There is still a subtle asymmetry to his jaw: a reminder of where Josesito Lopez broke it so many months ago. It has been nearly a year and a half since Victor Ortiz last stepped in the ring, where, with a crack at Saul Alvarez all but guaranteed, he was outfought by a replacement opponent who refused to act like one. Ortiz left Staples Center that night in June 2012 to a torrent of jeers, having chosen—as he had against stubborn tormentor Marcos Maidana three years earlier—to pass on the abuse he is unconvinced he should endure. It was his second stoppage loss in a row, having unraveled against Floyd Mayweather. Jr. the previous September.
Yoked with consecutive defeats, Ortiz, 29-4-2 (22), exhibited little of the behavior we expect of serious men in a serious profession. He did not hole up like Goodhue Coldfield and he did not repeat the usual boxing platitudes. Instead, Ortiz spent his hiatus—one necessitated by the severity of his fractured jaw—like a resurrected child star. He cut rugs on Dancing with the Stars, launched a line of skincare products enticingly titled “VO by Facelube,” shot a commercial that belongs in a time capsule, released VO cologne, and filmed scenes for the upcoming action flick, The Expendables 3. In short, Ortiz, the loser, the quitter, the laughing stock, managed to parlay his cultural currency into a level of crossover success most boxers rarely achieve.
Of course, Ortiz, Oxnard, California, owes his prosperity beyond the ropes to his time inside them; and however successful his moisturizer may be, beauty products can’t pay him like punching does. Which is why, with his jaw deemed combat-ready, Ortiz returns to the ring Thursday night, facing trouper Luis Collazo from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The selection of Collazo, Brooklyn, New York, is interesting. While he has come up short against the best, Collazo gave both Ricky Hatton and Andre Berto all they could handle. Granted, that was years ago, but while Collazo, 32, may have slipped physically since then, he remains capable and composed. If you can keep your head against Ortiz, and hang tough, anything can happen. Collazo, 34-5 (17), should be expected to do at least that much.
There are better ways to rehabilitate a fighter with a shaky psychological make-up coming off of an injury than by pitting him against a durable, cagey southpaw fighting in his own backyard. Is there a message to glean from the fact that Golden Boy Promotions green-lit Collazo? Are they no longer enthralled with Ortiz, their former “next Oscar De La Hoya”?
It is hard to know exactly what Ortiz, 26, will offer. If his jaw cooperates—and it will have to, given his penchant for taking punches—Ortiz remains a physically-imposing fighter with fine offensive tools. He has the arsenal to get rid of Collazo, and he is good for four or five rounds of high-caliber fury before his fire and his focus wane. And while his pain threshold falls short of impossible expectations, it takes extreme heat to wilt him. There is the bottom line to consider as well: however popular Collazo may be in Brooklyn, there is more money in the one-man circus that is Victor Ortiz.
Still, it is hard to place much confidence in a fighter who was outslugged by the undersized Lopez and who so bafflingly lost his nerve against Mayweather. Mind you, it is no longer about confidence with Ortiz, is it? Nor is it about his ceiling, or anything, really, beyond the next potential spectacle. It is telling that typing “Victor Ortiz” into Google provides “Victor Ortiz funny” as the third search prompt. According to Google, he is a person first, fighter second, and a joke third. The fighter who once perfected the “Oxnard snarl” made so popular by Fernando Vargas is now largely regarded as a clown. But whatever the perception of him, whether people tune in as much for the antics as the action, Ortiz promises entertainment. For our purposes, as enthusiasts of a sport that is supposed to entertain—but typically fails to do so—everything else about this curious man should be secondary.