Just when you thought boxing’s upswing couldn’t gain any more momentum, WBC heavyweight title holder Deontay Wilder and feared contender Luis Ortiz delivered an action-packed slugfest this past Saturday night at the Barclays Center in New York. Wilder’s thrilling 10th round TKO of Ortiz further fueled the desire to see him face WBA/IBF and maybe soon to be WBO titlist Anthony Joshua later this year, and if Joshua crushes WBO title holder Joseph Parker later this month Joshua-Wilder becomes Epic.
Prior to the fight I was a Wilder skeptic and thought his team only agreed to the fight because they either knew that Ortiz 28-1 (24) was there to go through the motions as an opponent or he was past the point of being a hurdle too high for Wilder to leap. So let’s clear the air – it was a legitimate and impressive win for Wilder 40-0 (39). No, Ortiz may not be quite as live as he was against Bryant Jennings back in December of 2015 and that perhaps was the wiggle room Wilder needed, but make no mistake about it, Ortiz would’ve defeated any other active heavyweight this past weekend whose last name isn’t Wilder or Joshua.
The bout started slowly but Ortiz’s southpaw style, flicking jab, subtle pressure and instinctive counter-punching had Wilder completely bewildered and in retreat searching for an answer. In fact there were times when Wilder was hesitant to punch and only parried his shots because he feared being countered.
Then Wilder got through in the fifth and knocked Ortiz down with his signature right hand after losing most of the round. This was the first round I scored for Wilder and he shaded the sixth with neither fighter doing much. In the seventh Wilder was tested like he never was before. Ortiz teed off and cuffed him all over the ring, landing his Sunday best and Wilder, despite probably being saved by the bell, summoned great reserve and refused to go down.
The start of the eighth was delayed about 10 seconds when referee David Fields called on the ring doctor to examine Wilder although Deontay was neither cut nor injured as TV commentator Paulie Malignaggi pointed out. The extra seconds aided Wilder’s recovery but it didn’t alter the result of the fight. Deontay, using every holding tactic in the book, survived the eighth round and Ortiz’s chance was lost. The ninth round was close but it was Wilder’s and you could sense the momentum changing.
The 10th round is when Wilder’s arrival as an elite heavyweight should be noted. Sensing Ortiz was having doubts and tiring, along with thinking he was behind, Wilder exploded. He cut loose and overwhelmed Ortiz with right hands and wild left hooks and with the assistance of a half shove Ortiz went down, but it was ruled a slip. When he got up Wilder clipped him on the temple and Ortiz went down. When he arose he was hurt and nearly helpless as Wilder again erupted and then landed his most technically thrown punch of the night, a textbook right uppercut that sank Ortiz and the fight was waved off. One thing is for sure – Wilder showed he is quite capable of finishing his opponent once they’re in trouble.
At the time of the stoppage Wilder inexplicably led 85-84 on all three judges’ scorecards. I had it 87-83 Ortiz going into the 10th round. The fact that the judges scored the fight the way they did and the shenanigans by the referee at the start of the eighth round are the reasons why there are so many skeptics when huge money is resting on the result of a big fight. In reality, Wilder won three of the nine completed rounds and was beaten at every turn in the others. The actions of the referee and scoring by the judges leaves you thinking that if Wilder didn’t get stopped there’s no way he was going to lose. Also, it was brought out on Showtime’s broadcast that Ortiz’s reach and height were overstated, leading me to question how much did they stretch the truth regarding his age?
Thankfully Wilder didn’t need any help or interference from the judges or referee and his gloved fist delivered the defining win of his career in spectacular fashion. Last April when Anthony Joshua rallied back after being down and hurt in his signature fight against Wladimir Klitschko, he was lauded for his heart and toughness. As Joshua did versus Klitschko, Wilder dropped Ortiz three times. More beaten up and hurt than Joshua was by Klitschko, Deontay managed to overcome tremendous adversity, so he should receive the same accolades as Joshua.
Wilder isn’t pretty to watch and he does many things in an amateurish fashion and after fighting 10 years as a pro that’s just who he is. But he has quick hands, he’s awkward and has fight-altering power in his right hand. It can no longer be said Wilder hasn’t fought anybody or that we don’t know about his chin or stamina because now we do. Deontay passed the biggest test of his career and exhibited for all to see that if he fights Anthony Joshua and loses it won’t be because AJ’s heart is bigger or he’s been more tested at the elite level. His showing against Ortiz makes the impending fight with Joshua even more anticipated now because we can say for certain he won’t fold the second he is met with a crisis.
For those hoping to see Wilder look like a sound technician, forget it. He’s an unorthodox long range puncher who has porous defense and balance. But he doesn’t have to be Joe Louis to thrive today; he only has one fighter above him that he needs to beat; Joshua. Wilder doesn’t have a great chin and he was hurt a few times against Ortiz but he knows how to survive. Actually, he reminds me of Thomas Hearns in that regard. Like Hearns, you can get him in trouble with one punch but you have to hit him a hundred times good to stop him as Hearns proved in his three fights with Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler. The difference is Hearns was a superior boxer and technician with two good hands. However, Hearns fought between 147 and 175 where the track is much faster and more competitive than it is in the heavyweight division. So Wilder doesn’t have to be a heavyweight Hearns to beat Joshua or anyone else in the division.
Granted, Wilder isn’t Sonny Liston, George Foreman or Lennox Lewis, but at the moment at worst he’s the second best heavyweight in the world. Prior to seeing Wilder fight Ortiz, I would’ve picked Joshua to beat him in the ring, in the Octagon or arm wrestling. Yes, I still favor Joshua to beat Wilder if they meet, but now I’m much more open to the possibility of an upset.
The time has come for all to acknowledge that Deontay Wilder isn’t a fraud. He has a huge heart and will to win. Add to that he carries his power throughout the fight and isn’t afraid to let his hands go when the result is on the line. I’d say that qualifies him as being a full-fledged threat to Joshua or any other fighter in the opposite corner.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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