Photo Credit – Fred Beckham
Saturday night live on HBO World Championship Boxing, the crowd at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort and Casino was treated to a scintillating slugfest and fight of the year candidate courtesy of Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KOs) and Andre Berto (27-1-0, 21 KOs). Battling toe to toe for nearly the entire duration of the fight, Oxnard, California’s Ortiz braved two knockdowns en route to a unanimous decision win (115-110, 114-111, 114-112) to claim the WBC Welterweight Title.
From the onset of the first round, each fighter focused primarily on power punches. After approximately one minute of the fight had elapsed, Ortiz sent the champion to the canvas with a shot to the rear portion of Berto’s head, but referee Mike Ortega ruled no knockdown. Sensing he had his opponent in trouble, Ortiz marched forward with a hard right hook which backed Berto up to the ropes, and Ortiz eventually secured the first official knockdown of the fight with a four punch flurry with 1:07 remaining in the round. Berto would survive the “Vicious” onslaught, but appeared both mentally and physically rattled for the first time in his career.
However, round number two issued one of many surprising twists in the fight. After building upon the impressive first round with an equally formidable display in the first two minutes, Ortiz was knocked off balance by a right hook and touched the canvas with his glove in a moment eerily similar to Ortiz’s June of 2009 fight against Marcos Maidana. After receiving the mandatory standing eight count, Berto and Ortiz traded until the bell in what was shaping up to be an all action classic.
Round three picked up the action right where it left off sixty seconds prior. Hoping to tire out the title challenger, Berto lied against the ropes and weathered a firestorm of fearsome combinations. Several right hooks hit their mark as Berto urged on Ortiz, waving him forward in a plea to engage.
After eating more power punches in the beginning of round four, Berto’s connect rate dropped significantly, as he appeared to be worn down and fading fast. Berto failed to utilize his superior footwork, and was backed against the ropes repeatedly by Ortiz’s heavy handed blows.
In round five, each fighter started at a much slower pace. Within one minute however, Ortiz continued his attack to Berto, who appeared as a stationary target directly in front of Ortiz. While Ortiz’s work rate declined, so too did Berto’s, and Ortiz won another round in a fight in which he was up 48-45 on the judges’ scorecards.
Round six began with an explosive start, and an unfathomable conclusion. Merely twenty seconds into the round, Berto landed a hard left hook which sent Ortiz’s head spinning around on its axis. Following a brief exchange inside, Ortiz initiated a clinch. Halfway through the round, the signs of an epic struggle and round for the year candidate started to emerge, and both men valiantly swapped precise hooks in the center of the ring. With one minute to go in the round, Ortiz was dropped by a pair of ferocious right hooks, the worst of which he never saw coming. With fifty seconds to go, the pendulum of the fight swung one hundred and eighty degrees, and the roles were reversed. Now, it was Andre Berto who marched forward with his opponent on the ropes and ready to be finished at any moment. Attempting to load up on one final blow to end the fight, Berto got careless was countered with under 10 seconds to go by a pair of bone crunching left hooks which buckled the champion’s legs and sent him down on the mat for the second time. By the sound of the bell, the MGM Grand vibrated with energy and noise unheard of in many years in the Northeast, bringing back memories of the first fight between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward in 2001.
Rounds seven and eight saw the pace of the fight drop back down to a cautious, careful level. Thirty seconds into the seventh, both fighters tripped during a clinch from sheer exhaustion and fell down onto the canvas. However, at the end of the round, both fighters opened up with flurries, which Victor Ortiz got the better of. In the next round however, Berto bounced back and effectively worked the jab for the first time in the fight, taking his first round unanimously on the judges’ scorecards since round two.
Round nine featured the same calm and calculated approach of the previous rounds, and it appeared that the frenetic pace seen in the early rounds had passed. Despite the lack of slugging, the fight certainly never lacked drama at any point. With :35 remaining in the ninth, Victor Ortiz was issued a warning for hitting behind the head, and was warned by referee Mike Ortega that he would deduct one point if another illegal blow resurfaced. Ortiz took the toss up round on two judges’ scorecards, leaning the scoring margin two and three points in Ortiz’s favor.
In round ten, Victor Ortiz resumed the fast and furious approach. Andre Berto landed a pair of hard hooks at the beginning of the round, but Ortiz shifted the momentum back in his favor with a beautiful left hook-right uppercut combination. Unfortunately for Ortiz, leading by a narrow margin on the scorecards, Mike Ortega halted the action and deducted one point from Ortiz for another punch behind the head of Berto. With just seconds left until the end of the round, Ortiz picked up the pace once more, pushing Berto back and eventually inducing a slip in the corner. At the mallet tap, both fighters wildly swapped power punches, marking a return to the fan friendly fighting style which captivated the sellout crowd.
In round eleven, despite being in dire need of a knockout, Andre Berto showed little offensive output. On multiple occasions throughout the round, Berto was hurt and forced to clinch. Ortiz landed a pair of powerful uppercuts at the end of the round.
The final round of the twelve round title fight was contested closely, with each fighter unleashing flurries of punches. However, Berto’s struggles to land cleanly continued in the last three minutes, although he did display a courageous performance throughout the round and the fight. Ortiz’s offensive output was not decreased by his large lead on the scorecards, and he continued to push forward and land lethal hooks. After the fight, the crowd gave a raucous standing ovation to each battered and bruised combatant.
Rhode Island’s Clark Sammartino scored the bout 115-110, New York’s Julie Lederman, daughter of legendary judge Harold Lederman (celebrating his twenty fifth year with HBO this weekend), scored the contest 114-111, and Connecticut’s own Glenn Feldman ruled it 114-112, all in favor of the new WBC Welterweight Champion “Vicious” Victor Ortiz.
Victor Ortiz, who answered a myriad of questions about his heart and career inside the ring, also answered a multitude of questions at the post fight press conference. Ortiz was filled with nothing but best wishes and admiration for fellow fighter Andre Berto, saying “I wasn’t expecting an easy fight. I expected a war. I studied him and he’s no joke. He knocked out some good guys but I saw the Luis Collazo fight.” However, Ortiz spent much of the conference defending himself from critics’ accusations of his heart and courage. When asked about the similarities between this fight and the fight against Marcos Maidana, Ortiz proclaimed “Stuff happens. That was the past. Maidana still doesn’t have anything on me. That wasn’t my night. I fought with a broken wrist and the fight was stopped. They said I gave up, I didn’t give up. I didn’t fight Morales. He’s a great guy but past his time and I strongly believe he beat Maidana. He wouldn’t give me a rematch but I’m the guy with no courage, no heart, no balls. But I’m the guy with the belt.”
Entering the ring, Victor Ortiz was prepared to fight a pair of opponents: Andre Berto and his critics. With a gutsy performance in which he landed 281 of 696 (41%) of his total punches, 570 of which were power punches, Ortiz silenced all criticisms. Ortiz threw everything but the kitchen sink at the undefeated champion, and battled back from a pair of knockdowns to not only gain the world title, but also rebrand his image. No longer will he be known as “the man who quit against Maidana.” Instead, he will be known as “Vicious” Victor Ortiz: Top flight welterweight and the new WBC Champion of the World.