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He's his own man

Victor Ortiz, abandoned by his parents, is a determined boxer with something to prove.

November 08, 2007|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Victor Ortiz was a young boy when his mother and his father gave up on parenting.

The painful youth of the 20-year-old Oxnard boxer is not a subject Ortiz cares to revisit often. He was left in the custody of foster parents, and occasionally split from his two siblings, an older sister and younger brother.

"It's OK," Ortiz says now, though not convincingly. "I don't need anyone. I've been doing OK on my own."

The latter part is true.

Ortiz is 19-1-1 with 14 knockouts since making his professional boxing debut as a 17-year-old in June 2004. He has won nine of his last 11 fights by knockout or technical knockout, and he'll fight for the first time outside the Southwest on Saturday in New York's Madison Square Garden when he meets former super-lightweight world champion Carlos Maussa (19-4, 17 KOs) on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley welterweight title bout.

"It represents a lot fighting there," Ortiz said. "It's a big deal.

"I've come from nothing."

After his mother left the family for another man, Ortiz said, his father introduced him to the sport.

Encouragement wasn't part of the lesson plan. Ortiz remembers critical words, no gentle coaxing and no vision of the grand plan that is now playing out. He remembers his first loss in a youth fight at age 8, and his dad's post-fight tirade.

"He beat me senseless," Ortiz said. "Told me I won't be anything, that I've amounted to all I'd be. The man was full of anger after my mom left. He drank, and beat me, my sister and my brother. For nothing."

Robert Garcia, Ortiz's current trainer, said: "It's a story [Ortiz] doesn't like to repeat. The kid has feelings. I've told him we don't need to know any more. It only brings him down, and he's doing so good now."

Ortiz said he lost all contact with his biological parents after he was turned over to the Kansas foster care system for support. There, a caring maternal foster parent told Ortiz, "I don't want you to lose that shine in your eye."

Victor's older sister, Carmen, left the state for Colorado when he was a teenager, and he later moved in with her.

Boxing still compelled the boy, and without his abusive father to poison his training, he found himself working out at a Salvation Army boxing center in Denver, where former heavyweight fighter Ron Lyle was a supervisor.

In Lyle, Ortiz found an ideal motivator. Lyle, best known for mid-1970s battles with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, managed to reach the upper echelon of his sport despite serving nearly 10 years in prison for his role in a youth gang killing.

Lyle said Ortiz told him he "wanted to turn pro as soon as he could, and I knew the worst thing I could do was to stomp a fighter's dreams. A fighter needs dreams and ambitions. I told him if his mind was made up, to pursue it, and don't take any shortcuts. I thought he could do it. He's a respectful, determined kid."

Ortiz embraced the lessons from Lyle.

"I remember Ron telling me, 'Kid, if I can come out of jail and do what I did, then the sky's the limit for you,' " Ortiz said. "I just kept my nose clean."

With another Denver coach at his side, Ortiz went to a Junior Olympic tournament in Louisiana and won the 132-pound division with a 5-0 record.

During a break in the tournament, Ortiz and other young boxers piled into a vehicle driven by Garcia, a former world champion boxer. The boys were given a $75 per diem that everyone but Ortiz spent on fast food and sneakers at a shopping mall.

Ortiz headed to another store, where he used his money to buy new shoes for his brother, Temo.

"I didn't go to scout Victor at that camp, but he caught my attention with his boxing, and then when he bought those shoes for his brother, I just knew he was a good kid," Garcia said. "I asked him if he planned to stay for the world meet at the same place, and he said no, he had to get back home and help his sister."

Ortiz said Garcia, who trains young boxers at Oxnard's La Colonia gym that counts Fernando Vargas as its alumni, proposed one day sending Ortiz a plane ticket so he could train the boy whose parents had dismissed him.

The offer stuck with Ortiz, and even though he was a minor, shortly after returning to Denver he told his sister, "I'm out of here."

"She fought me," Ortiz said. "She asked if they were [messing] with me."

Ortiz replied, "So what if they do? I lose nothing except a plane ride."

Garcia later completed legal paperwork to become Ortiz's guardian, and his star pupil turned pro with a unique style that allows him to throw ambidextrous power punches.

Ortiz graduated from Pacifica High School in Ventura County, and now his brother has moved out west too, with Ortiz serving as his guardian as they live in their own apartment.

"The kid has a great heart," Garcia said. "He's very natural in the left-right thing, is very skilled overall, and is very strong. His mind is set on showing he's unstoppable, unbeatable."

Garcia amplifies the confidence, successfully convincing Ortiz that he could knock down the hard-to-deck Emmanuel Clotey in August, and beat the experienced Maussa on Saturday.

"He's going to be a champion, no doubt," Lyle said. "He's fighting with something to prove. He knows what he wants to do, and he thinks like he fights: hard.

"Any time he comes on TV, I watch him. You let him know my prayers are with him."

As for his long-lost parents, Oritz says: "I'm sure they'll see my face someday."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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