He was smiling in this instant. But Ortiz harbors bitterness at how he was treated after his high profile defeat at the hands of Marcos Maidana. He railed against the media for negativity on Tuesday, and seems to be channeling his ire contructively. (Hogan)
On Tuesday afternoon New York City press conference to hype his Sept. 17 clash against Floyd Mayweather, Victor Ortiz spent about a half an hour fielding questions from the press after the theatrical portion of the presser ended. Ortiz' mood was curious to me. One might've thought the 24 year old Kansas native would be on cloud nine as he soaked up the attention ahead of his career signature fight which will earn him a pretty payday, and the opportunity to knock off a legend.
But Ortiz wasn't kickin' back on a cloud. He was not surly exactly, but close to that.
As I posed questions, and listened to him, my mind wandered as I tried to come up with one word to describe his mood, his behavior. As I pondered, I heard Ortiz, just off a semi stunner of a win over Andre Berto, the WBC welterweight champion, talk about how hurt he was by all of those who wrote him off when he lost to Marcos Maidana in June 2009. His face registered sadness, bitterness.
"Golden Boy believed in me when I fell, when I fell off the surface of the earth, and everybody didn't even talk to me," he said. "I was just like, alright, I rebuilt myself..."
This looked like a kid with a chip on his shoulder, actually more like a boulder-sized chip. He talked about how he got no credit for five wins after the Maidana fight, which drew much attention because the 22-year-old Ortiz quit in round six, shook his head no thanks to the ref after being battered and knocked down in the round, and then offered a surprising explanation to Max Kellerman for the development afterwards. "I was hurt... I'm not gonna go out on my back...I'm gonna stop while I'm ahead, that way I can speak well while I'm older...We'll see what happens from here on out. I'm young but I don't think I deserve to be getting beat up like this. I have a lot of thinking to do."
He smiled and laughed during the interview, which struck some as strange. Didn't this kid hate losing? Why isn't he acting like we expect the favored prospect, who has been presented as a certain future star, to act? We asked these questions, and we judged.
We, the media, tossed around labels. People wrote that he was a quitter, that he had no heart. Not across the board, some folks took the long view, and reminded us that a career can have a bumpy arc, ups and downs. But they were savage on the message boards, and, as Ortiz told us in NY, it wasn't just the media that affixed him with a scarlet "Q," and treated him like a leper with AIDS in 1983. Friends, supposed friends, steered clear of him, dodged him, turned up their noses at him. Fellow boxers aimed barbs at him, as well.
A good twenty minutes into the grilling session, a writer more clever and quick than I came up with a word that fit Victor's mood well. "Fatalistic," he called Victor, as he asked him where his head was at.
Pretty good description for the guy who used a variation of "I don't know" or "I don't care" a bunch of times during the interview period.
I found myself believing a tiny bit that maybe this kid could shock the world, not just the boxing world, by beating Mayweather, as I realized more and more that he was channeling all the rage and frustration at being dissed and dismissed following the Maidana win, and using those emotions to motivate himself. "I've always been told what I can and cannot do. Who are you to tell me what to do, how to do it, and why? My mind is set, my heart's there..according to everybody I don't have any, but whatever."
And I found myself chastened. I found myself silently apologizing to Ortiz for our tendency, as a body, to go overboard in criticism. For too easily questioning a man's heart. For too easily labeling him a quitter. The kid, and he was a kid, he was just 22, came up short against Maidana. Lord, I am ashamed to recount the stupid stuff I was doing at age 22. He was in the arena, shedding the blood, testing himself to the max. And yes, he didn't transcend in that moment when he was given the chance to transcend. But considering where he'd come from, considering that he'd been abandoned by his mom at age 7, and his father five years after, that he'd bounced around foster homes, it was something of a marvel that he advanced athletically to the point of being a shining prospect. It was rather amazing that he'd not been a mere statistic.
Don't you remember him talking about his father smacking him and his sister around after he came home from working a shift at Burger King, shirt splattered with grease? That his dad accused him of being out causing trouble, and then whacked him after Victor told him he should try a real job? I think we, many of us, didn't give Ortiz enough credit getting to the arena, instead of landing in jail, or wallowing in a pool of self pity, and fading into a state of anonymity.
Ortiz helped me come to this realization as he recounted flying in a Lear jet with his brother, and reveling in the moment, the reality that he had soared a million miles above his sad and scary youth.
"Destiny has taken me where I'm at. I'm not letting go, I don't care because sincerely, I don't give an eff, about what anybody says about me," he told us.
His eyes flashed with defiance, understandable coming from one who really was projected to be a mere statistic, instead of a world champion. "I'm there to fight. I'm going to leave it all in the ring. Although I don't have balls or heart, this whole area said (he pointed to the press), I'm definitely going to leave it all in the ring."
Ortiz kept going back at the media, and while there are times I dismiss shots at us from folks who tend to heap the world's woes on us, who tar and feather us for all ills, this wasn't one of those times. "The media will always find something negative to say," he said. "Media is over here, I'm over here, I'm doing my thing, I'm world champion, I'm going to be world champion for a long time."
After Ortiz finished with the media, I tapped him, and whispered in his ear.
"Victor, you were right. We, the media, were hard on you. We did do what you said. Sometimes we are too negative. And I apologize for having done that. And I will apologize to you on The Sweet Science."
He thanked me.
So here it is. Sometimes we are too quick with the labels, too quick to judge, not careful enough to make clear that our analysis has to do with the actions of an athlete, and shouldn't veer toward a condemnation of them personally. Sorry, Victor.
Now, I don't think you will beat Floyd. Nothing personal, he is among the best that ever was. But I respect you for how far you have come, the heart and guts you showed to get to this place. You are a shining example to every kid who was treated like dirt by a parent, every kid who was abandoned.
Good luck on September 17, sir.