RISING BOXER FINDS HOME IN OXNARD.
Amid the joy of winning the 132-pound title at last June's Junior Olympic National Championships came sorrow for Victor Ortiz.
After defeating Demetrio Soto of Los Angeles in the finals, Ortiz found out his sister, Carmen, had been evicted from her apartment in Denver, Colo. Since he had been living with her for about five months, Ortiz suddenly had nowhere to go.
Fortunately, he had met former world champion Robert Garcia of Oxnard and his father, Eduardo, at the week-long Junior Olympic tournament, held in Alexandria, La.
What a break for a young man with such a difficult childhood. The Garcias not only arranged for Ortiz to come live with them, they have become his trainers. They're not doing a bad job, either.
Last September, wheh he was 16, Ortiz won the National Police Athletic League Championships at 132 pounds. Thus, he qualified for the Olympic Trials scheduled for next Monday through Saturday in Tunica, Miss.
Fernando Vargas' Ferocious Foundation for Kids is sponsoring Ortiz. According to Vargas' co-manager, Rolando Arellano, Ortiz will be the youngest boxer ever to compete in the Olympic Trials. Ortiz turned 17 on Jan. 31.
``After I got done in the (National PAL) finals, Robert (Garcia) came up to me and congratulated me, like if I was a really good boxer,'' said Ortiz, who has been living with the Garcias and training out of La Colonia Boxing Club in Oxnard since July.
The two exchanged phone numbers. Ortiz was so impressed, he did not hesitate when he found himself without a place to live.
``I stayed in Denver for three days with some friends and then I called Robert and asked him for help,'' Ortiz said. ``I landed with these good people and they are taking good care of me.''
This might be something new to Ortiz. He grew up in Garden City, Kansas, and began boxing at 7. Unfortunately, his parents eventually abandoned the family. Ortiz's mother left 4 1/2 years ago, his father about three years ago.
Ortiz and his younger brother, Temo, ended up in a foster home near Garden City. But as soon as Carmen Ortiz turned 18, she received legal custody of Victor and Temo, who went to live with her in Denver. As rough as it sounds, Ortiz apparently handled all of it with mettle.
``I put everything behind me, as if nothing happened,'' Ortiz said of his parents' abandonment. ``I just kept training, doing my business, staying in school. I had good grades, and I still get good grades.''
When Ortiz moved to Denver, he was just shy of his 16th birthday. When he turned 16, he worked a part-time job during the months leading to the Junior Olympic National Championships.
What he did with the money he had earned the day he departed for Louisiana said a lot about the kind of young man he had become under trying circumstances.
``I ran the mountains in Denver every day,'' Ortiz said. ``My sister was behind me the whole time. When I needed shoes or something, she would buy it for me. And she wasn't the richest person in the world.
``But when I was getting ready to go fight in Louisiana, my sister was broke and she had no food in the refrigerator. And she had two little kids. I felt sorry for my nephews.
``I had about $400 I had saved up from working. She was at work that day and I filled up the refrigerator for about $200. I left her $100 and took $100 with me to Louisiana. I did really good.''
He has continued to do well. Three months after winning the Junior Olympics, Ortiz found himself in with the senior boxers (ages 17-33) at the National PAL Championships held Sept. 22-27 in Toledo, Ohio.
Among his five victories was one in the quarterfinals over Weston Ferguson, who is ranked No. 3 in the country by USA Boxing.
``Before I went into the ring, everybody was like, 'You got it hard, buddy,' '' said Ortiz, ranked No. 9. ``I said, 'I got something for this guy.' And I dropped him twice.''
Ortiz defeated David Rodela, also of Oxnard, in the championship bout.
``When they handed me the belt, I was like, 'Dang,' '' Ortiz said. ``And Robert, he was like, 'Yeah, man, you won, you won.' '' Next thing I know, some guy comes up to me and says, 'You are now in the Olympic Trials for 2004.'
``I was like, 'Whoa, this is cool.' ''
Ortiz is a cool customer. He weathered a tumultuous childhood to become a man at an early age. Not only can this left-handed boxer hurt you with his fists, he can use his mental approach to harm you.
``I think he has a good chance at the trials,'' said Eduardo Garcia, who also trains Vargas, the former two-time junior middleweight champion. ``He is very fast and he is very intelligent. But we have a disadvantage, too, in that he is the youngest of the bunch.''
So far, that has not stopped Ortiz. When he went to the PAL tournament, he was 16 and facing the daunting task of emerging as champion of a bracket filled with 42 other boxers, all of them older and more seasoned.
Now, Diaz sets his sights on the Olympic Trials.
``I think my chances right now are pretty high, actually,'' Ortiz said. ``I have boxed mostly all the boxers who are going to be in the trials, except for two of them.
``I beat most of them already. And with Robert and Mr. (Eduardo) Garcia in my corner, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to go far.''
Staff Writer Robert Morales covers boxing for the Daily News. His column appears Mondays.