Wednesday April 6th, 2011

With his status as one of boxing's top prospects in jeopardy, Victor Ortiz followed a path taken by too many fallen sports stars.

He blamed the media.

"I'm tired of people saying I have no heart or no balls," Ortiz said recently. "At the end of the day, I'm not scared of getting in the ring with anyone."

It's bewildering, really, why Ortiz would look anywhere but in the mirror to explain his recent struggles. After all, he was the one who raised his glove and said no más in 2009 when, under a relentless assault from Marcos Maidana, Ortiz simply chose to quit. He was the one who refused to go for the kill in a majority draw against the light-hitting Lamont Peterson in December, sparking a (justifiable) debate as to whether Ortiz had a killer instinct.

In fact, the only questionable statements being put out there are coming from him. During a recent conference call to promote his April 16 welterweight title fight with Andre Berto, Ortiz told reporters that Maidana was "running left and right, dodging me. When he gets the courage to come out of the closet, he can meet me at 147 [pounds]." He also declared that Maidana, "couldn't put me down," inexplicably ignoring the fact that Maidana dropped him twice before making him quit.

It's true, at times the media can be controversy's accomplice. But Ortiz created this one all by himself. His reputation as a quitter, a fraud, is one he earned, not one inflated by an overzealous media.

Still, the beauty of sports -- boxing in particular -- is that reputations can change in one night. And the 24-year-old Ortiz (28-2-2, 22 KOs) will have a chance to do some serious repair work on his when he meets Berto (27-0, 21 KOs) later this month for Berto's WBC welterweight title. Berto, 27, is an elite 147-pounder in the prime of his career. He has power, speed and a solid chin. A win against that caliber of an opponent would go a long way towards changing the public's perception.

"He's training harder than I've ever seen him train before," Ortiz's promoter, Richard Schaefer, told "Sure, I think he is using [the media] as an extra motivator, saying, 'All of you guys who have criticized me, I'm going to prove you all wrong.' Hey, I hope it works."

Now onto your e-mails:

Did Andy Lee's last fight do anything to move him up towards a middleweight title fight? That was an excellent fight, albeit against an opponent many thought he should have easily defeated. But it held my interest more than the pummeling Sergio Martinez gave Serhiy Dzinziruk right after it. --Neil, Worcester, Mass.

• Lee's a fun guy to watch, no question. But as you said, in his last fight he was in a life and death struggle with an opponent (Craig McEwan) that he should have had an easier time with. Will he get a title shot? It's possible. His promoter, Lou DiBella, wanted to match Lee against Martinez but that idea was shot down by HBO. However if Lee can win his next fight -- most likely a rematch with Brian Vera -- it's possible DiBella tries to put him in with Martinez again, especially if the pool of opponents for Martinez continues to dry up.

I'm a huge fan of the Klitschko brothers. After one of them destroys David Haye, what's out there for them? I mean other than beating up retreads they already have beaten is there any new blood that could offer a challenge? --Herb, Tulsa, Okla.

• There are a few opponents I'd like to see the Klitschkos matched up with. I'd like to see Vitali fight Tomasz Adamek (which, assuming Wladimir is healthy enough to face Haye, is on the books for September) and then make a long rumored fight with 7-foot giant Nikolai Valuev. Wladimir-Haye is the most meaningful heavyweight fight since Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson. If Wladimir wins that one, he could finally face undefeated mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin.

One name to keep on your radar: Robert Helenius. He's a 6-foot-7 prospect who obliterated Samuel Peter in a ninth-round knockout last weekend. His resume is a little thin -- his most notable win before Peter was against a faded Lamon Brewster -- but his size and power might make him an appealing opponent for either brother sometime next year.

Good column on Tommy Zbikowski. As a Notre Dame fan from the community where he played high school ball I have always kept my eye on his accomplishments. Let's say the NFL lockout extends into the late summer/early fall. Tommy Z is fighting once a month or so and defeating better competition. If he gets a shot and wins the light heavyweight title, does he get in the conversation as one of the best dual-sport athletes of all time? I mean he is not Jim Thorpe, Bo Jackson or Jim Brown, but a starting NFL defensive back and boxing champion is nothing to sneeze at. --Craig, Buffalo Grove, Ill.

• I agree, it would be an impressive accomplishment. But I think it would take more than winning one title for Zbikowski to be elevated into that rarified air only because these days titles in boxing have become so easy to win. I think it's well within the realm of possibility for Zbikowski to fight for a title sometime in the next year or two in a division (cruiserweight) that is considered one of the weakest in the sport. But in order for Zbikowski to be considered an upper echelon two-sport star like Thorpe, Brown or Jackson I think he has to win multiple titles and establish himself as the top fighter in his weight class.

Did you happen to ask [Zbikowski] about the head trauma that he is putting himself through? Since football players are being scrutinized about head blows and deceased players are having their brains examined; I find it interesting that he is competing in the two sports that put the player at great risk for concussions, etc. --Greg, Chicago

• Zbikowski understands the risks. I think that's part of the reason he was so eager to work with Emanuel Steward. Steward likes his fighters to protect themselves with a stiff jab, a style world champions like Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko have mastered. One thing I learned about Zbikowski is that he doesn't fancy himself a knockout artist. He told me repeatedly that he preferred to win fights with his wits and not get caught up in too many toe-to-toe wars. Besides, I don't think Zbikowski has much to worry about for a while. He's Top Rank's golden ticket and I don't think they are going to match him with anyone that could seriously hurt him for quite some time.

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