Robert Silva is back with his list of the greatest boxers ever per division. This time, he catches us up on Carlos Ortiz.
The U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has seen its fair share of great athletes, especially in baseball and boxing. Roberto Clemente was the first and greatest athlete ever to come from the island where both my parents were born. Another great athlete to come from Puerto Rico was a contemporary of Clemente, the fifth greatest Lightweight of all-time, Carlos Ortiz.
Because I’m Puerto Rican, fellow boxing fans always ask my opinion of what is the quintessential style of a Puerto Rican boxer. The prototypical Mexican style is the slugger who bangs the body while having an iron chin, a la Julio Cesar Chavez. The prototypical Cuban style is a defensive minded boxer with lots of foot and head movement, a la Kid Chocolate and Kid Gavilan. My answer when it comes to a Puerto Rican boxer’s prototypical style always harkens back to the way Ortiz fought; a boxer/puncher who would adjust his style according to his opponents style. You can definitely see the influence of Ortiz on later Puerto Rican greats such as Wilfredo Gomez and Miguel Cotto.
After a two-year reign as World Jr. Welterweight Champion from 1959-1961, Ortiz moved back down to the Lightweight limit of 135 pounds the following year. On April 21, 1962, Ortiz challenged Joe Brown for Brown’s World Lightweight crown. Brown was one of the most dominant 135-pound titleholders of all-time, having successfully defended his title 11 times over five and a half years. Brown, similar to Ortiz, was a boxer/puncher and a prohibitive favorite over the challenger. Ortiz fought brilliantly, out-boxing and out-slugging the legendary Brown throughout the entire 15-round bout. Despite only having 39 pro fights compared to over 130 fights for the champion, Ortiz fought the fight like he was the wily veteran. Brown never recovered from the punishment he suffered at the hands of Ortiz, as he lost 24 of his last 46 fights.
One of the major reasons Ortiz is the fifth greatest Lightweight of all time is the unbelievable competition he faced as a Lightweight. During his first reign as champion, he defeated such notable names as Kenny Lane and Philippine legend Flash Elorde. After successfully defending his title four times, Ortiz would lose the title to Panamanian great Ismael Laguna on April 10, 1965. Laguna was a master boxer who had to fight the fight of his life to barely defeat Ortiz over 15 tumultuous rounds. Ortiz kept constant pressure throughout the fight. Despite the loss, Ortiz came out the fight a winner as he gave Laguna hell and more. Ortiz’s constant pressure in the subsequent rematch seven months later was just too much for Laguna as Ortiz convincingly retained the title by 15-round decision. On August 16, 1967, Ortiz once again dominated Laguna over 15 rounds to regain his world title.
Ortiz’s second round was once again filled with wins over future Hall of Famers. Two knockouts of Cuban great Sugar Ramos, another knockout of Elorde and the aforementioned final fight with Laguna. A title reign that lasted over two and a half years and five successful defenses came to a controversial end on June 29, 1968. That night, Ortiz was robbed on the island of Santo Domingo against Dominican journeyman Carlos “Teo” Cruz. Over 15 rounds, Ortiz totally outfought Cruz, who spent the majority of the fight running and holding. Unfortunately for Ortiz, despite still being one of the best fighters in the world at the time, he was never given another title shot. After losing to former Lightweight champion Ken Buchanan in September of 1972, Ortiz finally retired at the age of 36 with a stellar record of 61-7-1 with 30 knockouts.
Carlos Ortiz, like his contemporary Roberto Clemente was for Puerto Rican baseball, was a pioneer for Puerto Rican boxer. His boxer/puncher style set the standard for later great Puerto Rican boxers. Successfully defending his title nine teams over two reigns spanning almost six years, Ortiz defeated some of the greatest 135-pound fighters of all-time. All of these accolades add up to Ortiz being the fifth greatest 135-pound fighter of all time.
You can listen to my podcast on one of Carlos’ great performances.