As I sat down on Sunday morning to watch the repeat of Victor Ortiz’s latest bout with Josesito Lopez I had already read a number of comments on Twitter and boxing forums telling me that Ortiz had reverted to his old self and had quit on his stool. They panned him, saying he had no heart and lacked the mental strength to overcome an opponent willing to take so much punishment.
For the following eight rounds I watched what can only be described as a pulsating contest between two warriors. Lopez’s face carried the marks of battle as he consistently walked through the power shots coming from Ortiz’s left hand. It may not have had the drama of the clash with Andre Berto, but it was another enthralling contest.
Then it happened. Ortiz suddenly got on his bike at the end of the ninth round, he backtracked and refused to throw a punch as he held his guard high and covered his jaw. The commentators and those at ringside had no idea that the American had suffered a horrendous injury and, had in fact, fractured his jaw in two places.
I was both shocked and appalled when the referee waved off the contest. I too believed that Ortiz had lapsed once again, much as he did when he quit against Marcos Maidana, or headbutted Floyd Mayweather. I simply could not fathom why he had thrown away an opportunity to fight against Saul Alvarez next, which would have been one of the biggest paydays of his career.
I remembered Danny Williams fighting on with one arm after dislocating his shoulder against Mark Potter. His right arm hung limply down by his side as Jim Watt screamed in commentary that his corner needed to get him out of there. For two minutes he boxed with one arm, before a massive left hook sent his opponent to the floor. Two more knockdowns followed and the Londoner won the British heavyweight title.
We come to expect this refusal to accept to defeat from these warriors in the ring, yet there are so many examples of fighters taking the easy way out. Sonny Liston retired on his stool against Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran quit when bamboozled by the tactics of Sugar Ray Leonard, while Mike Tyson, one of the most feared men on the planet, resorted to biting Evander Holyfield as he looked for a route out of a fight.
Yet, you would never question the heart and desire of any of these fighters. Rather it was their mental state when faced with an opponent who simply refused to quit.
But back to Ortiz. We have today learned that he successfully had an operation on his broken jaw and will be out of action for the next six weeks. There will be no title fight against Alvarez, rather time spent reflecting on his latest defeat.
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer was quick to defend his fighter as he revealed the severity of the injury.
"A lot of people felt that, 'Oh, there he goes again, the quitter,' but that is not a fair assessment," said Schaefer. "People who saw that fight know Ortiz is one of the most entertaining fighters in the world. He comes to fight. It was a terrific fight; it was back and forth, and Victor was ahead on the scorecards. But with the broken jaw — and it was bleeding — there's no way he could continue.
"And those who say, well (Muhammad) Ali (fought with a broken jaw against Ken Norton in 1973), it was different times, different circumstances. I talked to the ringside doctor after the fight, and he was telling me it was very severe, internal bleeding, and he said it's very dangerous, that Victor could bleed out.
"All these macho guys who say, 'Oh, you need to be willing to die in the ring,' I mean, who the hell are those people? They're idiots. It's a sport, these are human beings, it's entertainment. Those people that say that, they've never taken a punch, what do they know? He fought a very courageous fight, and the last thing he deserves is criticism."
You have to agree with Schaefer, Ortiz had every reason to get out of that fight. One more punch to the jaw could have been career ending. Boxing is his life and where would he be without it. It was the sport that took him away from a rough childhood and allowed him to be a success in his own right. We have seen so many fighters fall tragically after their careers come to an end; we certainly would not want the same for Ortiz.
You can certainly question his intelligence inside the ring, headbutts and illegal blows have featured heavily in his recent contests, but on this occasion you cannot question his heart. He had gone to war with Lopez and was showing no signs of backing down before the injury.
There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. I for one, think that Ortiz made the right decision. He may miss an opportunity against Alvarez, but thankfully he can now recover and will have plenty of years left to show his spirit inside the ring.