MGM Las Vegas – the heavyweight carousel turns yet again on Saturday night as undefeated WBC world champion Deontay Wilder (41-0-1) defends his title for the 10th time against Cuba’s, Luis Ortiz (31-1). This is the second time these two men have fought and only the second time that Deontay has seen his name illuminated upon the iconic Vegas ‘strip’, the first being in January 2015 when he unanimously outpointed compatriot Bermane Stiverne (25-4-1) to initially win the title. This is an important and necessary power move; a popularity claim and profile build, an engaging out-of-ring subplot to bolster future marketability, influence, sales, riches and braggadocio within an elite division inferentially soon to be shocked into life from it’s frustrating and latent inertia.
Unforgiving, but alighting over the acrid taste in the mouth that is the disappointment in the selection of the top three’s recent opponents (Andy Ruiz aside), Saturday’s fight is a welcome and acceptable aperitif before this year’s heavyweight buffet course of intrigue that is another rematch: Joshua vs Ruiz II. The heavyweight carousel ride has endured; it’s laboured through mismatched contests involving the likes of Tom Schwarz (26-1), Otto Wallin (20-1) and Dominic Breazeale (20-2), but now the heady culmination is nearly upon us.
Fury’s extracurricular, omnipresent activities have raised his stateside profile and popularity sufficient to now require a ‘cashing in’ on his Top Rank five-fight deal against commensurate opposition (he has three fights left on this contract). Wilder, presuming he wins on Saturday, will have exhausted all other credible opponents barring one of Dillian Whyte (26-1), Anthony Joshua (22-1), Andy Ruiz (33-1), Tyson Fury (29-0-1) and, recklessly, Oleksandr Usyk (17-0).
Whoever wins in December out of Joshua and Ruiz is certain to be preoccupied in an immediate defence against Usyk, or he will have to face vacating the WBO title. So however the 2020 heavyweight ride finishes, it guarantees to engender permutations and combinations of matchups that may even bring a smile to the most hardened boxing sceptic, or at least bring a healing distance between the welcome overlay of fond memories to those which demoralise and chasten, that is: the ones which recall enduring the early-Sunday-morning PPV watch of Top Rank’s recent heavyweight-headlining cards.
But back to Saturday…
Wilder has 40 KOs from 41 victories. Just let that settle in 40 KOs from 41 wins. The only results on his professional record which have not been Wilder by KO, TKO or RTD, were December 2018’s split decision draw with Fury and the title-winning unanimous decision victory over Stiverne. Wilder fought Stiverne again in November 2017 – directly before his first fight with Ortiz – with the sole motivation being to win via knockout. He achieved this goal in the first round, obliterating a lacklustre Stiverne with a succession of wieldy and concussive right hands. Facing Ortiz in March 2018, he KOed him in the 10th round.
Therefore, out of all the opponents he’s faced in the professional prize-fighting ring, only Tyson Fury has not been knocked out…but he was still knocked down twice.
The hunger for this fight is in the seeming closeness of the first one. At the time of the closing stoppage, all three ringside judges scored the fight 85-84 in favour of Wilder. Broadcasters Showtime and CBS had the fight 86-83 in favour of Ortiz. In truth, it was a compelling contest. Ortiz, a former WBA interim heavyweight champion, decorated amateur champion and in only his first full championship contest (in the build-up to the fight, Deontay Wilder had accused other heavyweights, agreeably so, of ‘ducking’ Ortiz), started well, winning the first four rounds.
The fight caught fire in round five, however, when Wilder knocked Ortiz down with a typical thudding right to the temple. Beating the count and surviving further characteristic and stylistically unconventional onslaughts from the champion, Ortiz gave Wilder possibly the toughest round of his entire career, certainly the toughest 7th round he’s even contested, nearly earning a surprise stoppage victory, only for Wilder to be, quite literally, saved by the bell.
A contentious extra 20-second rest at the beginning of the 8th further allowed Wilder to regain his dizzied composure and shaken sensibilities, and the fight built to its climactic conclusion. The 10th was to be a final enthralling shootout, the left hand of Ortiz vs the right of Wilder. Ultimately, it was the champion who prevailed, knocking Ortiz down twice in the round before the referee officially waved the contest over, with Ortiz otherwise facing a further impossible 56 seconds of survival.
Ortiz looks well-conditioned coming into this fight. In preparation during the interim since their first contest, he has KOed Razvan Cojanu (17-6) and Travis Kauffman (32-3), and he has earned a unanimous decision victory, back in March, over respected heavyweight contender, Christian Hammer (24-6).
Previous doping failures combined with a suspected-dubious birthdate means that suspicion and speculation regarding the trustworthiness of his diet and preparatory methods now routinely follows him. During media obligations for this fight, Ortiz and his team have again proclaimed him as clean.
They have reiterated the controversial reasoning given for his previous test failure, the one which looked initially to permanently derail their first fight, stating that it was indeed due to use of a sanctioned and necessary prescription blood pressure medication; and have implied that Ortiz will now look to rely solely upon his superior boxing skills to overcome and dethrone the atypical technique of Wilder, rather than engaging in any tactical unseemliness.
Aged an apparent 40 to the challenger’s 34, Ortiz will also have to ensure that his movement keeps him away from Wilder’s indubitable power. For the full 12 rounds. Failing that, and he’ll likely become KO victory number 41…as well as number 39.