|Carlos Ortiz the Hall of Fame Junior Welterweight and Lightweight Champion!
Interview by Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (April 28, 2009)
This week I had the fortune to talk to my all time favorite boxer, the Hall of Fame and two division world champion Carlos Ortiz. I heard he is one of the most approachable Hall of Fame boxers at the International Hall of Fame event every June in Canastota, New York. I was not disappointed in our two conversations.
Ortiz was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, coming to New York in 1947 and had about 40 amateur bouts before turning pro at 18 in February of 1955. His friend Vinnie Ferguson’s dad, Ed, served as his manager in the beginning. Later Bill Daly would take over. Some of the cornermen would be Sammy Scherron, Teddy Bentham, Whitey Bimstein and Al Braverman.
Ortiz won 19 straight bouts in 22 months through the end of December of 1956 scoring a win over Gale Kerwin, 22-3-1, after coming off the canvas for the first time in the 2nd round to win a lopsided decision.
Ortiz had his first of many rematches in March of 1957 after a no decision was ruled with Lou Filippo, 22-8-3 after a disqualification was called for hitting Filippo after the bell with a right hand to the body causing his opponent to be unable to continue. “I didn’t think it was a good call so we had a rematch the following month,” said Ortiz. “I could always read my opponent very well so I usually did better in a rematch,” he added. Filippo was not only stopped in 7 rounds but retired from boxing after this match.
Ortiz had his winning streak stopped at 26 in June of 1958 losing a decision to his neighborhood friend Johnny Busso, 33-6-1. In their rematch Ortiz reversed the decision in a close fight. He would then take his first of many trips out of the country to fight southpaw Dave Charnley, 30-3-1, in London, whom he defeated over 10 rounds.
In looking at the career of Ortiz it’s like a who’s who with one top opponent after another. “I liked to fight and liked to make money,” said Ortiz. He would suffer his 2nd career defeat at the hands of southpaw Kenny Lane, 55-6, by majority decision. “He was a great fighter,” added Ortiz. This would be the first of their three bouts.
In between the rematch with Lane, Ortiz came to Philadelphia and destroyed one of the top prospects in the country in Len Matthews, 16-1-1, with the referee stopping it in the 6th round to save Matthews from further punishment. “This was one of my best fights,” said Ortiz. The rematch with Lane was for the vacant world Light Welterweight title. Ortiz had Lane down in the 2nd round with a cut over the right eye and one inside the bridge of his nose forcing the referee to stop it. Ortiz became the first Puerto Rican in 30 years to win a world title since Sixto Escobar who was their first champion.
In the first defense Ortiz stopped the previously unbeaten Mexican Battling Torres, 31-1, stopping him in 10 rounds at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. Next up was the first of three battles with the legendary Italian Duilio Loi, 102-1-7, at the Cow Palace, in San Francisco, in June of 1961 where Ortiz won a split decision over 15 rounds. Less than 3 months later Ortiz would go to Italy for the rematch losing a majority decision. “It was good money,” said Ortiz.
Before the third meeting back in Italy, Ortiz decisioned Cisco Andrade, 44-7-1, at the Olympic Auditorium, in Los Angeles over 10 rounds. In May of 1961 Ortiz tried to get back his light welterweight title since lightweight champion Joe Brown had avoided Ortiz for some time. Ortiz was knocked down in the 6th round and lost over 15 to Loi who had never lost in Italy in over 100 bouts.
In September of 1961 Ortiz decisioned the Cuban Doug Vaillant, 25-2-4, in a close fight in Miami. They would later meet in a title bout. Next up was Paolo Rosi, 36-8-2. Ortiz was dropped in the 9th round but would win on all the scorecards. “One of the toughest boxers I ever met,” said Ortiz. “He would just keep coming,” he added.
“I had an obsession to fight Joe “Old Bones” Brown, 85-21-11, who was avoiding me for some time,” said Ortiz. “I took no chances and simply used my jab throughout to win the world title,” added Ortiz. This was not an exciting bout but one that was dominated by Ortiz. I remember it well. Brown had held the title for almost 6 years. Ortiz would receive the Fighter of the Year award in 1962.
“I loved to travel and knew as champion I would,” said Ortiz. In the beginning he won 2 bouts in Japan and followed up with a return win over Vaillant in Puerto Rico at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, with a 13th round stoppage. Vaillant was down once in the 1st, twice in the 12th and twice more in the 13th. After a non title win in London over Maurice Cullen, 25-3-2, Ortiz stopped the popular Super Featherweight champion Flash Elorde, 69-18-2, in Manila in 14 rounds. Some two years later Ortiz would repeat this win in the same round but in Madison Square Garden.
A third match with Kenny Lane was next as Ortiz dropped Lane in the 14th round to win the decision in San Juan. It would be a year to the day before his next title bout in the Estadio Nacional, in Panama City, losing to Ismael Laguna, 38-2 by majority decision. “Laguna and I would meet 3 times and he was my toughest opponent,” said Ortiz. In the rematch in November of 1965 in San Juan Ortiz would win back the title. Laguna was a tall lightweight at 5:11 to Ortiz who was 5:07.
A non title bout followed that took place in the Luna Park, Buenos Aires, Argentina with Nicolino Locche, 61-2-12, that ended in a draw. “He fought such a defensive fight that he was hard to hit,” said Ortiz. Argentina is known for their draw decisions and getting one as a visitor is a win.
Knockout wins over Johnny Bizzaro, 55-9-2, Sugar Ramos, 50-2-3, and Elorde again followed. “I got careless in the Ramos fight and dropped my left hand and got caught by a good right hand and dropped,” said Ortiz. He would stop Ramos on a cut in the 5th but the WBC insisted on a rematch. “I was lucky to have Billy Conn as the referee,” he added. This was fought in the El Toreo Bull ring, in Mexico City. In the rematch in San Juan, Ortiz had Ramos down in the 4th round when the referee stopped the fight.
The third fight with Laguna was in Shea Stadium, Flushing, New York, with Ortiz easily winning the rubber match. What followed would be the last title fight for Ortiz as he traveled to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic against Carlos Teo Cruz, 36-12-2. “I didn’t want to go there and was thinking about retirement. Ortiz was dropped in the 1st round and would lose a split decision to Cruz. There was to be a rematch but Cruz died in the Dominicana De Aviacion DC-9 air disaster off the Dominican Republic’s Atlantic.
Ortiz would not fight for 17 months. He defeated Edmundo Leite, 32-3-7, in a close fight in Madison Square Garden, coming in at a career high 144. He would then retire for 2 years. “I was still young (35) and thought I would fight again,” said Ortiz. He would win 10 straight, 8 by knockout, over ordinary opposition. “I was supposed to fight Roberto Duran, who had won the lightweight title from Ken Buchanan, 43-2. Just 10 days before the fight Duran pulls out and Buchanan is my opponent,” said Ortiz. “I had trained for a completely different fighter and was very frustrated. I felt I had nothing to gain and everything to lose,” he added. Ortiz retired after the 6th round. It was the first time in his career he did not finish a fight. “I knew this was going to be my last fight,” he added. It was just days after his 36th birthday.
In 1986 Ortiz would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in California and in 1991 in the International Hall of Fame in New York. “I never expected to accomplish this where nothing but great fighters were,” said Ortiz. Some of his favorite fighters were Joe Louis, Billy Conn, Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano. “I had owned a night club, liquor store, real estate and other investments. I have always lived in the Bronx. My wife, Maria, and I can’t wait to go to the Hall of Fame every June. It is such a great atmosphere,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz ended his career winning 61 out of 70 fights, with 1 draw and 1 no decision, with 30 knockout wins. “Today I am training a young fighter for the first time as a favor to a friend. Hopefully you will hear about him someday soon,” said Ortiz. With one of the great lightweight’s of our time in his corner how can he miss?
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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