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Garden City’s Victor Ortiz returns to the ring

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 22, 2012, at 9:40 p.m.

The last time we saw Victor Ortiz in a boxing ring, he was sprawled out on his back in a corner in Las Vegas, scrambling to get back to his feet.

You remember the scene, right? Ortiz, the world champion boxer from Garden City, had just been blindsided with two controversial shots from Floyd Mayweather Jr., a contentious end to the first mega-fight of the 25-year-old Ortiz’s career.

That, of course, was more than nine months ago, and it’s safe to say Ortiz didn’t want a lengthy delay before his return to the ring. But this is boxing, and sometimes weird stuff happens.

And so now it’s back to work for Ortiz, who will take on an unproven Jonesito Lopez (29-4, 17 KOs) tonight at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The winner will claim the vacant welterweight “silver” title, but that’s hardly a consolation prize for Ortiz, a fighter with strong Kansas roots who built a loyal following in the area with his staunch support for KU and love of Kansas City.

“Josesito, I take nothing from him,” said Ortiz, who is 29-3-2 with 22 KOs in his career. “He’s a great fighter, and I’ve been watching him as much as he’s been watching me. No disrespect on my end.”

If things would have gone as planned, Ortiz would have returned to the ring back in February to take on Andre Berto in a rematch of their epic battle back in April 2011.

In that fight, Ortiz outlasted Berto in a slugfest, claiming the WBC Welterweight title. But earlier this year, Berto went down because of an injury. And when Ortiz rescheduled, giving Berto time to recover, his opponent responded by testing positive for a banned substance.

“It’s too bad,” Ortiz said of Berto. “But at the end of the day we have to prepare for another champion, and that’s Josesito Lopez.

“Lopez is a warrior, and I know he’ll come to fight.”

Frustrating? Well, yeah. But Ortiz did take advantage of the time by returning to Kansas City for a Boys & Girls Club charity event with Chiefs safety Eric Berry and Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer.

For Ortiz, the latest fight presents some opportunity. But not much. He’s the favorite, expected to cruise. And he’s already scheduled to face off against up-and-coming Mexican star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in a highly anticipated fight on Sept. 15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. (As you might expect, Lopez was not too happy about Ortiz announcing another fight before their match.)

But in some ways, a dominant victory over Lopez could perhaps give Ortiz a little more distance from the bizarre ending against Mayweather.

Last September, after being outclassed by Mayweather for three rounds, Ortiz finally appeared to find a rhythm in the fourth round. He knocked Mayweather backward before inexplicably head butting Mayweather in the corner.

Ortiz followed with a round of effusive apologies — and perhaps, one too many. While Ortiz was still apologizing — and much confusion in the ring — Mayweather dropped a defenseless Ortiz with two powerful head shots.

Ortiz would later complain that the head butt was retaliation for some sharp elbows from Mayweather. But now Ortiz has some work to do if he wants to reclaim his place as one of the best 20-something welterweight fighters in the world.

“I’ve been training for more than six months for this fight,” Ortiz said during a prefight media session. “But that’s what world champions do. I have to be prepared to fight anyone if I want to prove that I’m the best.”

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