Fighters usually don’t take a big risk when they’re on the verge of a mega-money fight when losing would no doubt destroy it. Yes that’s the question.
Regardless of what many fans and pundits think, fighters get into the sport because at the upper echelon the money is great if you can fight….the key being if you can fight, but that’s not necessary if you have the right backing and money behind you.
The money is greatest in the heavyweight division. Sure, there have been recent exceptions like Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, but they’re the outliers. Every bonafide heavyweight champ over the last 100 years was no less than the second or third highest paid fighter in the sport.
It’s also a fact that strength, power and durability will take a limited or crude fighter closer to the top if he is a heavyweight than if he brought those assets to any other division. In other words, it’s easier to find 30 easy wins at the start of a career for a heavyweight than it is for a lightweight. There’s no way around that; it’s simply a fact of the sport.
If a fighter with some pop has the right backing and is brought along right, there’s a fortune to be made by all parties involved. And that’s what I see when I watch WBC heavyweight title holder Deontay Wilder 39-0 (38); a fighter with some skill with a big right hand who has been managed masterfully. The only thing missing is convincing the public that he’s the genuine article. But that doesn’t matter because there’s enough interest in him now that dictates the curiosity factor of whether he really is the real deal or the character Toro Molina from the movie “The Harder They Fall.”
Nothing captures the attention of boxing fans more than a heavyweight KO artist who wins exclusively by knockout and to this point in his career, after turning pro in November of 2008 and winning all but one fight by stoppage, Wilder has the eyes of the boxing world focused on him. Super-anticipated showdowns in the heavyweight division between two big punchers are rare. At this moment, the most anticipated fight in boxing would match WBA/IBF heavyweight title holder Anthony Joshua 20-0 (20) of the UK against American Deontay Wilder.
Joshua is thought to have the more authentic record of the two and his stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko in a title bout in which he was dropped and severely tested, overshadows anything Wilder has done to date. Neither has fought a murderer’s row when it comes to opposition but AJ’s looks stellar next to Wilder’s. Add to that Joshua fared better with the only common opponent they have, Eric Molina, that he’s a better boxer with superior form and balance, with equal power, in my opinion, and AJ must be considered the better fighter until they meet. However, in the eyes of many the threat of Wilder’s power erases some of Joshua’s advantages, making the fight more intriguing and the most anticipated heavyweight confrontation since Lennox Lewis fought Mike Tyson in June of 2002. That’s 16 years since there’s been a monumental fight among the big guys, so you know the money for both Anthony and Deontay will be enough so that you’d break your neck if it were stacked up and you jumped off the top of the pile.
This weekend Wilder is fighting the best opponent he’s ever been in the ring with in Cuban Luis Ortiz 28-0 (24). Ortiz is a sound southpaw boxer with legit power. He’d be favored over every opponent Wilder has ever faced.
Ortiz is reportedly 38 years old, but it’s been whispered by a few Cuban amateur boxing coaches that he’s closer to his mid-forties. Ortiz isn’t in boxing for the long haul or to establish a legacy as one of the greats – it’s too late for that. Nobody has interest in seeing Ortiz fight Joshua, nor anyone else; he lacks personality and charisma and isn’t close to being a draw. Actually, if Ortiz loses to Wilder he could make a lot of money as an opponent down the road fighting up and coming prospects.
As it is the case with great matchmaking, fighting name opponents is all about when you fight them. Sugar Ray Leonard waited until he saw erosion in Marvin Hagler and Floyd Mayweather navigated the last 10 or 11 years of his career using that template. Ortiz hasn’t looked anything close to special since he devastated Bryant Jennings in seven rounds back on December 19, 2015. In the four fights he’s had since then, he looked a little ponderous and listless and that very well could be him being on the wrong side of the hill. And if that’s the case, then Wilder is fighting him at the most opportune time. That being said, if Wilder looks great beating Ortiz it’ll be said he beat an old man or one who was seeking a soft place to fall, and conversely if he struggles or is awarded a controversial decision, it’ll be said he was finally exposed.
If Wilder loses, it would be the worst managerial decision made by a heavyweight title holder since Joe Frazier agreed to face George Foreman for $875,000 instead of giving Muhammad Ali purse parity in a rematch and splitting at least six million dollars. Wilder is all but assured a fight with Joshua as long as he holds up his end of the deal and doesn’t lose. When he signed to meet Ortiz last year I predicted the bout wouldn’t be realized and it wasn’t, and now all of a sudden it’s a go? With Wilder being on the cusp of a super fight with Joshua I believe somebody knows somebody who knows something, making it pointless to breakdown the mechanics of both fighters other than to say that as a technician, minus speed, Ortiz is the better fighter with near equal power.
Boxing’s revival would be fueled by a Super Fight in the heavyweight division with the winner emerging as the most popular and recognized fighter in combat sports. And that can only be realized by Joshua fighting and beating Wilder; not Ortiz. The measuring stick for all big fights is the first fight between “Smokin” Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali back in March of 1971. In the 47 years since Ali-Frazier I, these are the Super Fights in the heavyweight division:
Ali- Frazier II….1/28/74
As you can see, there’s only been one Super Fight in the heavyweight division in 48 years that didn’t involve Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson and that was Holmes-Cooney. Also, take note in those matchups there wasn’t one pairing of two punchers with the exception of Lewis-Tyson and Lewis was really a boxer-puncher. Boxing needs Joshua-Wilder to be added to that list. An impressive win by Wilder this weekend followed by Joshua looking good defeating WBO champ Joseph Parker 24-0 (18) on March 31st and suddenly Joshua-Wilder is that much closer to being realized.
Call me a cynic but I don’t believe Team Wilder would have agreed to fight Ortiz with so much money on the table if they can deliver Wilder to AJ undefeated. I don’t see Deontay Wilder as a special heavyweight, as some others do, and I think his management feels the same way I do. Based on the way he’s been brought along, I think it was for the purpose of securing the home run payday which they are so close to securing. He’s been handled too shrewdly for them to blow it by taking a risk with the wrong fighter at the worst possible time. Therefore I can’t pick against Wilder. I expect him to get the “W” against Ortiz, or they wouldn’t be fighting. That, or Team Wilder waited for the right time to face Ortiz and now they’re extremely confident Deontay can handle him.
I don’t know what to make of this fight in all honesty. I don’t know if Ortiz will become an old man on the night he fights Wilder or maybe for some unknown reason he shows up and suddenly winning isn’t the most important thing in the world to him. What I do know is when the fight is over, Wilder will be 40-0 and Ortiz will be 28-1, because if 39-1 and 29-0 were realistic I strongly doubt they’d be facing each other.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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