Nearly two years ago, June 27, 2009, I sat in Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
I watched a very talented Victor Ortiz fly to the center of the ring during the first round and drop Argentine Marcos Maidana. Ortiz, with his Kansas upbringing and mega-watt smile, was a true up-and-comer in the fight game, and Maidana didn't expect to be smacked by a tornado that quickly in the fight.
But as the fight transitioned into a bruising battle and lost its crackling pace, so did Ortiz. Not just physically -- but mentally.
Maidana proved he was no slouch. Far from it. In fact, he was one of the toughest boxers I had ever seen. He ate punches like Cookie Monster gobbles Chips Ahoy. Ortiz hit him with good, solid shots but Maidana kept coming and coming. When the going got really nasty -- and Ortiz stumbled to the canvas -- the fighter from a Mexican-American heritage folded faster than origami.
It's hard to blame Ortiz because a normal man would fold under such physical pounding. But we all know boxing isn't a normal endeavor. Ortiz quitting was frustrating because here was a talented guy who clearly had skills and that rare thing: huge marketing potential. But without that so-called "heart of a champion," he'd never reach the sport's elite. In other words, if he truly wanted to be champion, he couldn't quit in those types of situations. Unfortunately, that's something even the best trainers can't teach. It has to come from within.
So there I was Saturday night amazed at Ortiz and his ability to hang with the previously undefeated Andre Berto. Ortiz was a man possessed -- and he didn't wither. Rather, he fought through the tough spots, endured a knockdown and eventually won the fight.
Afterwards, I was surprised to hear that Ortiz credited Manny Pacquiao.
The Filipino master called Ortiz the day of the fight and gave him instruction. According to Ortiz:
"I actually talked to Manny Pacquiao earlier, and Manny, thank you very much for your advice man, thank you I just did as he said and listened to my coaches and here we are with the green belt."
Now I'm really fascinated. What did Pacquiao say? What could he have possibly imparted during such a short conversation? It's not like the two talked for weeks in advance. This sounded like a one-time thing.
But we all know the power of Manny Pacquiao. Credit Victor Ortiz for listening.
I just wonder if Pacman said anything about the Maidana fight from 2009. I'm wondering if it sounded anything like this:
Victor, we all know you have the skills and the boxing ability. That is not the question. But when this fight gets tough and it looks like you can't continue, you have to push through it. One fighter to another. There will come that moment in the middle of the fight when you're down, when you're hurting and stopping the fight will be the easier choice. I've been there. I know how tempting it is. But you've worked too hard to stop. You have to fight through that wall. It will be worth it in the end. After all, you might even earn a chance to fight me.
Now, getting an opportunity to fight Manny Pacquiao isn't exactly a prize -- but on Saturday night, Victor Ortiz did what champions do. They somehow, some way find a way to stay in the fight and ultimately prevail.
Just ask Manny Pacquiao.