Victor Ortiz's last fight was almost too easy. He faces Vivian Harris on Saturday night. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Earlier, we took a look at the Daniel Ponce de Leon-Antonio Escalante fight, scheduled to open Saturday's PPV broadcast. Now we move on to the likely second fight of the night, as Golden Boy golden child Victor Ortiz continues his Comeback Tour against veteran Vivian Harris. Tomorrow, we'll move on to Saul Alvarez-Carlos Baldomir and part of the Magnificent Seven card. The preview for Shane Mosley-Sergio Mora will cap a big week of fight previews, which will lead to a huge Saturday where I give myself a boxing hangover.
Junior Welterweights - 10 Rounds
Victor Ortiz v. Vivian Harris
"Vicious" Victor and "Vicious" Vivian. Sadly, there is no bet between the fighters that the loser has to give up the nickname, though a bit more than a year ago, it seemed as though a lot of boxing fans were ready to strip Ortiz of his claim to it after he quit against Marcos Maidana in a terrific slugfest that became (a bit unfortunately) remembered mostly for a young fighter giving up, and then giving a too-honest interview after with Max Kellerman where he said he doesn't deserve to get beaten up.
Since then, Victor Ortiz (27-2-1, 21 KO) has rebounded, and he has changed. He came back in December against veteran Antonio Diaz, looking a bit rocky in the early going but coming through with a seven-round win when Diaz retired from the fight in his corner. Two and a half months later, he headlined the first Fight Night Club broadcast on Fox Sports Net, beating tomato can Hector Alatorre via 10th round TKO. That fight was a pure carry job, as Ortiz could have blasted out Alatorre in one if he had felt like it. Instead, it was more a glorified and televised sparring session, as the 23-year-old Oxnard fighter used the fight to try out some new approaches in the ring. After nine rounds of experimenting and holding back, Ortiz thrashed Alatorre in the final round and took him out in 51 seconds.
He returned in May against former lightweight titlist Nate Campbell. I was not impressed with his dominant win that night, and having watched it a few more times, I'm still not. I feel now much as I felt then. I feel that Ortiz, while talented, has been overhyped. That is not really his fault, nor is the fact that speaking purely as a boxing fan, he just rubs me the wrong way in interviews and the like.
But he did dominate Campbell, and we had some great discussion on the site about that. Some felt I was too harsh, and I admittedly was being harsh. But I just don't see Victor Ortiz becoming a great fighter. I've seen him tested by a guy he's much, much more talented than, and I saw that guy make him fold while still holding a pretty good hand. Still, if he is abandoning his old, reckless nature, then this might be a new Victor Ortiz that we -- or I -- have to get used to seeing.
He can box. He still has power in both hands if he needs to break it out. And he just might be smarter than he used to be. If they were rematching on Saturday, I'd pick Victor Ortiz to beat Marcos Maidana, let's put it that way.
Saturday, though, he'll be facing Vivian Harris, a 32-year-old former titleholder who it seems has been around forever. Harris (29-4-1, 19 KO) signed with Golden Boy last year. In his mind, that's good reason to get a career that went off the rails a few years ago back on track. Realistically, it was more Golden Boy strengthening their in-house roster with a veteran who still has some skills, might still have some real hunger, and can be a great test for younger fighters.
Harris, born in Guyana and fighting out of Brooklyn, has had a winding career. He turned pro in 1997 and ran through the usual suspects before losing a 10-round decision to Ray Oliveira in 2000, which he followed with a draw against a worn-out Ivan Robinson, who would go 3-8-1 through the rest of his career (he last fought in 2008). But he came back strong to win the WBA junior welterweight belt in 2002, which he lost by KO-7 to Carlos Maussa in 2005. A KO-7 loss to Junior Witter in 2007 was his last shot at a major belt, following wins over a washed-up Stevie Johnston and Juan Lazcano.
Since the loss to Witter, Harris' career has been adrift. He took 13 months off and returned in October 2008 to win a fight at a Medieval Times in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, then went to a no contest with Noe Bolanos 11 months later. In February, he lost a highly controversial fourth round stoppage against Lucas Matthysse in Mexico in what was just turning into a good scrap.
Harris seems to fully understand that he needs to win some big fights, and that there will only be so many more chances before he becomes a stamped and certified Professional Opponent. He sounds truly motivated, he appears to be in good shape, and even if he's not the fighter he once was (or at least, was thought to be), he hasn't lost himself mentally, which is good.
The mental game is what most matters for Ortiz, too. We all know what he can do physically. He is quite talented. But he's only been pushed once in his career, and that didn't turn out well. If you look back at what were thought to be notable wins at the time for Ortiz, they just don't hold up. He beat Maussa in 2007, and it was easy to see how little interest the veteran had in being there. Maussa hadn't fought in 15 months coming off of back-to-back losses dating to his 2005 loss to Ricky Hatton, and he never fought again. Ortiz was matched with bust former prospect Jeffrey Resto on the deplorable Oscar de la Hoya-Manny Pacquiao undercard, and he stopped him in two. Resto hasn't fought since, and had simply never panned out to begin with (the bloom was taken off his rose by Maussa in 2003, coincidentally). Mike Arnaoutis has never beaten anyone of real note. Campbell was 38, undersized, and shop worn by the time Ortiz got to him. He'd looked rotten and overwhelmed against Timothy Bradley in their truncated bout in 2009.
Ortiz is still really looking for that big, legitimate win. Harris won't be it, even if Ortiz wins. There's still the open issue of what he'll do against a top-level, in-prime fighter. That won't be solved Saturday.
Grading the Fighters
Ortiz's power I'm keeping at a B+ until we have a little more evidence that maybe it shouldn't be that high. Harris has never been a destructive puncher, but he's not feather-fisted by any means. Ortiz might be a little faster than that; Harris' speed didn't look too great against Matthysse, but he was also a little tentative and seemed concerned with the Argentinian's power early on. I think defense might be the most overlooked part of Ortiz's game, and is the thing I've been most impressed with since his rehab run started last December. Neither of them take the best shot, really. Harris has been knocked flat out on two occasions and Ortiz was knocked around by Maidana, though to be fair Maidana can really punch, even if Chop-Chop Corley says otherwise. Ortiz's heart is still something that has to be proven after the Maidana fight. In a year, it might be a grade and a half higher than it is right now, but I don't think it's harsh to still question that.
Ortiz is a back-end top ten guy at 140 right now, and that's at best. Talent-wise, he has the claim to the spot, but in terms of overall results, it's arguable that he still shouldn't be there. Harris is, realistically, a veteran non-entity with some possible comeback potential. In short, a win over Harris isn't really a big deal for Ortiz, and an upset loss to him is a huge deal. Ortiz has nothing to truly gain other than a W on his record and moving forward to what still could be a very good career. Harris has nothing to lose, period.
Good Fight Potential:
It'll depend a lot on Harris, I suspect, and his mindset going into the fight. If he tries to get Ortiz to brawl, it could either be to his advantage (possibly catching him cold or overconfident) or it could get him knocked silly. Even laid back, Ortiz is a better puncher than Junior Witter was, though Maussa really could bang back at his peak. It's not like Harris has gotten younger. But I figure if Ortiz has his way and is easily out-boxing the veteran, this won't be much by way of pure entertainment, just like the fight with Nate Campbell wasn't tons of fun to watch.
Overall Pre-Fight Score:
It's a passable fight for Ortiz to continue rebuilding his image and a chance for Harris to get back on the map. Usually, chances for guys to get back on the map in this kind of fight wind up as most would expect.
It's pretty tempting to figure Ortiz will grind out another 10-round decision, but I think there's a good chance for a late stoppage. If he can build up a big lead and maybe discourage Harris, he might be able to turn it up late and go for the gusto. He also could bowl over Harris early if he comes out like the old Victor Ortiz, but I'm guessing that Victor Ortiz is half-buried by his trainers, and rightly so, really. I'm going with the distance win, and it could be a shutout. I'd give Harris maybe a 15% shot at winning this fight. Ortiz UD-10