- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Maybe, just maybe, Victor Ortiz has finally lived down his worst moment in the ring, when he quit during the sixth round of a fight with Marcos Maidana in 2009.
After his version of "No más," Ortiz was vilified by media and fans alike. Even other fighters spoke poorly of Ortiz's lack of heart.
But if others gave up on him, Ortiz did not give up on himself. He won his next four fights against carefully selected opponents and then fought to a disappointing draw with Lamont Peterson in December.
However, in his move up to welterweight, Ortiz went a long way to erasing his quitter reputation. On Saturday night he claimed a 147-pound title in a sensational fight, and handed Andre Berto his first defeat at the rocking MGM Grand Arena at the Foxwoods Resort Casino.
It was a clear fight of the year candidate that featured nonstop action and both guys getting knocked down twice.
Berto's heart had never been questioned and that won't change after getting off the deck in the first round and again in the sixth.
Ortiz stayed mentally strong even after getting knocked down in the second round and also in the wild sixth round, which should receive strong round of the year consideration.
"It was an unbelievable fight," said Lou DiBella, Berto's promoter. "My guy didn't box and created the advantage for Victor. For Victor, redemption is a beautiful thing."
It was back and forth the rest of the way as the crowd took turns chanting for each fighter -- and booing Floyd Mayweather Jr. when he was shown on the big screen from the front row -- but in the end Ortiz prevailed, 115-110, 114-112 and 114-111, in a fight that should produce an eventual rematch.
"He answered all the questions that there could have been about his heart. He answered them all in one night," said Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer, Ortiz's promoter.
DiBella was also complimentary, although he used more colorful language.
"That was the kind of fight we needed. Props to Ortiz," DiBella said. "He fought a f------ great fight. Ortiz won, but what a fight. You want to question his balls? There is no question about his balls. F--- that. I thought he was out [in the second round]. But he showed great balls and they killed each other in there.
"My guy loses, let him lose in that kind of a great fight. I'm proud of my guy. I expected both of them to go down, I just thought my guy would win."
Ortiz, however, downplayed the redemption angle, refusing to buy into it.
"Absolutely not," he said when asked about being haunted by the Maidana fight. "Maidana was never in my class. He was never on my level. I never gave him respect, especially because he never gave me the rematch."
Maidana defeated Erik Morales last week in a barnburner. Perhaps we will see a rematch between them if Maidana wants to move up in weight, but there will be many calling for a rematch with Berto first.
"Berto didn't have a good night, no excuses," DiBella said. "Ortiz beat him, that's it. It was a great war. If that's not a rematch fight, no fight should be a rematch. That could be three fights."
"Yeah, I want a rematch," Berto said.
If there is a rematch, it won't be forced, as Berto did not have a rematch clause, according to DiBella.
The fight, which matched former ESPN.com prospects of the year, was wild from the outset as Berto, 27, of Winter Haven, Fla., hit the canvas in the first round, but it was ruled a slip by referee Michael Ortega. It appeared as though Ortiz stepped on his foot. But moments later, Ortiz landed a solid right hook and an uppercut during a flurry to drop Berto with about 50 seconds left in the round.
Berto evened it in the second round when he dropped Ortiz with a counter right hand that forced a stunned Ortiz to touch his glove to the canvas. Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KOs) hurt Berto again in the third round with a nasty uppercut.
Berto (27-1, 21 KOs), who said he hurt his hand in the second round, spent long stretches in the middle rounds laying on the ropes looking winded and trying to kill time as he looked at the clock on the big video screen in the arena. But Ortiz was aggressive and continued to go after him and forcing him to punch back in the tremendous slugfest.
The sixth round will be remembered for them both going down in a stunning scene. Berto rocked Ortiz with an uppercut and dropped him hard with a right hand and looked on his way to winning a dominant round. But moments before it ended, Ortiz connected with a left hand and knocked Berto down.
"That was a hell of a round. I would vote for it as the round of the year," Ortiz said.
They fought toe-to-toe in the seventh round, but Ortiz was continuing to hit Berto behind the head. Ortega finally warned Ortiz for the foul in the ninth round and took a point for it in the 10th round.
"I just didn't feel it tonight," Berto said. "I couldn't get my punches off. The shots didn't really hurt, I just couldn't get off, and I couldn't keep him off like I wanted to."
Many said Ortiz would be the smaller man coming into the fight because he was moving up, but on fight night he was 161 on HBO's unofficial scale while Berto was 156 after they both were slightly under the 147-pound limit at Friday's weigh-in.
"147 is where I am king. I am the king, man," said Ortiz, 24, of Ventura, Calif. "I thank Andre Berto for the opportunity. He's a real champion. But I noticed that he was vulnerable on the inside, which was my game plan, to smother his shots and overwhelm him."
Ortiz said he received advice before the fight from an unexpected source.
"Manny Pacquiao gave me advice before the fight. Manny said stick to your game plan. I thanked him for the advice, although I didn't always follow the advice as you saw from my performance," Ortiz said.
Maybe he didn't follow that advice, but he more than made up for it with the heart he showed.
Victor Ortiz showed plenty of heart and survived a wild ride in the sixth round en route to an upset over Andre Berto.