This past Saturday Deontay Wilder, the top American heavyweight, took on Cuban veteran Luis Ortiz. Their first fight was canceled due to Ortiz failing a drug test, but this time the event went on, bringing two of boxing’s biggest punchers together for the WBC title. The fight started slowly, and as predicted, Wilder showed better movement than Ortiz but less precision and far less activity. While Ortiz managed a slight reach advantage, Wilder is three inches taller, and made no use of his height (except to cheat). In the end, , Wilder claimed he was just working on his inside punching and showing what he could do because he’s known as an outside puncher. It’s not really true, but it’s plausible enough.
There’s been so much hype recently about the showdown between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder (with so little else to talk about) that you would expect Wilder to be looking like a man at the top his sport, but he didn’t look that way for most of the fight on Saturday. I was immediately disappointed in Wilder’s volume and accuracy, and simultaneously impressed by his opponents’ demonstration of skill in those areas. Ortiz was measured with his punches, using good straights to work inside, and then landing effective shots. About halfway through the fight, Wilder started to look fatigued and desperate, winging shots as if he were trying to live up to his surname. Ortiz took some punishment for having his hands too low, but was generally able to handle the onslaught and land a couple of much more effective counter shots.
At 38, Ortiz is nearing the end of his run in the sport, whereas Wilder, a former Olympian, is only 32 and has plenty of time to make his megafight and, if he wins, enjoy his reign. That might explain why, when given the opportunity to prove himself ready for an Anthony Joshua–or even a Tyson Fury, Wilder treated it like another tune-up fight. After about two rounds of taking multiple counter punches for every punch he landed, Wilder got wobbly and was unable to return fire. Using all of his skill, he managed to lean, hold and push enough to get the ref to give him a knockdown in round 5, but by round 7 it was clear Ortiz was the stronger of the two in every way. Had that round lasted a few seconds longer, or had the timekeeper let the round go a little long (as so often is the case), Ortiz would be the new WBC champion and Wilder would be on the defensive, trying to pick up the pieces of his once-lucrative career prospects. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Everyone besides the referee was on their job, and the round ended.
Admittedly, Ortiz did not pursue the knockout enough in round 8 to make a convincing attempt, but there was enough in round 7 to call the fight for him or at least give his opponent a couple of standing eights. Two standing 8 counts would have considerably changed the momentum and the scoring of the fight, but instead, Wilder was given extra time in his corner between rounds to recover. Then, in round 9, his leaning and holding got him a few good shots as Ortiz began to tire. In round 10, Wilder’s ability to manipulate the rules peaked when he held his opponent’s head down as he landed an uppercut equal only to the one Joshua used to fell Elder Klitschko. Similarly, Ortiz made a valiant recovery but was unable to regain his balance completely. Knockout for Wilder.
There’s no arguing that Ortiz was too hurt by the illegal punches and too exhausted from holding up 215 pounds of dead weight for 10 rounds to continue any further, but the ref could have prevented the fight from getting there. If he had only resisted Wilder’s increasingly brazen attempts to flout the rules, the momentum would have stayed with the more skilled fighter. It could even have held true despite the referee’s conduct, given Wilder’s condition, if Ortiz weren’t approaching 40. His performance up until that point was impressive enough, but to expect him to pull out another stoppage-worthy round would have been unrealistic.
I would say this is a repeat of Joshua-Klitschko, except that I think Joshua would win the rematch. I think Klitschko really was done, and probably got lucky to do as well as he did, even though he was actually beaten by an (accidental) illegal blow. I’m not 100% sure Wilder’s shot was unintentional, and I’m not convinced he fought competitively enough to be compared to Joshua’s performance against Klitschko.
In the undercard, an overmatched Andre Direll finally lost without being bludgeoned after the bell. It may be the beginning of the end for him, or at least, part of the process, which was probably initiated by the notoriously underhanded Arthur Abraham.