Deontay Wilder Ushers In Heavyweight Fortnight
Welcome to an extreme heavyweight world where there will be two championship rematches in just 15 days, four boxers with nearly 100 knockouts, too much pride and too many unknowns.
On Saturday at the MGM in Las Vegas it is Deontay Wilder against Cuban Luis Ortiz in a repeat of their old-fashioned and bad-tempered brawl from March of last year. Wilder survived some torrid moments to leave Ortiz in a bad way in the tenth and retain his WBC belt.
In Saudi Arabia two weeks later Anthony Joshua goes on a mission of redemption against Andy Ruiz in a repeat of their slugfest at Madison Square Garden in New York in the summer. It is an extraordinary fortnight of fights by any standard and in any epoch; reputations, riches and salvation could be decided in the blink of a heavyweight eye.
Wilder and Ortiz is an odd fight to repeat in many ways, a dangerous excursion for Wilder, who is now unbeaten in 42 fights, to accept when there is a rematch signed and sealed for Las Vegas in February next year with Tyson Fury. The fight with Ortiz seemed to be on and off the table several times during large parts of this year.
Ortiz is a relic in the modern sport, a reminder of the slow but lethal heavyweights of the Seventies, men that never quite knew when they were beaten and always seemed to have a big shot left. The loss to Wilder is the only blemish in a 34-fight professional career and over 360 amateur contests.
In round seven of their first fight, Ortiz, having survived a knockdown in round five, had Wilder out on his feet for over 40 seconds and there is a very strong argument that the referee could have intervened to save Wilder. It was the fight’s pivotal moment, the champion a punch from oblivion, the challenger a punch from the promised land.
Wilder fiddled, held and moved to survive the eighth and ninth rounds, and by round ten the pace and punishment had taken a weary toll on Ortiz. The end was shocking, Ortiz going down heavily. All three judges had Wilder narrowly in front after nine completed rounds, but there was a strong argument that Ortiz was a round or two clear before the dramatic ending and that the judges had been kind to Wilder.
“No man has ever survived against me like Wilder did,” explained Ortiz. “When I get a man in that situation, I end the fight. This time I will end it.”
Wilder has his own view on the mayhem in the seventh round: “I dropped him with just a couple of seconds left - he hurt me with over 40 seconds left. So, tell me, how was I ‘saved by the bell’? He missed his chance, he had 40 seconds and he never finished me: he will not get another chance.”
On Saturday Ortiz will enter the ring as the betting underdog and after a 12-week training camp away from his family and other distractions back in Miami. Ortiz took the sensible move to relocate for this fight to Las Vegas, perhaps the last truly transient centre left for hopeful and desperate boxers of all dimensions and talents. Ortiz also knows that at 40 his opportunities are limited in defeat - it is his last chance.
Wilder risks far more than just his championship belt in what will be his tenth defence. Wilder has been the champion now since January of 2015 and is starting to move closer in the record books to some of the sport’s greats. It needs to be remembered that when Ruiz separated Joshua from his senses and his WBA, WBO and IBF titles in New York, he put an end to a long overdue unification fight between the two unbeaten boxers. Joshua and Wilder shared a jaw-dropping 37 months as heavyweight champions and a fight between them was still no closer to being made before the last awful seconds of Joshua’s reign - that was a disgrace.
Wilder now risks losing the Fury rematch if Ortiz can find the punches again. Fury, it has to be mentioned, has fought twice this year in entertaining and popular no-risk fights. “He (Wilder) could get hit on the chops again and there will be chaos,” added Fury. The pair fought a draw last December in Los Angeles and Wilder has had just one fight - a one round blow-out - since then.
However, Wilder is a decent favourite and for a reason: He is younger, fresher in every way and has already shown that he can drop and stop Ortiz. The first few rounds will be interesting and Ortiz will know that the longer it goes, the more vulnerable he will become; there is not a training camp on earth that can rescue the weary legs of a 40-year-old fighter when he is tired in round seven or eight. If Wilder gets to that point, Ortiz will be an easy target. Ortiz might just have to take some serious risks early in the fight, knowing that he will have very little left as the rounds slip by. It is a risk he has to take.
Ortiz certainly has a chance, an old-fashioned banger’s chance, but Wilder has always been more than simply a fearsome puncher. Wilder will be smarter, take fewer risks and Ortiz should be suitably tender by about round six. Wilder can then start insulting everybody.