In the four years since Victor Ortiz lost his WBC welterweight belt to Floyd Mayweather by way of an embarrassing, cheap shot knockout, he has struggled to regain his footing as an elite prizefighter. But he’s not prepared to hang up the gloves just yet. “The boxing world canceled me out,” Ortiz tells Maxim. "That’s the worst thing you can do somebody like me, because I know what I’m about." Ortiz’s last fight, against Manuel Perez in December 2014, earned him a desperately-needed win, but also a crippling wrist injury. (We’re assuming he used his good hand to get into a brawl at a Kenny Chesney concert last weekend.)
"Once this wrist is 100% recovered, I'm going to be world champion again," Ortiz vows. In the meantime, the 28-year-old former Dancing with the Stars contestant has shifted his focus to acting, most recently in Southpaw, director Antoine Fuqua’s gritty slugfest that traces the rise and fall and (spoiler alert!) rise again of Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), a boxer who—like Ortiz—fought his way from hardscrabble beginnings to become a world champion. Ortiz's role is minor—he plays a kid from Harlem with big boxing ambitions— but he found the whole process cathartic. “In one scene, I’m walking behind Billy Hope carrying the WBC belt, and I’m like, ‘Fuck! I have to get this thing back.’” With Southpaw now pummeling theaters, we spoke to Ortiz about working with Gyllenhaal, staging his comeback, and why rumors of Mayweather fighting lightly regarded Andre Berto for Money's final bout makes him want to puke.
How did you land your role in Southpaw?
I auditioned like any other actor. The first thing they said was, “Wow! Your deliveries are on-point. Amazing. Except you’re just not tall enough.” I’m like, “Dang it!” Then, apparently, the casting director said to Antoine, “This really nice guy came in, and he auditioned for your movie, and apparently he’s some kind of boxer. His name is Victor Ortiz.” Antoine was like, “Victor Ortiz came and read my script, and you didn’t call me?!” That's pretty much how it happened.
They got a 2-for-1 deal having you on set...
It’s crazy. I was only supposed to be on set for seven or eight days, and then Antoine says to me, “Hey champ, I’ve got a little bit of bad news.” And I said, “Yes, sir. What’s going on?” He said, “I think I’m gonna have to keep you.” I said, “That’s not bad news.” He said, “I didn’t wanna throw you off.” I said, “I’m here for you—whatever you need.” So, a month and a week went by, and I was on set, but now it was more like—I was helping quite a bit with bringing the authenticity to the film, so it was really cool. As simple as, “Hey champ, what would you do here? Hey champ, what would you say here? Hey champ, how does this play out?”
How is Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer?
Oh he’s great, man. Just to see the way he moves. I was like, “Holy crap! This dude, he can move.” He was a little tense at first and I told him, “Bro, you need to loosen up, man.” It was cool to see though, because to be on set and witness him do the way he did things, I was like, “Wow, dude. You’re amazing.” He was so hard on himself, which is very impressive. I can see why he’s such a great actor. But I definitely had a lot of corrections to do, because as a boxer, you create habits, and if you’re not taught right sometimes, you pick up bad habits. He had some habits going on, and I had to correct him quite a bit. So, I made him a nice boxer. It looked beautiful.
What was it like sparring with him?
Put it this way: One day, we’re shooting a scene where I have to go right, right left, right left and then I have to counter all his punches. But mind you, when I hit and he hits, it’s two different kinds of hits. I use my body: I use my back, my legs, everything. I shoot to kill, pretty much. I’m in front of him dodging everything. I went right, left, right, left. Then, I went right twice, and he hits me right in the forehead. It was like a straight right. I take the punch and he goes, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Are you okay?” I go, “Jake, really? You couldn’t hurt me if you tried, bro.” And he was just like, “Aw, come on...Really?” I was like, “That was cute, though. That was cute.”
His character's story mirrors yours in a lot of ways. What's it like watching this film?
You know what it made me feel? That I have to get those damn championships back. I’m gonna be world champion again, bro. Like Billy Hope: he gets written off and he comes back with a vengeance. That's what going to happen with me. The boxing world doesn’t know what I’m about. They think they know. Of course, I have lots of critics, and they think they know everything. When I’m world champion again and when I have an Oscar—a world champion title in one hand and an Oscar in the other—I’m going to be giving them a nice little middle finger, or just a smile.
What do you think of that rumored Mayweather-Berto bout?
I almost threw up when I heard that. I swear, man. I sat there, and I go, “You’re joking with me, man.” I ruined Berto. So, anyone who’s had Berto after me, he’s got an easy fight. He took a beating from me from one to 12. I was actually having breakfast yesterday morning, and I got a text from my buddy, and he said, “Vic, You wanna go run? Hit some hills, some mountains?” and I’m like, “Absolutely. Yeah, sounds great.” And he goes, “By the way, what do you think of this?” And he sends me a link, and I opened it and am like, “What the hell?” I lost my appetite, man. I was like, “You gotta be kidding me.” I seriously felt like driving to Vegas and smacking the shit out of Floyd a few times.