If boxing is, as HBO’s Larry Merchant has argued, “the theater of the unexpected,” then welterweight Victor Ortiz is a candidate for a Tony each and every night he climbs between the ropes. Will he show unbelievable determination, or quit when things get too tough? Will there be a knockout, or will he foul his way into near-disqualification? What about ALL FOUR?
If boxing is a source of inspiration about what human beings are capable of, then you can go to church with Josesito Lopez. With a relatively limited talent base, undersized, outgunned, bruised all to hell and taking a savage beating, Lopez this weekend provided 2012 with perhaps its biggest upset by toppling Ortiz.
Whatever Ortiz’ record says, these were two of the weekend’s winners. I don’t want to bite another writer’s thing — Michael Rosenthal does the “winners and losers” bit — but by my count, Saturday night’s Showtime doubleheader provided five winners. Lopez. Ortiz. The two fighters on the undercard, junior welterweights Lucas Matthysse and Humberto Soto. And Showtime itself.
Yes, Ortiz once more must face questions about his heart, having now quit in two high-profile fights. Yes, he lost out on a big-money fight with Canelo Alvarez. Yes, he’s broken and battered in the hospital. And yes, he got booed on his way out of the ring.
But who in the world wouldn’t want to see his next fight?
With his power, speed and tendency to get dragged into Fight of the Year candidates — and Ortiz-Lopez is probably now the clubhouse leader in a year that has been light on FOTY candidates — as well as a mental makeup that can lead to nearly anything happening, he is must-see TV. Maybe you root against him. Maybe, like me, you love this delightful wacko. Whatever. Has to be seen.
He probably doesn’t feel like a winner right now, physically. And for the first time following a loss, he wasn’t so oddly jolly; there was something touching about watching blood spill from his mouth in the locker room, about watching him bury his head in shame. He has to be stung by so many people attacking him for quitting yet again (I was on the fence about that; quit once, and you get a pass, but quit twice and I get more skeptical. On the other hand, it takes a great fighter to fight through a twice-broken jaw. No one should expect greatness from Ortiz at this point, and to try to foist that on him is cruel. “Very good”ness is what he’s got, along with elements of randomness that make him a rollicking fun show). Yet those voices of criticism have been counterbalanced by voices defending Ortiz, and eloquently.
If there’s one universal negative to offer about Ortiz, it’s that he once more showed a tendency, as he did against Floyd Mayweather, to get unhinged and deliberately foul against Lopez. That’s not cool. But it’s not boring, either.
And Ortiz wants a rematch, bless him. He couldn’t talk about a rematch in the hospital, with his jaw wired shut. So he wrote down that he wanted it. Love him or hate him, you have to love THAT.
I hate putting Lopez second after such a sterling effort, one where he was the winner, usually enough to warrant top billing. But damn if Ortiz isn’t such a compelling figure that he shines so bright in wins or losses.
Lopez has had an element of that. For a long time, Lopez couldn’t scratch out the career-making win he got Saturday. He lost close decisions to Edgar Santana and Jessie Vargas. He was fighting on ESPN2 — no shame in that, but not as high profile an assignment and something of a farm system for boxers aspiring to a headlining Showtime or HBO date. Lopez put in good work in that farm system, too, waging a borderline FOTY candidate against Mavin Cordova to open some eyes and springing an upset of Mike Dallas, Jr. to open those eyes even further.
On paper, he figured to be competitive enough to make Ortiz’ next fight sexier but not too dangerous, or at least that’s what Golden Boy Promotions probably was thinking. But Lopez, who once was just kind of a haphazard slinger, showed against Ortiz and under the tutelage of Henry Ramirez that he’s gotten better at his craft. He showed he was more powerful at welterweight than might be expected, with Showtime’s broadcast team persistently underestimating the effect Lopez’ punches were having on Ortiz. And he displayed once more the heart that is at the core of his boxing existence.
Accurate though his critical remarks about Ortiz post-fight might be, they weren’t the classiest things he could say. But that’s about the only knock on the lad right now.
Lopez has been a favorite around these parts for a few years. He ought to be a fan favorite across boxing after this weekend, too. Oh, and more than that: You now have to take him seriously as a real contender, too.
Matthysse’s story is pretty similar to Lopez’. A big win had evaded him before Saturday, with close scorecards twice not going his way. He was something of a fan favorite with his hard-hitting style, but thought of as a level below some of the other contenders, maybe someone who doesn’t close the show how he ought to do.
All of that ought to go away after this weekend — well, except the fan favorite thing. The junior welterweight undisputedly joined the elite of his division with a stoppage win of Soto, who’d never even been down as a pro before Saturday. And his tendency toward low punch volume wasn’t in evidence, either.
If only we could get Matthysse against fellow Argentinian KO artist Marcos Maidana now. That is a wet dream multiplied by a heavy dose of LSD for fans of big punchers. It might happen; it might not. If it doesn’t, that’s sad, but get Matthysse back on TV right away. And if he loses that one, screw it, get him back on TV again anyway. Punchers like Matthysse are few and far between, and have to be savored while they’re at the top of their game.
Soto is the loser-iest of this weekend’s winners, but I come away pleased with him. Soto has spun his wheels for years and years and years, rarely taking a real challenge in the ring despite his fan-friendly style and underrated skill. He stepped up, and failed that challenge.
But give me a fighter who takes a challenge and fails admirably and in a fan-friendly way than someone who sticks to winning safe. Yeah, it took Soto too long to do something like that. I fear he’ll go back to fighting no-names and no-hopers after this. I hope he doesn’t. He certainly shouldn’t.
He was out-punched by the heavy-hitting Matthysse, but who wouldn’t have been? Plus, if he can go back down to lightweight, as he ought to, the chances of him getting out-gunned like that again are minimal. Soto at 32 has more good, and winnable, fights ahead of him — but it’s up to him whether they mean anything, or if this loss makes him retreat back to empty victories.
I’ve been hard on many of Showtime’s programming decisions under new leader Stephen Espinoza. I think they’ve deserved it. But Showtime has also been responsible for some of 2012’s best moments in boxing so far, too, with this doubleheader (along with a Saturday Showtime Extreme undercard where junior middleweight Jermell Charlo was something of a revelation) and Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez II among them.
Showtime returns to somewhat lackluster fare this weekend, as our Alex McClintock will shortly preview. And on Sept. 15, by apparently going ahead with a Canelo fight against a likely better card on HBO promoted by Top Rank, they might be playing a role in the destructive Golden Boy/Top Rank feud that divides boxing fans. But for one night, at least, they really showed their potential. And those big moments count for a lot. Boxing the most addictive high in sports because, for as low as the lows are, the highs are untoppable. The Internet boxing community was abuzz Saturday with a thrilling showcase of the sport. We have Showtime to thank for it.
There were other winners this weekend, too, like Lopez victim Dallas in his most entertaining performance on ESPN2, junior featherweight Rico Ramos proving once more that he could indeed be a performer worth watching and heavyweight Tony Grano overcoming the peculiarly lopsided odds in Florida. For that, I leave you with the prior coverage of the TQBR team, as well as the coverage from our man at ringside Saturday for the Showtime broadcast(s), Patrick Connor.