Bryan Armen Graham
Saturday September 17th, 2011

WBC welterweight champion Victor Ortiz is a heavy underdog Saturday against the far more experienced Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand. (AP)

LAS VEGAS -- When Victor Ortiz visited the Sports Illustrated offices in June, shortly after word of his Sept. 17 fight with Floyd Mayweather had spread but before the official press conference announcing the bout, the 24-year-old was at the outset of a three-month promotional journey unlike anything he'd ever been involved with.

"They give me limo service now," Ortiz remarked when asked about the biggest change in his life since becoming a world champion in April. "It's kind of weird. It's kind of disturbing actually, because I'm not like that. I'm a small-town kid."

The evidence of Ortiz's youth was manifest throughout his hour-long visit. Until then, I'd never heard a fighter compare himself to a Pixar character. ("I'm like Dory from Finding Nemo," he said when asked whether Mayweather's trash talk affected him. "I forget things in like two seconds.") He was prone to extemporaneous and rambling answers, an area he's improved greatly on since June. Where most seasoned pro athletes guard their emotions like Fort Knox -- particularly in the hyper-masculine realm of prizefighting -- Ortiz fought tears unsuccessfully in a room full of SI staffers when recalling leaving his brother Temo behind in Kansas when the opportunity to train in Oxnard, Calif., presented itself.

The promoters and the media (guilty!) have focused on the positive side of Ortiz's youth, saying it's been nearly a decade since Mayweather fought a young lion.

Yes, Floyd is going to see something he hasn't seen in a while -- but that's a far more preferable obstacle than something you've never seen before.

Ortiz has never been in with a fighter of Mayweather's caliber. Not even close. There's young and there's green, and the prevailing suspicion among the press as the stark reality of fight night approaches is Ortiz falls dangerously close toward the latter.

Certainly time is a factor worth discussing here. Mayweather is 34 years old, an age by which boxing historian Bert Sugar notes many of history's all-time great welterweights had already retired -- citing Barney Ross and Jimmy McLarnin (29), Tony DeMarco (30), Kid Gavilan and Wilfred Benitez (32), Henry Armstrong (33), and Mickey Walker and Carmen Basilio (34).

But those ring legends fought several times a year, sometimes as often as every few weeks. Mayweather, a defensive technician who's never been in an all-out war, has fought 24 rounds since stopping Ricky Hatton in 2007. "My fights are like the Super Bowl," he told me prior to his 2009 fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. "They only come once a year, at most."

Mayweather is no longer a young man, but he doesn't have a fraction of the mileage of a Benitez or a Basilio or an Armstrong, who fought an incredible 17 times in a 10-month span in 1937-38 to become the first and only fighter to hold titles in three different weight classes at the same time. Unless Mayweather turns into an old man overnight, which is highly unlikely after looking so impressive throughout training, the combination of Floyd's extraordinary skill and experience will be a painful learning experience for the champion.

You could serve Ortiz in theory on Saturday night, but it's far more likely to work against him.

-- Bryan Armen Graham

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