Mayweather the heel vs. Ortiz the enigma

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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."


At last count, the roster of legal proceedings against Floyd Mayweather was six, three of them being criminal matters.

Now, things being what they are, I can certainly understand if an athlete's legal problems fail to surprise, much less offend, contemporary sensibilities. Still, at this point, mere misbehavior — alleged or otherwise — seems to be the least of Floyd's failings. Rather, the problem is one of persona. He's a dreadful cliché.

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It's been years now since he went about the business — and that's what it is, pure business — of changing roles, from "Pretty Boy Floyd" to "Money May." I get it, or at least I did. And I give him credit, too. Mayweather acquired the bulk of his fortune during — or, perhaps, despite — the ascent of mixed martial arts. MMA has many virtues, but subtlety is not among them. So Floyd — with a style as risk-averse and boring as it was technically perfect — realized he was better off as an old-fashioned bad guy, boxing's version of a wrestling heel.

Problem is, even wrestling heels evolve. Money does not. In the lead-up to Saturday's welterweight championship bout with Victor Ortiz — famously abandoned first by his mother, then his alcoholic father — Mayweather's pattern seems resolutely predictable.

"I'm tired of hearing about that ------- story," he said of Ortiz's childhood. "Black parents leave all the time! Every black you know raised theyself . . . I lived a very tough life. They make it seems like I just woke up and I'm a multimillionaire . . . My father's been to prison. My mother left. My mother's been on drugs, and my father was a drug dealer."

Translation: What about me?

Now, I've tried, at various times, to warm up to Floyd. The serial ducker of Manny Pacquaio is, in fact, a great talent. But, damn, could someone just shut him up already?

Unfortunately, much to my regret, and much like the oddsmakers, I don't think that will be Victor Ortiz. As I discovered last week, driving out to his gym in Ventura, he seems an altogether likeable kid. It's tempting, and not inaccurate, to call him the anti-Floyd. He's a fighter, though, and like all fighters, harbors a raging lunatic inside. It's just that Ortiz's madman remains out of sight, and at least to some extent, out of mind. That's quite an accomplishment for a kid who grew up in the circumstances that now seem to so offend Floyd. Ortiz is from Garden City, Kan.. He was 5 when his mom split, 10 when his father left him and his kid brother for good.

Now, at 24, having surprised the same oddsmakers who predicted his demise against Andre Berto in April, Ortiz holds the WBC version of the welterweight title. If he hasn't entirely dispelled the notion he quit two years ago against Marcos Maidana, he is universally recognized as a legit champion with preternatural power in his lead right hand. Ortiz has, at the very least, knocked down each of the 33 opponents he has faced as a pro. Even more rare, he's an authentically interesting kid.

The other day, before wrapping his hands, he replaced his trainer's blaring iPod with his own. "I don't even like Spanish music," he said.

"What did you grow up with?" I asked.

"I grew up around many genres of music."

Doesn't sound like a fighter. Genres? "What genres?"

"Mostly reggae and country."

Of course. From Trace Adkins to Collie Buddz, from Kenny Chesney to Demarco and Mavado. Ortiz is also partial to Beethoven and, just before he begins to shadowbox, gets on a classic-rock kick. Pink Floyd. Steve Miller. Tom Petty. Stuff that's older and whiter than I.

This eclecticism doesn't end with his musical sensibilities, either. Ortiz is big on the Bible, but also the first two volumes from the vulgarian Tucker Max, "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell," and "A**holes Finish First." Victor's all-time favorite book, however, is the 1961 children's classic, "Where the Red Fern Grows," about a boy who trains two hunting dogs.

He's not a fight fan, either. Andre Berto fought a couple of weeks ago, and Ortiz didn't even know until after the fact. His leisure pursuits include skateboarding, snowboarding, skydiving, surfing and triathlons. If he weren't fighting, he says he'd be an architect. Ortiz wears a Kansas Jayhawks mouthpiece.

"I know how to cut hair, too," he says.

That's great, different, interesting. But does he know how to beat Mayweather?

"I've done everything to make sure this guy doesn't take my crown," he says.

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"Everybody looks at Floyd as this gift from God to boxing, something I completely fail to see. I'm not impressed by the guy. Never have been. He has nothing on the table that scares me. His whole style is made for my style to crush."

That's something, quite frankly, I completely fail to see. Ortiz has his advantages, to be sure. He's 10 years younger. When he's good, he puts his punches together, which is more than most of Mayweather's recent opponents can say. There's also his power. It comes from a left-handed stance, which is commonly viewed as an advantage. But Ortiz is a natural right-hander who fights southpaw. Again, his power is in his lead right. But not only is Mayweather a great defensive fighter, he naturally slips and rolls to his right. That would be away from Ortiz's power.

"How?" I ask again. "I don't understand."

"You'll see Sept. 17."

Hope so. If you can't shut the guy up, at least make it interesting.

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