts by Ortiz, only “rough housing inside,’’ and pointed out that no one on the broadcast team made any mention of Ortiz using his head illegally prior to the butt he was penalized for. Merchant claimed it had resulted from “in my mind, the heat of the moment. In that melee he lost it a little bit. I don’t think it was premeditated. I’m not disputing it was intentional but it was in a moment of emotion.’’
If it was in a moment of emotion how come he was warned less than a minute earlier to stop illegally using his head, a warning Merchant rightly pointed out the entire HBO broadcast team missed even though you could see it and hear Cortez say it? How many “moments of emotion’’ do you get before they’re not emotion but rather premeditation?
Merchant conceded this week that “Mayweather had the right to do what he did but that doesn’t make it right. It was uncalled for whether within the rules or not. There is a line where there’s bad sportsmanship.’’
Indeed so, and Victor Ortiz crossed it. What Mayweather did was what every fighter I’ve spoken to since said they would have done. He did his job. The referee said “Let’s go!’’ He went. Soon after so did Ortiz.
What was most troubling is that it appeared to me Merchant, rather than simply asking questions to get two sides of the story, was accusatory toward the victim while trying to aid the perpetrator’s escape from responsibility. He denied this. Watch the tape and you decide.
At one point during our conversation, Merchant cited his recollection of Lewis’ refusal to hit McCall when his arms were at his sides while in the midst of what appeared to be a nervous breakdown as an example of what Mayweather should have done. Again, go look at the fight on YouTube. What you find is Lewis hitting McCall warily but repeatedly with right hands, including a stinging right uppercut and right-left combination not unlike the one Mayweather used to stop Ortiz just before referee Mills Lane stopped the fight.
Was the weeping McCall clearly defenseless that night? Yes. Did referee Mills Lane ask him if he wanted to fight and did McCall twice shake his head no? Yes. Did the fight proceed? Yes. Did Lewis hit him repeatedly thereafter? Indeed he did.
Merchant claimed he asked questions only to “try and get their side of the story and let the public decide. That’s what I would have done with Mayweather but before I could he went off so that changed that custom of mine.
“In this case before I could pose the questions I got personally and professionally attacked. Maybe I should have been a little more rigorous on Ortiz but he looked like he didn’t know what the hell was going on.’’
Since the broadcast, Merchant has been widely defended, with many heaping praise on him for calling Mayweather out over his rudeness and abusive language. Floyd Mayweather was indeed out of line in the way he spoke to Merchant but the tone and tenor of Merchant’s questioning was just as unfair and out of line.
Whether Floyd Mayweather “unfairly took advantage’’ of Victor Ortiz or not, Larry Merchant’s one-sided questioning of the two of them did the same to Floyd Mayweather.