Floyd Mayweather (left) appeared to be cruising to victory Saturday against Victor Ortiz before his controversial fourth-round knockout. (AP)
What is the legacy of Floyd Mayweather's controversial victory over Victor Ortiz?
CHRIS MANNIX: This will stick to Mayweather for a while, as the taken-out-of-context video of him dropping Ortiz with that sickening, undefended combination will soon go viral. But let's look at the full breadth of the exchange, shall we? Ortiz had hugged him. He kissed him. He tapped gloves with him. Then he hugged him again, the final act of affection coming after referee Joe Cortez had said "let's go." At what point does the conversation shift from what Mayweather did to what Ortiz didn't do? It's no coincidence that when great fighters offer an apology, it comes in the form of one arm extended with the other coiled and prepared to parry an incoming shot. Mayweather's actions make a good highlight and his polarizing personality makes him easy to criticize. But this incident was more about Ortiz than Mayweather, about what happens when an inexperienced fighter looking to be friends meets a world class fighter looking to win.
RICHARD O'BRIEN: Stanley Ketchel, the great middleweight champion of the early 1900s, whose nickname was The Michigan Assassin, was hardly known as a strict observer of the ring niceties. But on Sept. 7, 1908 in Vernon, Calif., when he squared off against Billy Papke, whom he'd beaten just three months before, Ketchel stepped to the middle of the ring and extended his gloves to shake hands. That's when Papke punched him right in the throat. Ketchel never recovered, going down five times in the first round and several more times before the fight was stopped in the 14th. Since then, Ketchel's name has been indelibly linked to boxing's fundamental edict: "Protect yourself at all times."
Now that phrase will also forever evoke the smiling, and decidedly unprotected, face of Victor Ortiz, a far more amiable soul than Ketchel. Seemingly more intent on apologizing for his head butt of Mayweather than with getting on with the fight, Ortiz got his response from Floyd in the form of a quick left hook and a batting-practice home run of a straight right that put Victor down and out.
Legal shots? Sure. Though pretty gutless coming from a fighter who likes to think of himself as the greatest of all time. Couldn't Mayweather have simply brushed off Ortiz's second attempt at a conciliatory hug (and, who knows, another kiss?) with a haughty sneer and gone back to slickly picking the overmatched kid apart? Instead, you could see Floyd -- who, like a grandmaster at chess, is always working several moves ahead -- planning his attack even as Ortiz stepped towards him. Watch the video and there's Mayweather, stern forbearance on his face, bending in toward Ortiz, hands up, not in a fighting pose, but as if for a quick accepting touch. His eyes shift for a second to referee Joe Cortez, who's turned away, and then Mayweather drops the hammer. He pauses for a split second after that stinging left and then, with cold intent, lets the right go. Maybe Floyd, a Grand Rapids kid, after all, is the real modern embodiment of The Michigan Assassin.
That fourth round, really, said everything about Ortiz. First, despite his high hopes and dedication, he was being outclassed by Mayweather. Then he finally did the one thing he could that might keep him in the fight, plowing into Mayweather with abandon, trying to overwhelm Floyd with sheer strength and volume. Then his desperation got the better of him and he launched his head at the face that had been tormenting him for months. Then his basic decency and niceness kicked in and his only thought became to make sure that everybody -- especially Floyd -- knew he didn't mean it. And finally, like the decent guy he is, he couldn't conceive of anybody being, you know, cold-blooded enough to do what Mayweather did.
What Ortiz should have done after landing that head butt -- however appalled at himself he might have been inside -- was glare at Mayweather, spin around and accept the point deduction and then, when Cortez waved them back to action, simply slapped gloves with Floyd and snarled, "There's plenty more where that came from, m***********!"
That might at least have given Mayweather -- who, face it, is boxing's foremost adherent to the "protect yourself at all times" rule -- something to think about besides launching sneak attacks.
Last thought on Mayweather's "perfectly legal" tactic: Some of the all-time greats against whom (indeed, over whom) Floyd would rank himself were masters of gamesmanship and the attack without mercy -- Henry Armstrong, Ray Robinson, Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Pernell Whitaker come to mind among welterweights -- and I can't see any of them pulling the stunt Mayweather did.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: I keep going back to Ortiz's head butt, a repugnant foul so out of character for the easygoing 24-year-old that he seems to have gotten a pass. Ortiz had been outclassed. He was missing, unable to catch the slippery target in front of him. The fight was at a tipping point for the young champion: Ortiz, having gone the full 12 rounds just once in 33 pro fights, knew his window was closing. He couldn't keep eating those right hands all night and he didn't seem to have any answer for them. So then what? In a moment of desperation, he resorted to the dark arts -- and Mayweather had no reservations about winning by equally inglorious (if technically legal) means. "What goes around comes around," he said. If you're searching for a moral somewhere in the chaos, as I've spent the past 36 hours doing, that's as close as you'll come.
Ortiz's wants desperately to be well-liked. ("You can look at this a couple of ways," he said afterward, "One is that I came to entertain the fans, and I did that.") It's at the heart of his everyman persona, but a quality that proved his fatal flaw. His desire to repent publicly for the foul, in the form of an excessive apology, prompted a lapse in concentration that Floyd ruthlessly exploited for the victory. There's no shame in losing to Floyd Mayweather. But Ortiz's temporary moment of insanity (and ensuing loss of focus) casts further doubt on whether he has what it takes mentally to be a great champion.