Victor Ortiz is an enigma, in and out of the ring. One moment, he can be engaging and charming. A split second later, he'll be surly and churlish.
He can be a brilliant boxer and fearsome slugger for parts of a round, but then can quickly lose his concentration and composure and seem as out of place in the ring as a guy with a cigarette in his mouth and his gut hanging over his waistband.
On Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Ortiz will be a heavy favorite to defeat Josesito Lopez in a 12-round welterweight fight and land a big payday in the fall against Canelo Alvarez.
Ortiz clearly has the better tools, but the question, as always with Ortiz, is whether he'll be fully into the fight and compete at the highest level.
When he is, few are better. He was extraordinary in an April 16, 2011, win over Andre Berto that was one of the year's best bouts. He also flashed moments of genius in his Sept. 17 bout with world No. 1 Floyd Mayweather Jr., but he also lost his cool and wound up getting knocked out when he took his eyes off Mayweather and spoke to referee Joe Cortez.
It can be debated all night long whether Mayweather clocking Ortiz with a powerful one-two combination while Ortiz was speaking to Cortez was ethical or sportsmanlike. It was, however, clearly within the rules. Time was in and Mayweather was free to punch, which he did.
Most boxers would have chosen to wait until Ortiz was ready, but they would be under no obligation to do so.
That sequence began when Ortiz had leaped off his feet and head-butted Mayweather, drawing a penalty from Cortez. Whether it was the pressure of fighting the world's biggest star in a high-profile fight that led him to do what he did, no one knows.
Not even Ortiz.
"I'm human and I make mistakes like all humans do," he said following a recent workout. "I call it like I see it. I knew I was wrong after throwing that head butt. Of course, I did that in response to 16 elbows. I took matters into my own hands, and I was completely wrong for that. I'm human and I reacted in a matter of a split second.
"It was a simple mistake. I learned from it. But why are we even talking about this? That's in the past. I don't look back."
Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez says inconsistency is an issue with most fighters not named Mayweather or Pacquiao. But he also said Ortiz is being judged by a higher standard because he's been on the top level so long.
Yet, Ortiz is only 25 and just rounding into his professional prime. He still has time to correct his faults and be the fighter his talent suggests.
"When you're fighting Mayweather, it's easy to get frustrated because he's such a tough guy to hit," Gomez said. "I think what you saw there was frustration from Victor. He lost his head and didn't keep his cool because he was frustrated he couldn't do what he normally could do. A lot of young guys who have success early, they move up to fight better fighters and the openings that are normally there, aren't there. That can be frustrating.
"Victor has done a lot in his career, but he's still young and he's still learning. I think you'll see that that experience of being in there with Mayweather turns out to have helped him a lot."
Whether Gomez is proven correct will be determined in large part by the way Ortiz performs against Lopez. Ortiz has the edge in size, speed and power, but his history suggests he doesn't always take advantage of such situations.
With the Alvarez fight riding on his performance against Lopez, it will be a good way to determine whether Ortiz has learned from the Mayweather fight.
"There might be people out there who are overlooking Josesito or who are focusing on the Canelo fight, but I'm not one of them," Ortiz said. "He's a hell of a fighter and I respect him. I understand that. I'm just going out to do my job."
If he does his job, he'll be fine because Ortiz has as much natural ability as anyone. He punches very hard for his size and he's got a great sense of timing.
Ortiz's challenge is to control his emotions and maintain his focus for 12 rounds. As the Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra once said, half of the sport is 90 percent mental.
That's the tricky part for Ortiz. He's got the physical thing down just fine. If he conquers the mental side of things, a star will be born.
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