Sunday, June 04, 2023  |



New faces: Ortiz rises above childhood woes to become potential star

Fighters Network

It took only five rounds for Victor Ortiz (left) to take out Dairo Esalas in May. Photo / Chris Cozzone

Throughout their September bout, Roberto Arrieta talked smack to Victor Ortiz whenever he got a chance. The overmatched Argentine journeyman must have figured his best chance of pulling off an upset was to get inside the kid’s head.

Arrieta was dropped three times and never saw the sixth round.

If he’d have done his homework, Arrieta would have realized that dissing the junior welterweight prospect was like feeding a starving bear. Doubts, put-downs, Ortiz has heard them his entire life. They’ve only made him hungrier.

“The more people who have told me, ‘You’re not gonna, you’re not gonna, you won’t,’ those are the people who have just propelled me a little more,” Ortiz said. “So I guess I owe a thank you to all the negative people in my life, because I’ve just used them as fuel.”

A skilled southpaw slugger, Ortiz endured a childhood packed with enough negatives for several lifetimes. Maybe that’s why he’s gone so far, from cleaning alfalfa as an impoverished Mexican kid in Kansas farm fields to walking the red carpet with Oscar De La Hoya in Los Angeles. Maybe that’s why his potential now seems so limitless that some are dubbing him the next “Golden Boy.”

He’s a 21-year-old with 25 pro fights, but “Vicious Victor” says he’s ready to take on world champion Ricky Hatton or any of the belt holders at 140 pounds. After what he’s lived through, no fighter is going to intimidate Ortiz.

“The hardest things that can happen to a person,” Ortiz said, “have already happened to me.”

Ortiz’s childhood was shattered at age 7, when his mother ran off with another man. The boy’s father was so broken that his children — Victor, older sister Carmen, and younger brother Temo — became afterthoughts. The man Ortiz once idolized began coming home drunk and beating him on a regular basis. The family tumbled into poverty.

Still, Ortiz was turning into a good little fighter. Introduced to boxing by his father at age 7 after he was beaten up at school, Ortiz won his first 23 amateur bouts. He then dropped a decision in his opponent’s hometown. It happened to be the first time his father was in the audience.

“He whipped my ass in front of everybody,” said Ortiz, who remembers his father telling him: “You ain’t s—, you should quit.”

Ortiz was just 8 at the time.

Four years later, Ortiz’s father completely disappeared. Abandoned by both parents, Ortiz took care of himself for more than a year while also looking after Temo. He survived by sleeping at friends’ houses, working nine-hour days in Kansas alfalfa fields and sometimes selling drugs. Alerted by teachers who caught on to the family’s situation, social services finally stepped in when Ortiz was 13. The siblings were separated, with the young fighter getting sent to live with a local foster family.

Two years later, Ortiz and Temo went to Denver, Colo., to live with Carmen after she turned 18 and began renting an apartment. While in Denver, Ortiz worked two jobs, pushing a wheelbarrow for a landscaping company and hauling furniture for a mover. Still, he made time to run mountains and train under former heavyweight contender Ron Lyle at a Salvation Army boxing center.

“I guess it was just the perfect place at the perfect time,” Victor said. “From there on, things started going my way.”

At 16, Ortiz went to Louisiana for the Junior Olympic National Championships, where he won the title at 132 pounds and was named the tournament’s outstanding boxer. He caught the attention of trainer Robert Garcia, the former IBF junior lightweight titleholder. Garcia offered Ortiz a plane ticket to Oxnard, Calif., and a place to live. Ortiz accepted a few weeks later, after his sister was evicted from her apartment.

Garcia and his father, Eduardo, continued developing the aggressive southpaw style originally taught to Ortiz by Ignacio Avila back in Kansas. They turned Ortiz pro in June of 2004, after a loss to Anthony Peterson in the Olympic Trials. The following year, Ortiz got a degree from Pacifica High School and moved into an Oxnard apartment with Temo.

Guided by the Garcias, manager Cameron Dunkin and promoter Top Rank, Ortiz developed into a rising sensation over the next three years despite working and taking college classes on the side, and despite taking a couple of unfortunate hits on his ring record.

In the first round of his eighth pro fight, Ortiz was disqualified for knocking Corey Alarcon unconscious with an uppercut off a clinch. In January 2007, a bout with fellow prospect Marvin Cordova Jr. was ruled a technical draw after one round because of a head butt that opened a nasty gash on Ortiz’ head.

As Ortiz developed, a rift between him and his team also developed – mostly over money. Robert Garcia’s brother, Danny, took over as trainer after the Cordova bout.

Still, Ortiz reached a new level late last year with a 10th-round stoppage of veteran Emmanuel Clottey, then a stunning one-punch, first-round knockout of former belt holder Carlos Maussa on the Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley undercard. But following the Maussa win, Garcia’s momentum was stymied as disputes with his team kept him sidelined for six months.

Ortiz wound up filing for bankruptcy to get out of his contract with Top Rank. In May, Shelly Finkel and Rolando Arellano took over as co-managers after reaching a settlement with Dunkin and the Garcias. Ortiz signed with De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions shortly thereafter. (Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum said during De La Hoya-Pacquiao fight week that he planned to sue Finkel and Arellano over the matter.)

Ortiz stayed busy during the layoff, sparring and reportedly holding his own with Manny Pacquiao. But his focus was damaged by the out-of-the-ring chaos preceding his May return on the De La Hoya-Steve Forbes undercard against Dairo Esalas, who wound up scoring a flash knockdown in the third. The knockdown woke up Ortiz, who dropped Esalas in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds before the fight was stopped.

Ortiz looked much sharper in stopping the typically strong-chinned Arrieta, the same fighter who had gone the distance with rising prospect Vicente Escobedo four months earlier. His often-shaky defense was tighter, something Victor credited to Danny Garcia and new assistant trainer Mario Aguiniga, as well as stability within his new team.

Ortiz followed that with a second-round knockout of Jeffrey Resto on the De La Hoya-Pacquiao undercard on Dec. 6 in Las Vegas.

“He’s very dedicated,” Danny Garcia said. “He wants to be champion. My feeling is he’ll be one of the greatest champions.”

De La Hoya is among those who has been impressed, according to Arellano.

“He talks very highly about Victor Ortiz,” Arellano said. “He calls Victor Ortiz the next Golden Boy. He mentions him all the time during his press conferences. They text each other to talk about golf. Oscar De La Hoya is really excited about this young man.”

It’s paying off. Arellano said Ortiz recently landed a deal with Coca-Cola to endorse the energy drink Full Throttle, and that beer companies are showing interest. “People are starting to see that this guy is the next big deal,” said Arellano.

Ortiz, who still lives with Temo in Oxnard, has a girlfriend back in Garden City and visits there often. He says it’s weird that the same people who used to look down on him and avoid speaking with him are now patting him on the back and complimenting him.

He said it makes him grit his teeth, but added, “It’s those people who made me who I am. I guess I can’t be too harsh.”

Given all that he’s been through, Ortiz could be forgiven if he were a bitter, angry mess. (He hasn’t spoken to either of his parents since they left. Ortiz saw his mother at Avilar’s funeral a couple of years ago, but said she never even looked at him.) Instead, Ortiz comes off as surprisingly friendly, down to earth and mature beyond his years, as if he’s at total peace with his past.

“I don’t think I’m at peace with it, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “There are times when I sit back and I do get sad and a little emotional about it. But I don’t expose that side to too many people. Anybody who sees me, they always think I’m the happiest person in the world. I pretty much am. But there are times when you just think about things. Especially nowadays, when De La Hoya talks to me. That’s pretty unbelievable.

“God gave me the chance to do something with myself, and I’m running with it.”

Junior welterweight
Professional record

June 4 Raul Montes, Las Vegas, NV KO 1
July 24 Alejandro Nungaray, Laughlin, NV W 4
Sept. 17 Lee De Leon, Las Vegas KO 2
Oct. 8 Charles Hawkins, Laughlin KO 4
Nov. 26 Juan Patino, Las Vegas W 4

Feb. 11 Joel Ortega, San Diego, CA KO 1
March 5 Rodney Jones, Las Vegas KO 2
June 3 Corey Alarcon, Oxnard, CA L DQ 1
Aug. 26 Oliver Bolanos, Houston, TX W 4
Sept. 9 Kevin Carmody, Laughlin W 6
Nov. 4 Donnell Logan, Ventura, CA KO 2

Jan. 6 Leroy Fountain, Bernalillo, NM KO 4
Feb. 10 Nestor Rosas, San Antonio, TX KO 5
March 31 Freddie Barrera, Maywood, CA KO 1
June 23 Orlando Cantera, Nogales, AZ KO 4
Sept. 8 Alfred Kotey, Dallas, TX W 8
Nov. 3 Yahir Aguiar, Nogales KO 2

Jan. 19 Marvin Cordova, Phoenix, AZ TD 1
April 14 Tomas Barrientez, San Antonio KO 5
June 29 Maximino Cuevas, Camp Verde, AZ KO 1
Aug. 30 Emmanuel Clottey, Houston KO 10
Nov. 10 Carlos Maussa, New York, NY KO 1

May 3 Dario Esalas, Carson, CA KO 5
Sept. 13 Roberto Arrieta, Las Vegas KO 5
Dec. 6 Jeffrey Resto, Las Vegas KO 2

WON: 23
KOs: 18