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Five Questions That Will Be Answered Saturday Night…NGUYEN

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Saturday night’s welterweight superfight between Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz has everything a prizefight could ask for:  high stakes, innumerable subplots, and rivetingly compelling combatants.  Appropriately dubbed Star Power, Mayweather vs. Ortiz will display the past, present, and, potentially, the future of the sport.

Among the many intriguing aspects of the fight are the numerous questions that surround both fighters.  Answers will become perfectly clear after the opening bell, but five of the most pressing questions surrounding Saturday’s battle are posed here.

#1.  Does Ortiz have it in him to be more than just “good”?
Every fighter has a moment of truth, when the point is made clear where he belongs in the thereafter of boxing lore.  In the opinion of many, Victor Ortiz already had his trial by fire and failed miserably.  His meltdown and subsequent white-flag surrender to Marcos Maidana provided all the information that hardened fight fans needed to know.  The diagnostic test was run, and the prognosis was negative for Victor Ortiz.

However, many fight fans were left reconsidering if their verdicts regarding Victor Ortiz were made too hastily after his gutsy performance against the heavily-favored and undefeated Andre Berto.  In a fight that exposed plenty of vulnerabilities for “Vicious Victor,” the 24-year old Kansas native showed an impressive ability to compensate for his deficiencies with vast reserves of determination and heart.  Had he demonstrated the same gritty resolve against Maidana, the boxing world would probably be looking at this weekend’s matchup through very different lenses.

To say that Victor Ortiz completely restored himself with the win over Berto might be a bit rash; it might be more accurate to say that the Berto win made him relevant again instead of a written-off afterthought.  Case in point, he hit the “Money” Mayweather jackpot.  For Ortiz, though, this fight is about more than a payday.  Or, at least, it should be.

Ortiz currently finds himself in what could be categorized as the realm of “good” fighters.  He’s clearly world class, and would likely beat any welterweight on the scene not named Pacquiao or Mayweather.  The question is whether he can elevate himself beyond “good” to “great.”  It’s a jump that only a select few fighters in each generation are capable of making, and it’s a move that Victor Ortiz has the opportunity to make this Saturday.

Floyd Mayweather is a heckuva litmus test for evaluating a fighter’s greatness, but, like it or not, Victor Ortiz must face up to it.  Can Ortiz achieve greatness later down the line if he loses Saturday?  Perhaps.  But it’s improbable that the jury of his peers will give him more opportunities to prove himself beyond this.

#2.  How will Floyd Mayweather respond to fighting the first prime, young welterweight he’s ever faced?
Many fans and fightwriters alike mistakenly believe that all the questions about Saturday’s throwdown are hovering around Victor Ortiz.  Certainly, most of them are, but “Money” has to change some interrogatives into declaratives as well.

One of the biggest questions is how he will react to facing a young, hungry, primed, and powerful welterweight for the first time.  Though he’s been brilliant since moving to 147 pounds in 2005, a close look at Floyd’s resume reveals some shaky credibility when it comes to opposition.  Since settling into the welterweight division, Mayweather has faced a couple blown-up lightweights and junior welterweights (Mitchell, Hatton, and Marquez), extremely limited welterweights (Baldomir), and a couple golden oldies (De La Hoya and Mosley).  The closest to being a primed welterweight opponent for Mayweather during that stretch was Zab Judah.  Even then, Judah was coming off a loss to the aforementioned Baldomir, and it was at a time of Judah’s career when his focus and mental edge were coming apart at the seams.  That the fight happened at all was more about boxing business than deciding welterweight supremacy.

On Saturday night, Floyd will be in his most dangerous fight in years, possibly since his closely contested bouts with Jose Luis Castillo in 2002.  The difference here?  Ortiz is bigger, stronger, and younger than Castillo was, and Mayweather is nine years older than he was back then.  Can Floyd continue to make the skill differential more relevant than his disadvantages in size, strength, and youth?  Can Floyd match the hunger of a young lion like Ortiz if it comes down to it?

Don’t believe the Vegas odds.  There is definite drama and competitive suspense here.

#3.  How will the big stage affect Victor Ortiz?
Victor Ortiz will find himself in a strange and new situation on Saturday night.  He may think that he is ready for it.  He may believe that it will not impact him.  He may have convinced himself that it will be just like any other fight.

If so, he is wrong.

What he experiences on Saturday night will be unlike anything he’s experienced in his career or, for that matter, his life.  His every move will be scrutinized, the spotlight will be unrelenting, and the pressure will be suffocating.  Along with all this, he will be facing the greatest pure boxer of this generation.

The question is not if Ortiz will be impacted by the big stage, but how he will be impacted.  Ortiz has already shown indications that the added attention is flustering him.  He stated in frustration that his press conference responses were essentially scripted by his brain trust at Golden Boy.  He has expressed his distaste for the media as well as how it characterized him after the Maidana fight, a topic that still seems to irk Ortiz.  Hopefully, he can channel those stressors into additional motivation; the great ones always find a way.

For the rarest of fighters, Mayweather among them, the world stage is an opportunity for them to rise to another level.  Consider some of Mayweather’s best performances:  Corrales, Gatti, Hatton, Mosley.  For each of these fights, he faced increasingly heightened expectations due to his growing public profile.  Instead of freezing up in these situations, Mayweather reveled in them.  The spotlight elevates his game to a different stratosphere, which is one of the countless reasons why Mayweather is in a different league than almost any athlete on the planet.

Under the glaring hot lights of the public eye, fighters invariably take one of two routes:  they either wilt or flourish.  The hype around Ortiz for most of his career made this moment a near inevitability.  Golden Boy Promotions openly touted him as the future face of boxing.  Ortiz has taken the scenic route, complete with unexpected detours, to get to this point.  His chance has finally arrived.  The question, now, is what will he do with it?

#4.  Did the trouble Mayweather was in against Mosley indicate increased vulnerability?
Let’s face it.  There is only one undefeated, undisputed champ in boxing:  Father Time.  He gets the best of everyone eventually (although Bernard Hopkins is proving to be a frustrating foe).

This includes the great Floyd Mayweather.  At 34 years of age, Mayweather is almost certainly past his best physical years, although it is definitely premature to say that he is on the slide.  The great ones can usually fight on past their physical peaks, drawing more on guile and craft than the athletic gifts of their youth.  Mayweather’s game relies on timing and rhythm, things that typically don’t escape a veteran, so his transition into this stage of his career has been quite smooth.

It is perhaps too early, then, to use the phrase “vulnerable” in reference to Mayweather, but some point to his last fight with Shane Mosley as an indication that the inevitable erosion of the Mayweather empire could already have begun.  In the second round of his lopsided decision win over Mosley, two monstrous right hands connected by Mosley that left Mayweather doing the chicken dance.  It took some holding, grappling, and scattered spurts of fighting for Mayweather to get through possibly the most perilous round of his career.

Granted, all’s well that ends well, and Mayweather went on to dominate Mosley in routinely prodigious fashion, which is what most have rightly chosen to remember.  The fact remains, however, that Mayweather was in serious trouble against Mosley, even if only for a few brief moments.  Ortiz supporters point to those moments as the strongest case for an upset.  The logic is that if a faded, gunshy Mosley can penetrate Mayweather’s Fort Knox defense, then the young, ferocious Ortiz should be able to blast through with devastating results.

If, hypothetically, Mayweather is in the beginning stages of a downward slide, he sure isn’t helping himself with inactivity.  Consider that in the past 45 months, Floyd Mayweather has fought just twice.   Though he looked excellent in those showings, conventional wisdom is that layoffs and advanced age do not a sharp fighter make.

So, does the logic add up to an upset?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But an Ortiz victory would be far from the most surprising outcome in the history of the sport.

#5.  Can Victor Ortiz hold it together mentally to pull off the upset?
This is the question that must have even the staunchest of Ortiz supporters losing sleep.  In his most difficult moments, Ortiz has panicked under pressure.

In the fight with Marcos Maidana, Ortiz looked like a phenomenon when he dropped Maidana for the first time in the opening round.  Then, just as suddenly, Maidana cracked Ortiz with a right hand that sent him crashing to the deck.  The fight changed from that moment on.  Even though Ortiz managed to floor Maidana two more times and fought effectively, there was a palpable sense that it was Ortiz who was fighting with greater urgency.  Ortiz seemed to know that if he didn’t get rid of Maidana quickly, he would be in serious trouble.  It appeared that Maidana could sense it as well.

It turned out that they were both correct.

By the fifth round, Ortiz was unraveling, and one round later, the outcome was all but a given.  It’s rare to witness such an utter and complete implosion, but within the rubble left behind were the remains of Ortiz’ career and reputation.

In what many believe was his moment of vindication against Andre Berto, Ortiz indeed fought bravely, but also showed the same dangerous tendency to come undone in the midst of struggle.  After dominating the first five rounds, a slightly-winded Ortiz allowed Berto to dictate the pace to start the sixth round.  A sharp turn of the tide ensued, and Ortiz soon found himself on the canvas courtesy of a huge right hand from Berto.  A follow-up assault revealed that Ortiz was nearly out on his feet, and a stoppage seemed imminent until Ortiz landed a miraculous left hand that dumped Berto on the seat of his pants.

There’s obviously no way to know, but what would have happened if Ortiz didn’t manage to land a huge left of his own to stem the surging Berto tide at the end of the sixth round?  Would he have continued to fall apart in a replay of his Maidana defeat?  Watch that sixth round again and stop it prior to his knockdown of Berto, and use your boxing senses to predict what would probably have happened next.

Not a pretty thought, huh?

The good news for Ortiz is that he doesn’t figure to experience the same type of pressure-cooker slugfest against the contact-conscious Mayweather, but he will probably encounter the most frustrating experience of his boxing life.  How will he handle swinging at shadows as Mayweather slips and slides away from his punches?  How will be react to taking pinpoint counterpunches straight in the mush when “Money” makes him miss?  Will he stick to the gameplan, or will he resort to the same temperament that cost him so dearly in the past?  Or can he calm himself and continue to press on in spite of difficulty?

Mayweather has managed to make Hall-of-Fame-caliber fighters look foolish and hesitant in their frustrations.  The pattern for most Mayweather fights is that he asserts his dominance in greater measure as the bouts progress and his opponents get more and more hopelessly confused.  Unfortunately for supporters of Ortiz, he is known as a fighter who tends to fade and get less effective as the rounds go on.

For Ortiz’ training camp, the need for mental preparation almost seems more important than the physical.  His physical tools are far readier for Mayweather than his psyche seems to be.   It’s possible that the win over Berto exorcised the demons that haunted Ortiz.  He needs to hope that it did.


Conclusion

Boxing is a sport in which too few questions ever get definitive answers.  However, should Saturday night’s fight provide any truly conclusive result, each of these questions should also be resolved, settled by means only a prizefight can provide.  Regardless of the outcome, here’s to hoping that the actual fight between Mayweather and Ortiz manages to surpass the considerable rhetoric and hype.  If it does, we’re in for something spectacular.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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