Luis Ortiz Has No Time – WASHINGTON, D.C. — Less than four weeks ago, before he agreed to Saturday’s fight against Luis Ortiz, Tony Thompson was considering retirement and hadn’t been in the gym in months. But the lure of a final payday main eventing a HBO telecast in his hometown was too much to resist. While his bank balance may be thankful for the decision, his 44-year-old body certainly is not.
If Saturday was the end, the final images of Thompson’s in-ring career were his 6-foot-5-inch, 264 pound frame lying prone on the canvas as referee Malik Waleed stood over him counting to ten. Afterwards, Thompson was guided to a stool where his cornermen tended to his bruised face and consoled him with words of “good fight champ”.
When accepting the bout after a multitude of other fighters refused to take on Ortiz, the proud Thompson likely had visions of using the event to conclude his career with a fairy tale ending. Here he was, finally getting a major fight in his hometown of Washington D.C. against Ortiz, a boxer with a 360-bout amateur career in the vaunted Cuban system who generated extensive hype, but was untested. Thompson has traveled the world and put in commendable performances in two bouts against then-heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko, in addition to scoring upset victories against prospects like Odlanier Solis and David Price. As Thompson said before Saturday, “I’ve been a stepping stone for a lot of people and I stepped over them.” Moreover, Saturday’s bout was scheduled to contest the World Boxing Association’s interim version of the world heavyweight title.
But the reality of prizefighting is harsh. Firstly, the WBA refused to sanction the bout for their title, deeming Thompson unsuitable to challenge for their trinket. It was an unusual decision from an organization that has had no qualms in watering down the value of its titles in recent years.
Then at Friday’s weigh-in there were signs that Thompson’s preparation had not been ideal. He bucked tradition and kept his shirt on as he stepped on the scales. The reason became apparent in the ring Saturday when Thompson disrobed to reveal a saggy midriff and soft upper body which looked a sorry sight compared to Ortiz’s muscular arms. This came after the rapper accompanying Thompson on his ringwalk suffered a microphone malfunction, dulling the effect of Thompson’s first hometown entrance in his 47-fight career.
The spirit of the contest effectively ended in the first round when Ortiz pounced early and delivered a booming southpaw left hand to drop a stunned Thompson and silence the 4,585 at the D.C. Armory. Thereafter, Thompson went into survival mode as the hulking 6’4” 243-pound Ortiz patiently stalked, forcing Thompson to move into places he shouldn’t have gone and making him pay for it. Ortiz floored Thompson again in the third, and a final volley sent the outgunned opponent to the canvas for the last time in the sixth.
It marked the seventh career defeat for Thompson, but what the victory means for the 25-0 (22 KOs) Ortiz is debatable, just like most things in boxing. From the scoring of rounds to the ranking of fighters by governing bodies, boxing is often based on perception rather than hard fact. Such problems do not exist in other sports whereby tournaments are designed to determine the best participants and the quality of a victor’s opposition cannot be denigrated. But no such system exists in prizefighting. There is a plethora of world titles and no universally accepted structure to find out who really is the best fighter.
Similarly, the value of a victory is just as unclear. It is as easy to pour scorn on a performance as to lavish it with superlatives. On Saturday did Ortiz defeat a faded semi-retired Thompson or was Ortiz so good that he made Thompson look like a shadow of the once durable contender?
Thompson himself didn’t do much to add prestige to Ortiz’s win after the fight. “It’s sad that my hometown got to see me at the end of my career versus at the peak of my career,” he said following his fourth defeat in six bouts. “I just think it would have been a much better fight with prime Tony Thompson, that’s all. [Ortiz] is as strong as a monster, but I’d had three weeks of training and that’s the best I have for three weeks.”
Yet on the surface, Ortiz dominated Thompson in a manner that no one else has, and looked pretty close to invincible. Such achievements are vital in a business built on perception. This is especially true in the heavyweight division whereby men with some ability often get paid a premium to smaller weight fighters of superior talent. Saturday’s event was another example of this as Ortiz-Thompson followed two highly entertaining bouts between world-class fighters.
The 147-pound Jessie Vargas-Sadam Ali scrap and the 126-pound battle between Oscar Escandon and Robinson Castellanos featured exciting back-and-forth action, as was expected beforehand. Yet despite the initial uncertainty of Ortiz’s opponent and questions surrounding Thompson’s fitness, there was never any doubt that Ortiz would headline the event.
A primal fascination with size dictates that the men who are the largest will often receive the most attention. That’s because nobody will ever label a 147-pound boxer “the baddest man on the planet.” To earn such designation a fighter must prove the ability to topple 200-plus pound men with a single blow. The sight of seeing a 6’4” 260-pound man crashing to the canvas is a sight that TV viewers want, even if one fighter is a 1/33 favorite as Ortiz was.
Ortiz’s knockout power compensates for the shortcomings he has as a marketable attraction. The fact that Ortiz is Cuban-born with no English poses challenges to his promoter Golden Boy Promotions. The job of selling Ortiz doesn’t get any easier given that he failed a test for performance enhancing drugs in 2014 or that he turns 37 this month. But in an era where there is no dominant heavyweight, and few with the ability to consistently score highlight-reel knockouts, Ortiz is a hot commodity for TV networks.
During the sixth round of Saturday’s fight a voice at ringside bellowed at Thompson to be more aggressive and “get some respect” from Ortiz. Thompson didn’t get any, and seconds later was on his back. Still, he deserves the utmost of respect for reaching HBO main event status despite only taking up boxing at 27 and entering the paid ranks after a scant amateur career. Not to mention taking a fight that several others refused.
But the professional fight game is not designed to provide a fond farewell to retiring fighters. As Ortiz held court with the ringside press after his victory, Thompson slowly walked back to the dressing room for probably the final time. Only a handful of fans remained behind to provide a smattering of light applause.
Meanwhile, Ortiz summarized the harsh realities of the business. Assessing the bout he noted: “Look at the ring, it’s full of blood. And it’s not my blood.”
Ronan Keenan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rokeenan
Check out this video with the results for this fight at The Boxing Channel