By Tom Donelson (BWAA)
Author, Member Boxing Writers Association of America
Every boxing champion finds that one moment when the belt is on the line and your opponent has you on the rope, it is that moment in which the boxer must dig deep to win or lose the belt. In the seventh round, Deontay Wilder faced that moment with thirty second left in the round. Over the previous two rounds, Wilder took control of the fight so it appeared as he knocked Luis Ortiz down in the fifth and dominated the sixth. He was looking to end the fight and nailed Ortiz with a solid right but then out of nowhere, Ortiz landed a right hand hook from his southpaw stance and suddenly Wilder looked stunned as he reeled backward. Ortiz jumped on Wilder with three solid lefts and Wilder attempted to wrap the Cuban fighter. Wilder survived the barrage but it was obvious that as he went back to the corner, he was a battered fighter with his title in jeopardy.
The previous spring, Anthony Joshua appeared on his way to an easy victory over Wladmir Klitschko before Klitschko knocked Joshua down and turned the momentum of the fight. For the next five rounds, Joshua had to dig deep from his first big challenge before ending the fight in the eleventh round. Wilder faced a similar path as he went out to the eighth still shaken and Ortiz won the round with solid body shots to go with accurate power shots to the head.
The ninth round saw Wilder getting his leg back but his jab remained ineffectual and still missing with his right. Ortiz slowed down in the ninth but Wilder looked hesitant to deliver his right hand. The ninth round was inconclusive with the exception of a Wilder right at the end of the round that won him that round.
The tenth round proved the wildest round yet as Ortiz won the opening minute but Wilder started to jab more effectively. In one of the those moments in boxing you see both fighters throw haymakers at each other and you swear that maybe both men would knock each other. Wilder’s right landed just a mili-second before the Ortiz left. Ortiz moved backwards and Wilder went on the attack. Landing big rights, Wilder forced Ortiz to retreat but Ortiz put himself in a defensive shell, hoping to ride out the storm before countering. Wilder landed an overhand right before landing a punch he rarely uses, a left hook, that sent Ortiz down. Wilder continued to attack throwing punches from all angles after Ortiz got up from the first knockdown and Ortiz retreated to the rope, hoping for one big counter. The counter never came as Wilder landed yet another punch he rarely used, the uppercut that sent Ortiz down for good.
Wilder came back from a possible defeat and while the judges had Wilder ahead on the scorecards, Showtime announcers had him behind and I agreed with their assessments. Wilder won this fight against a worthy opponent. Ortiz is a product of the Cuban system and has solid technical skills to go with his power. His southpaw stance gave Wilder’s problem and he took away one of Wilder’s number one weapons, the left jab. Wilder jab was ineffectual and it affected his ability to land his right consistently. It wasn’t until the fifth round before he landed the right and in this fight, Wilder had to adjust to Ortiz style. Ortiz ability to counter with power shots hampered Wilder and in the eighth and ninth round, Wilder looked hesitant to throw the right for fear of the Ortiz’s counter. He eventually found a way to connect with the right hand but he also used a left hook to send Ortiz down and this is not a common punch Wilder used. He ended the fight with an upper cut so Wilder had to use different weapons to win against a crafty opponent.
Now it is Anthony Joshua who will face a technical skilled fighter in Joseph Parker at the end of the month and the winner will face Wilder. While Wilder showed vulnerability in this fight, Paul Malignaggi observed that against Joshua or Parker, his jab would be more effective than against the Southpaw Ortiz. The heavyweight division became closer to a mega fight, something the division has yet to see since Tyson-Lewis or Lewis-Vitali Klitschko.
One last thought, this evening New York was home to two big fights, Wilder-Ortiz in the Brooklyn Barclay Center and Sergey Kovalev-Igor Mikhalkin light heavyweight championship bout in the Madison Square Garden theater. The Barclay Center and the Wilder fight out shined the Garden bout. In New York itself, the Barclay Center is becoming the new mecca of boxing as the Garden is starting to recede in importance in the big Apple.