The boxing world has lost one of the greatest Puerto Rican fighters in history.
BoxingScene.com is saddened to report the passing of former two-division champion Carlos Ortiz, who passed away on Monday in New York at age 85. News of his death came the day after a three-class International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) induction ceremony this past weekend, an event which Ortiz was a regular fixture since his induction in 1991.
“The WBO family is mourning the passing of legendary Lightweight and Jr Welterweight champion Carlos Ortiz,” the WBO announced on Monday in first revealing the news to the boxing community. “Born in Ponce and raised in New York, Ortiz was one of the best and most popular fighters of the 1960s. Rest in peace.”
The cause of death is unknown at this time.
Ortiz was born September 9, 1936 in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His family relocated to New York where he also turned pro in 1955 at just 18 years of age. Over the course of his incredible 17-year career, Ortiz became the first Puerto Rico-born fighter to win titles in two weight divisions, doing it the hard way and often on the road.
His first title win came at junior welterweight, scoring a second-round knockout of Kenny Lane in their June 1959 junior welterweight championship to avenge a points loss in their non-title fight six months prior.
Two successful defenses followed, including a 15-round, split decision win over Duilio Loi in June 1960 before losing a majority decision to the legendary Italian—a Class of 2005 IBHOF inductee—three months later, on the road in Milan, Italy. Ortiz dropped a 15-round, unanimous decision in their May 1961 rubber match in Milan before dropping down to lightweight where he would make his bones in the sport.
Ortiz became a two-division titlist following a 15-round, unanimous decision win over Joe Brown to claim the WBA lightweight championship in April 1962. His second title defense provided another watershed moment, becoming the first recognized WBC lightweight champ after stopping Cuba’s Douglas Vaillant in their April 1963 unified championship contest in San Juan, Ortiz’s first pro fight in Puerto Rico.
The feat would serve as the first of two unified title reigns, spanning six years and only separated by a majority decision defeat to Panama’s Ismael Laguna in April 1965 on the road in Panama City. Ortiz enjoyed regional advantage for their November 1965 rematch, outpointing Laguna over 15 rounds in San Juan. Ortiz made 11 total defenses over the two reigns, including ten as a unified champion which remains a lightweight record.
Ortiz’s second title reign ended in a June 1968 split decision defeat to Dominican Republic’s Carlos Teo Cruz in the challenger’s hometown of Santo Domingo.
It was the last ever title fight for Ortiz, who rattled off another ten wins before suffering a sixth-round knockout loss to former lightweight champion Ken Buchanan to end his career.
Buchanan was one fight removed from his championship loss to Roberto Duran at Madison Square Garden, where he forced Ortiz to retire on his stool after six rounds in their September 1972 fight. It was the only stoppage loss in Ortiz’s 17-year career, though the sour note did not at all detract from leaving his mark as an all-time great lightweight and on a short list that includes Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez, Felix Trinidad, Hector Camacho and Miguel Cotto as the best-ever male Puerto Rican boxers.
Ortiz retired with a record of 61-7-1 (30KOs), having fought in ten different countries and taking pride in facing—and often beating—his challengers on the road. His body of work was honored by the IBHOF whose voters included him in the second induction class in 1991, becoming the first Puerto Rican boxer to gain enshrinement.