No. 2: Ortiz, Rios put Garden City on pro boxing map
Editor's Note: This is the ninth in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 sports stories for 2011 as chosen by The Telegram's staff.
By BRETT MARSHALL
In February, Brandon Rios captured the WBA's lightweight world boxing championship.
In April, Victor Ortiz was crowned the WBC's welterweight champion.
Then, in the summer of 2011, both were presented with keys to the city by the City of Garden City in separate ceremonies about a month apart.
Two Garden City boxers, one born and raised here, one who lived most of his childhood here, and two world champions.
Garden City, Kan., had been put on the map of the boxing, indeed, the sports world.
"Winning the world championship was just one of those things that I stood back in awe," Ortiz said recently in an interview with The Telegram. "I took a lot of pride and joy to reach the pinnacle of my sport."
By year's end, Ortiz had lost his welterweight title belt to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a much-balleyhooed fight in September at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
And on Dec. 3, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Rios failed to make the 135-pound weight at the official weigh-in and had his WBA title stripped away before going into the ring and earning an 11th-round technical knockout of John Murray.
The Ortiz-Mayweather fight, before millions of fans watching on HBO Pay-Per-View and a near-capacity crowd of more than 15,000 fight diehards, saw one of the most bizarre finishes to a fight possible as Mayweather's fourth-round knockout of Ortiz with just one second remaining remains controversial in many boxing circles.
Ortiz had just moments earlier head-butted Mayweather in a moment of frustration and had suffered a 1-point penalty by the fight referee. In an attempt to apologize not just once, but twice, Ortiz had hugged Mayweather in the center of the ring.
As the two separated, and with the referee looking at the Nevada Boxing Commission officials below at ringside, Mayweather unloaded with a right hook and a left counter that decked Ortiz, thus ending his bid to become the first boxer in history to beat the seemingly unbeatable Mayweather.
"That outcome left a lot of unfinished business for me," Ortiz said. "There's no way a class, a champion, fighter has to do what Floyd did. He could have given me the two seconds to get my hands back up and get ready to fight again. It was a cheap shot, even if time was in, which I didn't hear. I just disagree with the way things went down."
Yet the sport recognizes Mayweather for his "legal" if not ethical two punches that sent Ortiz to the mat just before the bell.
"The head butt was a defensive measure I felt I had to take," Ortiz said in explaining his move that resulted in a one-point deduction by the referee. "You'd consider doing something, too, if you'd taken 16 elbows to your right eye and the referee did nothing about it. I knew it was wrong, but I had to take it into my own hands because the referee wasn't going to protect me."
In looking back at the fight, Ortiz said he felt like he was just getting into the strategic part of his plan to attack Mayweather when the fourth round unraveled.
"Early on, I took four straight rights to my head, my coaches weren't happy, but I wanted to see what Floyd had and in all honesty, he didn't have much that was going to hurt me," Ortiz said. "I was feeling him out, seeing his mistakes and I think I started to get to him there in the third and fourth rounds. I could see his demeanor changed in his face. I could see that Floyd didn't have it in him to beat me fairly, so he took it into his own hands to do something really dirty to win."
Ortiz said the loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but he chose to take the high road in the aftermath and came across as not showing a lot of disappointment as to what took place in the ring that night.
"I did all my crying and hurting in the locker room, and then it was time to move on," Ortiz said. "I've never been one to live in the past. It was time to look forward."
And he has, and that next step will be a rematch with Berto on Feb. 11 at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. It is a fight that begins the next stage of Ortiz' career, one that has seen him compile a 29-3-2 record, but one that he says still has many goals to accomplish.
"There's a lot for me to prove against Berto," Ortiz said. "I was never content with the first fight (unanimous, 12-round, decision). I left a lot in the tank in that fight and I knew that I wanted to improve before the next time. This fight opens the door for me."
Ortiz said he had no idea how other welterweights would schedule future fights, but he hopes to have an opportunity to fight Manny Pacquiao, the current WBO welterweight champion.
"After the Berto fight, there will be other opportunities and we'll see what happens," Ortiz said.
Ortiz also said he plans to return to college to pursue his bachelor's degree at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He hopes to complete a minor degree in business. He has three semesters completed toward his business degree and has one semester in writing. He is in the process of trying to work out the logistics with KU to resume his classwork, most likely in the fall of 2012.
"It's not something that I need to do, but it's something that I want to do," Ortiz said of his education. "Some of it might be online classes, some of it will be there (Lawrence). We're still working on the details. I'm excited about it. I love KU and I love the Jayhawks."
Fast forward to Dec. 3 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and Rios was defending his title against John Murray. When the pre-fight weigh-in took place, Rios was six-tenths of a pound over the 135-pound limit.
Officials, by rule, granted him one hour to reduce his weight. When he returned to the scales, he had mysteriously gained another pound after furiously attempting normal weight-loss exercises in that 60-minute span of time.
"Losing the title on the scale is not a good way for things to happen," Rios said recently in an interview with The Telegram. "I did everything I could to make weight, but I'm a big 135 and it's gotten harder to lose."
Rios was at a loss to explain the extra pound gained during that 60-minute time frame.
"I went back and perhaps the calibration of the scale was messed up, something wasn't right," Rios said. "Now, I'm just looking at better things."
Thus, not having made weight, Rios had his WBA title stripped before entering the ring with Murray, a highly-touted boxer who had suffered just one previous loss.
The fight, one of the toughest in Rios' four-year professional career, ended in an 11th round technical knockout by the Garden Citian. But with no title belt to show for his effort, Rios said that it would be his final time in the ring at 135-pounds.
It was time to move on, time to move up, this time to 140 pounds and the junior welterweight division. For now, Rios is happy to be moving up and taking on new challenges and new boxers.
"There's a lot of good fighters at 140 and it's time for me to conquer the game at that weight," said Rios, who is unbeaten with a 29-0-1 record. "I'll let Robert (Garcia) take care of who I fight. Today (Dec. 20), I'm just getting back in the gym. I want to spend more time with my family so I've tried to schedule more time off between fights."
The 25-year-old Rios said he was happy with where he was in his seven-plus year pro career.
"Things are good, my group respects me and they take care of me," Rios said. "I want to have a long career, and they look out for my interest."
Being awarded a key to the city was one of the highlights of 2011 for Rios.
"It means a lot and I think it shows how I've grown and matured," Rios said. "There's a community of people there who like me and there are those who don't. I just try to look forward. I'm just pleased that I turned my life around and glad that I got the key to the city. It's nice to know that I helped put Garden City on the map and that people haven't forgotten me."
Rios said he credited his father, Manuel, for helping him accomplish his life long goals in boxing.
"He was my savior," Rios said of his father. "He pushed me, pushed me. Always told me there was a way out. He helped with equipment, the travel and then the boxing club was there, too. My dad made me stay in boxing and I look up to him in every way."
Somewhere along the way in their boxing careers, Ortiz and Rios, merely nine months and two days apart in age (Rios is 25, Ortiz 24), the two one-time sparring partners at the Garden City Boxing Club found themselves at odds with each other.
Both have their own opinions about what happened, and while neither wanted to be specific, it is clear that there is no affinity for the other.
"I said before the Mayweather fight, that I thought it was too soon for Victor to be in that kind of fight," Rios said. "But everybody has to choose for themselves and in his mind, it was the right time. It was a horrible way to lose because he wanted to prove everybody wrong. He did his thing and he has to live with that."
Rios said both Ortiz and Mayweather Jr. did unsportsmanlike things in the fight.
"Victor did the head-butt and he leaped right into him (Mayweather)," Rios said. "Mayweather did something dirty, too, even though it was legal. They both did bad things and it left a bad taste for the fans. Boxing's still a good sport, but people really like a good fight."
For Ortiz, the animosity toward Rios still leaves questions unanswered.
"I don't really know why, but there just seems to be some jealousy there," Ortiz said of Rios. "I think it goes back to the "Bucky" (Avila) days. I've tried to keep it civil, but Brandon seems to think I did some things that I didn't."
Ortiz said he was the one that brought Rios to California when they were in the same training camp with brothers Danny and Robert Garcia. After Rios lost to Marcos Maidana in June of 2009, he and Danny left Robert Garcia and Rios elected to stay with Robert.
"I'm happy with my team," Ortiz said. "I love them and I trust them. I can't speak for Brandon, but there's a lot of things that are misunderstood."
While Rios moves up to 140 and Ortiz remains at 147 for the moment, the future of whether the two Garden Citians will ever see the same ring, remains clouded in mystery.
"We're not in the same weight at the moment, so nothing is likely," Ortiz said. "If he wants to fight, he'll have to come to my weight. Anything's possible, but I don't dwell on it. Not even thinking about it. He's got to earn his way up to be able to fight me, so he's got a ways to go now that he's going to 140."
Two other Garden City boxers — Antonio Orozco and Herbert Acevedo — continued their respective climb up the boxing ladder.
Orozco, 24, fought four times in 2011 to improve his unbeaten record to 12-0-0. He has recorded eight knockouts in his three-year pro career and his last win came with a six-round unanimous decision over Fernando Rodriguez at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
It has been reported that Orozco, who fights for Golden Boy Promotions, the same group that manages Ortiz, may be on the undercard to Ortiz' Feb. 11 fight with Berto. No official announcement, though, has been made.
Orozco, who fights in the junior welterweight division (140), began 2011 with a first-round knockout of Manuel Aguilar in March, followed that with another first round knockout, this time over Hensley Strachan in June and added a third-round KO of Josh Beeman in July.
Acevedo, 20, is the youngest of the Garden City pros. He made his debut in Garden City in November of 2009 and has put together a 6-0-0 record with three knockouts. He fights in the lightweight (135) division.
In 2011, he had three fights, beating Ivan Lopez in July with a fourth-round technical knockout and Kelly Wright in September with another TKO, this one in the first round. His most recent fight was a unanimous decision in a four-round bout with Ramon Flores.