The instructions arrived one day early last year, a brief email with a set of directions, a time and a first name: Sly.
Victor Ortiz was to wake up early on a Thursday, drive to Beverly Hills, and meet with a man about a potential acting role. Ortiz, the Kansas native and former WBC welterweight champ, had just finished up a stint on “Dancing with The Stars.” He was taking a sabbatical from boxing after a nasty jaw injury, and his agency had arranged an initial meeting with the people behind “The Expendables”, the action-movie franchise bolstered by a cast of all-time Hollywood stars.
But as Ortiz and a friend cruised down Route 101 in southern California, he still figured the role was a long-shot. He was just a boxer from Kansas, not Arnold Schwarzenegger or Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford.
“I would do a movie like that,” Ortiz told his agency, still skeptical. “But I’m not an actor.”
A few moments later, Ortiz’s friend popped open the email to locate the instructions. Beverly Hills. 11:15 a.m. Meet Sly. And that’s when they realized.
The Sly that awaited them in Beverly Hills was Sylvester Stallone, one of the lead screenwriters on the project.
“Dude, are you serious?” Ortiz remembers saying. “That’s Rocky Balboa, right?”
More than 15 months later, Ortiz arrived in Kansas City this week to promote his supporting role in “The Expendables 3”, which opens Friday across the country. It’s the latest project for the professional boxer-turned-actor, who survived a turbulent childhood in Garden City, Kan., to become one of the top boxing prospects in the world. The boxing career is idle — for now — but Ortiz embraced the opportunity to hone his acting chops alongside a cast that also included Antonio Banderas, Jason Statham, Jet Li and women’s mix martial arts champion Ronda Rousey.
“It came pretty easy to me,” Ortiz said on Thursday morning, sitting near the water during a media appearance at Schlitterbahn. “The boxing side of me kind of helped me get there.”
Ortiz plays a soldier named “Mars,” a soldier who happens to be afraid of heights. During certain scenes, Ortiz says, he would pretend he was about to enter the ring for a prize fight. Other times, he’d think of past battles with rivals or certain unsavory opponents.
“I could put on a face like, “I’m gonna kill you.’” Ortiz says. “I’d think of some of the people I didn’t like from boxing. And I’d get there.”
For now, you might say that Ortiz’s boxing career is on hold. After a loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a highly anticipated fight in 2011, Ortiz suffered a broken jaw in a loss to Josesito Lopez in June 2012. After taking a year off to heal, Ortiz dropped another match to Luis Collazo in January. The third straight loss threw some shade onto Ortiz’s boxing reputation, but when the subject of fighting comes up, he remains his ebullient and optimistic self. More to the point: Despite scoring another role in the upcoming film “Southpaw”, Ortiz isn’t ready to focus on a full-time acting career just yet.
“I’m going to be world champion again,” Ortiz says. “People have counted me out, time and time again. And that’s where I’m most comfortable at. Thankfully, a lot of people have written me off.”
According to Ortiz, a rift between his promoter and management team has stalled discussions for his next fight. But early on Thursday morning, as Ortiz cruised down the waterslide “Verruckt,” he wasn’t too concerned about boxing.
That time will come, he says. He’s added actor to his resume now, and this trip was more about enjoying some time in a second home. This is a place where friends still live, where he can wear his Royals hats with pride, where he once became an honorary member of a fraternity at KU.
“It will always be home in my heart,” Ortiz says. “People try to say I’m from California. I’m like ‘No, thank you.’ ”
When Ortiz was growing up in Kansas, he watched a rerun of the movie “Rocky” on television and thought it was pretty cool. Ortiz was just finding his way in boxing, and the basic plot points were appealing.
“He’s a street kid, he’s broke, he’s got nothing to look forward to,” Ortiz says. “He trains super-hard, he works. And he conquers the world. So he kind of gave me a blueprint of something I wanted to do.”
Now at age 27, Ortiz has performed in boxing rings in Las Vegas and on set with Stallone. The latter dream was definitely cool, Ortiz says, but he’d still like to chase the former.
“It’s a very common thing between the two,” Ortiz says. “I definitely enjoy my time (on set). But to be honest with you, I miss holding my hands up in the ring after a victory, or putting a guy down. It’s just different, but I miss it.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.