Like Liston’s Pre-Title Days, Nobody’s Calling Out Luis Ortiz – Sometimes a fighter can be too good for his own good. It’s rare, but it does happen. Back in the late 1950s most boxing advocates viewed Sonny Liston as the best and most dangerous fighter in the heavyweight division. However, by 1960 Floyd Patterson was the undisputed champ entering the fourth year of his title reign. Patterson knocked out light heavyweight champ Archie Moore in the 5th round to capture the vacated title that was up for grabs when former champ Rocky Marciano retired in 1956. Floyd lost the title in his 5th defense to Ingemar Johansson then beat Ingo in the rematch to take it back. He then defended it successfully against Johansson and Tom McNeeley. And just when it seemed Patterson had re-established himself he couldn’t escape the fighter who many considered the uncrowned champ for the previous three years. That fighter was Sonny Liston.
Patterson’s manager Cus D’Amato knew Sonny was all wrong for Floyd and a fight between them more than likely meant Patterson would once again be an ex-champ. Liston was viewed as a bad guy and a bully with mob ties who happened to be the scariest fighter in the world. Patterson wanted to fight Liston because he knew to be fully accepted as the true champ he had to beat Sonny. D’Amato did everything in his power to keep Patterson away from Liston, but Floyd eventually overruled Cus and defended his title against Liston. Sonny knocked Floyd out in the first round to win the title and repeated the feat 10 months later to retain the title.
The moral of the story is that Liston was too good for his own good. Sonny was thought of as being so much better than everyone else, but with no market value. He was possibly the best heavyweight in the world beginning around 1958 but didn’t get to fight Patterson for the title until September of 1962 because he was viewed as being too risky and dangerous. Luckily for Liston there was only one title during those days and it was easy for him to shame Patterson into having to face him.
Today the heavyweight division is really starting to come alive. As of this writing Deontay Wilder 36-0 (35) is the WBC champ, Anthony Joshua 16-0 (16) is the IBF champ and Tyson Fury 25-0 (18), who is universally recognized as the reigning champ, holds the WBA and WBO titles. Wilder has called out Joshua and Fury, Joshua has called out Wilder and Fury, and Fury has called out almost everybody. But none of them are calling out Cuban contender Luis Ortiz 25-0 (22).
All these years later Ortiz is in the same predicament that Liston was, only it’s even worse for him. Like Liston, Ortiz is big and strong and he can really punch. On top of that he’s a sound boxer capable of delivering his power. Also, like Liston, but in Ortiz’s case it’s because of his language barrier, he’s not a talker. And if that’s not enough there is conjecture about his age and it’s more than realistic Luis is older than the 37 he claims. So waiting for him to age is plausible by the guys holding the hardware.
Sonny Liston was aided by being the obvious #1 contender circa 1959-62. So it was difficult, in the end, to maneuver around him. In 2016 with the proliferation of titles, it’s really easy to avoid Ortiz. Wilder, Joshua and Fury can make a ton of money fighting each other along with David Haye and Joseph Parker. Ortiz isn’t a draw and not many fans know who he is and I’m guessing that a lot of boxing pundits and aficionados don’t even grasp how physically strong and formidable he is. The problem for Ortiz is there’s no point in fighting him. The fans aren’t demanding it and the risk versus the money any of three title holders can make going somewhere else makes fighting him a terrible business move. And worse for him is, there’s really nothing that he can do about it as the title holders will try to wait him out or push him off on the other and let them take the risk.
Today, being good isn’t necessary. If a fighter has charisma and a personality, he can get the needed attention and make those who matter take notice. I offer you Shannon Briggs. Shannon, who I’m rooting for to get a big fight, hasn’t defeated a relevant fighter since 2006. It’s almost 19 years since he won a controversial decision over 48 year old George Foreman and was stopped by Lennox Lewis in his next bout, after hurting Lewis and almost getting him out in the first round. Shannon is 44 years old and over five years removed from being beaten up by Vitali Klitschko in his last world title bout.
What sets Shannon apart from Ortiz is that Briggs is a colorful and funny character with a superhero physique. He’s invaded gym workouts and press-conferences of just about every top heavyweight in the world today. Briggs bursts in shouting “Let’s go champ, let’s go champ, let’s go champ!” Soon, the crowds start chanting “let’s go champ” and before you know it, the fighter he’s trolling is explaining to the crowd why he won’t fight him. Shannon took his routine to the UK and now he’s fighting on David Haye’s undercard on May 21st. If he wins he just may find himself in the ring with Haye in his next bout.
Unfortunately, those type antics won’t work for Ortiz. And that’s because Ortiz isn’t the funny character that Briggs is naturally. In addition to that, the antics work for Briggs because the guys that he’s been harassing know they can knock him out fast. It doesn’t work when the guy (Ortiz) doing the yelling can take your head off.
George Foreman and Mike Tyson were feared even more than Ortiz, but there was good reason to fight them. They both held the title and the money was big in facing them. And if you think about it, Foreman only got a shot at Joe Frazier’s title as the number two contender because Joe was playing hardball with Muhammad Ali and wanted better than purse parity in their rematch. In Tyson’s case, he was the star and the defending title holders made more money fighting Mike than they probably made during their entire career.
Luis Ortiz has none of those things going for him. There’s no buzz around him, he doesn’t speak English, he’s a dangerous boxer-puncher and it’s hard to shame three title holders who are calling out the others saying they want all the titles before facing the top contenders. If I were managing the newly crowned title holders named Wilder, Fury and Joshua, I’d avoid Ortiz as long as I possibly could. Maybe those fighters can beat Ortiz, but the odds are just as long they can’t. Something tells me that Al Haymon, Peter Fury and Eddie Hearn have already thought this through and in their fighters best interest will try and wait Ortiz out or push him off on one of the other title holders.
I’m not saying Ortiz is the greatest heavyweight I’ve ever seen. But he’s too dangerous for the reigning alphabet title holders to risk fighting him in the near future. It wasn’t hard for Patterson and Cus to freeze Liston out; it’s even easier for the powers that be to do the same to Ortiz in 2016 and beyond.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com