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Manuel Ortiz-The Forgotten Bantamweight?


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Manuel Ortiz is one of the least well known and most accomplished bantamweights in history. Ortiz has 19 world title defences altogether and 15 in his first reign alone. He has defeated fighters like Jackie Yurich, Lou Salica, Harold Dade, Tony Olivera, Benny Goldberg and Jackie Paterson and has also fought Willie Pep at featherweight but lost a decision to the defensive wizard. Ortiz stood 5'4 or 163 cm and had a near identical reach of 5'4 1/2 or 164 cm. He could punch and box and defended his world title 8 times in 1943! Sadly, he ended his career broke and later died of the cirrhosis of the liver (obviously brought by alcoholism) at 53.

Ortiz was born in Corona, California, 2 July 1916, to Mexican-American parents. He served in the US Army, where he probably took up boxing. After winning the 1937 California State amateur championship and the Los Angeles Golden Gloves same year (both at flyweight) and amassing a record of 21-0, he turned pro on 25 February 1938. At first, he fought as a flyweight but was largely unsuccessful, losing to Jackie Yurich in a fight for the vacant Americas title in June 1939, on points, and losing 9 times altogether at that weight. In 1941 he became a bantamweight and everything picked up from there on, even though he lost an attempt to win the California State title in August 1941, losing on points to Tony Olivera. In January next year, he avenged the loss to beat Olivera by MD10 and win the Californian title. After winning four fights by ko, he was suddenly given a chance to win the world championship, against Lou Salica, an experienced and crafty fighter. The fight happened on 7 August at Legion Stadium in Hollywood and Ortiz became the world champion by dominating the fight clearly and winning by UD12. It was a start of a great reign. 

As mentioned, he made 8 defences in 1943, stopping Salica in the rematch by TKO11 in the third. On 23 November, he beat the 31-0-2 Benny Goldberg (who was the third man to beat him) by a wide UD15. In 1944, he again beat Tony Olivera, this time by a 15-round UD. On 17 July that year, he went up to 126 to fight Willie Pep, the legendary featherweight magician. The fight was in Boston, close to Pep's home state of Connecticut, and Ortiz just had no answer for Pep's tricky and clever style, but won 3 rounds out of 10, according to sportswriters. Naturally, he lost by unanimous decision. On 14 November that same year, he stopped Luis Castillo by TKO9 in another world title defence. Ortiz was a very active fighter and he even had no less than 7 fights above bantamweight before again defending against Castillo and this time winning by KO13. On 10 June 1946, he made his fifteenth defence against Jackie Yurich and avenged his early loss by KO11. He also tried to win the California State feather title twice, both times against Carlos Chavez, but the first fight ended in a draw while he lost the second on points. In his 16th defence, he finally lost his title to Harold Dade by split decision, fighting away in San Francisco, on 6 January 1947. Only two months later however, on 11 March, he recaptured the title fighting in Los Angeles and beating Dade by a close but unanimous decision.

On 15 August '47, he experienced his only stoppage loss in his career, when he got badly cut up in the face against Manny Ortega and the fight was stopped in round 8. He made 4 successful defences of the world title this time, but was again overactive, which in the end resulted in him losing his world title. Before that, he also beat the very solid Jackie Paterson in Paterson's hometown of Glasgow, by PTS10-also dropping him once in the 7th and three times in the 8th. Finally, his reign came to an end on 31 May 1950, fighting in Johannesburg against the local favourite Vic Toweel. He dropped a unanimous decision to the 31-0 swarmer from Johannesburg and that was the end of his champion days. He fought as a featherweight for the rest of his career but was largely unsuccessful and finally retired after having his last fight on 10 December 1955, losing to Enrique Esqueda on points in Mexico City. His record is 99 wins with 53 ko's, 28 losses and 3 draws. 

During the height of his career, Ortiz appeared briefly in the movie "Killer McCoy". Out of all bantamweights in history, only Orlando Canizales has more defences in a single reign-16 to Ortiz's 15. Manuel Ortiz was a great fighter but because of a relative lack of interest in the bantam division and there not being an abundance of big names either, he was forced to live in relative anonymity, overshadowed by the great featherweight champions of that time. His achievements still speak for themselves and he has actually only lost 3 fights as a bantam, winning circa 61. Because of all that, he belongs to the list of greatest bantamweights in history and he was inducted into the IBHOF in 1996.

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