UP AT THE top table, Victor Ortiz put his finger to his head and pulled the imaginary trigger before a wide smile lit up his face.
The WBC Welterweight champion was sitting on the stage of the Hudson Theatre in Midtown, Manhattan, just yards from the man he has wanted to fight for 15 years, back when he was a nine-year-old Mexican immigrant in Kansas.
Floyd Mayweather Jr was the main draw for the huge crowd at the old Broadway venue. But the organisers were keen to point out that the fighter, who agreed to a challenge from ‘Pretty Boy’ or ‘Money’ as he now prefers to be known, had an upbringing so rough that his story is every bit as engaging as that of the still unbeaten six-time champion.
He was working on cornfields as a 12-year-old and was abandoned by his parents by the time he was 13. Kicked around foster homes, he worked on the boxing skills he’d been taught by his father years previously and became champion of the world the hard way.
But still, he’ll be forgiven for his frustration at hearing his story of plucky-Latino-kid-makes-good again and again. When he finally got to the podium, he immediately went about crushing the cult of misery that sportswriters could hardly avoid when delving into his hard-luck background.
And afterwards, when we huddled around him, he dismissed it again.
In fact he was clearly more bitter at recent disappointments like media reaction to a 2009 defeat, only one of two in an otherwise impressive CV (22 knockouts in 29 victories).
And admirably, Mayweather was equally keen to avoid the easy narrative and to rather talk up his opponent’s ability to go from defeat to world champion in the space of less than two years.
Watching Ortiz talk to the press was a joy. He found it hard to hide his disbelief when discussing his current position and when ‘Money’ Mayweather came knocking, the slice of the pay-per-view pie was the last thing on his mind.
“I know people are saying I’ll make a lot less money than him. I don’t care. All I have to my name is a Toyota. That’s not what it’s about right now.”
Nor is it about the Lear Jet he travelled in from his base in Ventura, California. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a thrill.
“I turned to my brother and I said this is real rags-to-riches shit. What are we doing on a Lear Jet? The stewardess said I was the strangest passenger she ever had. I wanted to help her clean up.”
Mayweather is on the flip side. Despite that Money smile, he finds it hard to hide his bitterness at his enemies in the media and was at pains to shift the blame back towards Manny Pacquiao and Bob Arum as the fight everyone wants to see gets tossed about like an anchored yacht on the horizon.
Floyd Mayweather, left, and Victor Ortiz face up in New York yesterday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
He says he wants his opponent, any opponent, to be tested closer to the bout. Ortiz has accepted.
It was my first time in the presence of either fighter, obviously, and while I understand and empathise with Mayweather’s flaws, I really hope Ortiz is good enough to beat him.
There is a rematch clause if that should come to pass, Ortiz confirmed yesterday. And he nonchalantly added that if he won those two, Pacquiao would be next on his list.
A boy can dream. Especially when that boy has lived through enough nightmares for one lifetime.
John Riordan writes a column for the Irish Examiner. He works as a freelance journalist in New York; check out his blog here.