One Of The Last Of The
Golden Age Champions
Answers His Final Bell
By Bobby Franklin
Carlos Ortiz passed away on June 13th at the age of 85. Born in 1936 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Carlos began fighting professionally at the age of 18. Well schooled, he was a superb boxer/puncher who certainly rates up there with the best lightweights of all-time.
Ortiz turned pro in 1955 and Ortiz had a record of 28 wins suffering just one defeat over the first three years. That loss was to Johnny Busso in1958. He beat Busso in a rematch three months later. In 1959 he got a shot at the vacant Light Welterweight Title. In a bout against Kenny Lane Carlos won recognition as the new champion.
He defended the belt winning by a tenth round knockout over Battling Torres in 1960. Next, he took on the Italian champ Duilio Loi. The fight took place in California. Loi came in to the fight with 102 wins against just 2 losses. In a close fight Ortiz won a majority decision. This was only Carlos’s 35th fight and he was in there with an extraordinary fighter.
Ortiz was so confident he could improve on his performance that he agreed to a rematch in Italy just three months later. This fight also ended with a majority decision but in Loi’s favor this time. The two met once more in 1961. Again fighting in Italy with Loi winning a unanimous decision.
After the second loss to Loi, Carlos began fighting as a lightweight. In 1962 he challenged the great Joe Brown for the title. Ortiz won convincingly and his reign as champion began.
In 1965 he lost the crown to Ismael Laguna but won it back the following year. He would continue as champion until 1968 when he was defeated by Carlos Teo Cruz. Despite having lost by a split decision, Ortiz did not fight for the championship again. He went into semi-retirement and fought only once over the next three years. That fight being a win against Edmundo Leite in November of 1969.
Carlos retired after that fight, but then made a comeback in 1971. As with so many fighters, he had fallen on hard times. Now 35 years old he was long last his prime but still felt he could win back the lightweight crown.
After winning nine straight fights he was matched against Lightweight Champion Roberto Duran in a non-title fight on the undercard of the second Patterson/Ali fight in New York. Duran came down with the flu and dropped out of the fight a week before it was scheduled to happen. Former Champ Ken Buchanan stepped in to take his place.
The match turned out to be one sided. Father time had caught up with the great champion. Ortiz, exhausted, retired after the 6th round. He gave it all he had but just could not turn the clock back. It was the only time he was stopped in 70 fights. When interviewed after the fight a candid Carlos said
“This was definitely my last fight. I started tiring in the 4th round. And I realized after the 6th that I couldn’t go on and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I was in the best shape I could have been. Time just caught up with me.”
Boxing historian and author of The Arc of Boxing, Mike Silver knew Carlos well. I reached out to him for his thoughts on Ortiz, the man and the boxer. Here’s what he had to say:
Mike Silver remembers Carlos Ortiz: Carlos Ortiz’s storied career represents so much in boxing that has been lost over the past two generations. He was among the last of the great “golden age” champions and contenders who turned professional in the decade after World War II and achieved a level of skill that evoked admiration from the old-time trainers who’d seen every great lightweight champion since the 1920s. He was a consummate boxer and ranks as one of the greatest lightweight champions of the 20th century, up there with Leonard, Canzoneri, Ross, McClarnin, Mandell, Ambers, Williams, Carter and, yes, Roberto Duran. How he would have done against those legends is pure speculation, but they would have been competitive contests. Taking nothing away from Duran, but Ortiz’s competition in the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions had more depth. Duran held victories over Hector Thompson, Ken Buchanan, Esteban DeJesus, the Viruet brothers and Sugar Ray Leonard. Ortiz defeated Len Mathews, Paolo Rossi, Dave Charnley, Kenny Lane, Dulio Loi, Flash Elorde, Sugar Ramos, Ismael Laguna, and drew with Nicolino Loche in Argentina (Loche’s hometown).
When I am asked to recommend a fight to watch on YouTube that would demonstrate the art of boxing at its best my answer is the third match between Carlos Ortiz and Ismael Laguna. It is like watching a class in brilliant boxing technique, especially as relates to effective use of the left jab, timing, and counter punching skills. Laguna was a fine boxer with extraordinary speed, but Ortiz was a master technician with all the answers.
I had the honor of interviewing Carlos Ortiz in 1998. (This interview is included in Mike’s latest book “The Night The Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments From The World Of Boxing”). I have met and interviewed dozens of former world champions and top contenders. What impressed me about Ortiz was his intelligence, and I’m not just talking about boxing intelligence. Carlos, I am positive had a very high IQ, and could have succeeded in any profession he chose. But, thankfully for us, he chose boxing (or more correctly boxing chose him) and we fans are all the richer for it.
In his 70 fights Ortiz won 61 times with just 7 losses, 1 draw, and 1 no-decision. He scored 30 kayos.
My condolences to the Ortiz family, and to Carlos’s lovely wife Maria. Carlos Ortiz will be missed but never forgotten.