This past weekend, Washington, DC, played host to heavyweights, as Cuban contender Luis Ortiz (25-0, 22 KOs) took on veteran and prime-retirement candidate Tony Thompson (40-7, 27 KOs). The fight isn't going to win any awards for Fight of the Year, but it was yet another demonstration of what kind of threat Ortiz is to the rest of the division. He fought his fight against Thompson, with an efficient display of fast, accurate counter-punching based off of a nice jab and a very heavy straight left hand.
Having seen Ortiz dispatch an old but tough Thompson, and previously beat Bryant Jennings around the ring, there are plenty of people that are climbing aboard the Luis Ortiz hype train. The Deontay Wilder Express and Anthony Joshua's Flying Englishman barely have any seats left, and no one likes standing on the hype train, so of course every self-respecting boxing hipster should be taking a ride on The Cuban Cannonball!
But how good is Luis Ortiz? And just how far can the 36-year-old Cuban southpaw go? Let's take a look:
Tale of the Tape:
- 25-0 (22 KO)
- Age: 36
- Height: 6'4"
- Reach: 84"
- Weight: 230-240lbs
First of all, Ortiz might be listed as 36, but he looks like a 50-year-old chain smoker. The age of Cuban athletes is something I've seen questioned, and developing-world recordkeeping is open to cynicism, so it's not unreasonable to consider that Ortiz might be even older than listed. But whatever Ortiz's age, we know he's old for a fighter. There doesn't seem to be much sign of decline just yet, but it's certainly going to be a prevailing question as Ortiz goes on.
Another big talking point about Ortiz is his size and reach. Ortiz is average height for a heavyweight, but has a longer reach than Joshua, Wilder and Klitschko at 84 inches. On top of this, it is clear that Ortiz isn't just another fat guy in the heavyweight division, Ortiz is a musclebound beast. And it's no surprise, since he has tested positive for anabolic steroid Nandrolone. I'm not going to busy myself with a moral argument about Ortiz's abuse of PEDs, but it might be fair to say this is a fighter fueled by one part genetics and one part chemlab.
Ortiz is a very intelligent and skillful boxer, and he dances around the ring much like a typical Cuban can be expected to, but instead of using his feet to circle his opponent and dance out of danger, he uses them to corner his foes and violently dismantle them. Which leads me to what I view as his biggest strength, his agile footwork.
Some might argue that his power, or his nasty streak, is his biggest strength, and I certainly wouldn't scoff at the idea, but I feel that his mobility is his greatest asset. He moves with intelligence and with decent speed for a heavyweight. Whilst there are others in the division that may be able to match the speed of his feet, I am not sure that anyone can use their feet in such an educated manner. He cuts the ring off really nicely, as demonstrated when cornering, well, all of his opponents, and he is excellent at using his feet to step out of danger when his opponent fires back. It is his feet, most of all, that allow him to stay out of harm's way when his opponent dares to try and give it back.
Ortiz couples his footwork with a varied jab. This was most evident in his fight against Jennings. He switched up between a pawing, blinding jab that created space for his signature straight-left, to popping out a harder, faster jab that backed Jennings up on its own. This varied and well-placed jab made it very hard for Jennings to find any comfort and set any rhythm.
After the jab comes the power of Ortiz's punches -- he is a brutal puncher and he possesses a real mean streak. Some fighters seem to take real pleasure in dismantling an opponent, and Ortiz appears to be one of those guys. This is particularly evident by the no-nonsense approach he takes from the first bell in all of his fights. He wants to hurt his opponent, and he doesn't wait around to start doing it. Much of his power seems, to me, to come from the relaxed demeanour he carries when he is offloading. He never looks stiff and robotic when he puts power into his shots, and that results in quick, very heavy punches. Even so, whilst he has been dispatching his opponents with relative ease, I don't think he has the kind of one-punch knockout power that Deontay Wilder possesses. Instead, he seems to wear his opponent down with his unforgiving accuracy and quick counter-punching.
Ortiz's counter-punching is extremely well-timed and accurate. He does a great job of drawing his opponents' shots out to open them up for his counters. This is where his intelligence becomes most obvious. He baits his opponents into leading the dance, and quickly punishes them for doing so. This was evident in his four-round demolition of Monte Barrett. With his right-hand low and his jab constantly peppering Barrett, Barrett had to try and lunge in from distance, but Ortiz was always waiting for him with a much harder and much more accurate straight left.
Against opponents like Barrett, Ortiz's hand speed seems rapid. Even against Jennings, Ortiz seemed to have plenty of zip in his punches, but the heavyweight division can easily make a contender look rapid. I think it's fair to say Ortiz has decent, maybe even good hand speed, but it's also important to remember that this is all relative, and the real test will be in how his hands compare against some of the faster, more athletic fighters in the division.
Ortiz has strength in his mobility, power and boxing intelligence, and he has accentuated these through his counter-punching style. This was certainly on show when he finished the fight on Saturday against an admittedly overmatched Thompson. Ortiz likes beating guys up, and that's good, because he seems to be pretty good at it.
Despite the first half of this article being incredibly gushing, I don't think Ortiz is a package of perfection. Having delved back in to the earlier career of Luis Ortiz it's clear that he has at least corrected his biggest issue, which was his shockingly bad bleached blonde hair look.
However, there are real issues that I think become abundantly clear from watching more and more of his fights. Whether they will be exposed by any of his future opponents is another story.
For me, Ortiz's biggest problem is his questionable stamina, and the resulting economical approach that he employs. Against Jennings, he started fast, and nearly closed the show in the opening round. However, Jennings battled through, and forced Ortiz to fight at a faster pace. As shown in the Thompson fight, when left to fight his own fight, Ortiz much prefers to rely on a lower output, and a methodical approach to beating his opponents down. Jennings forced Ortiz out of his comfort zone, and as a result Ortiz was at times visibly gassed, even taking one or two rounds to get his breath back, before going back to destroying Jennings.
On one hand, Ortiz's stamina has not been a huge issue, considering that when Jennings pushed him, Ortiz coped fine with it before wiping him out. On the other hand, it is an inevitable downside to the incredible mass that Ortiz carries, as it puts a higher demand on his oxygen supply. Ortiz is economical yet violent, and assertive yet efficient. He is trying to hurt his opponents in everything he does, but the better the opposition, the more likely he is to have issues doing so, and then his stamina will come into play. That hasn't come up yet, but it definitely could do at some point.
When working offensively, Ortiz, like many Cuban fighters, likes to fight from the outside, and is extremely effective when doing so. However, it does appear that he is less comfortable when fighting on the inside.
This isn't uncommon for fighters with the amount of amateur experience that Ortiz has. That said, he showed improvements in this area when fighting Jennings, as he found space to rip Jennings with uppercuts, and eventually drop him on an uppercut. It is, however, clear that he prefers to keep the fight on the outside. Luckily for him, so does much of the heavyweight division!
Defensively, Ortiz seems to focus mostly on head movement and using his feet to step in and out of danger, and it's extremely effective, but his guard can be leaky when he does stand in range. He holds his right hand low when it's not in his opponent's face, and although he now holds his left hand high up against his cheek more consistently than he used to, he does leave his chin open from time to time. It seems to be less of an issue than in previous fights though, so it must be something that has been worked on in the gym.
There are also still question marks about Ortiz, as we've yet to see him really tested. The biggest question mark is how his chin will cope when he takes a clean shot by a big puncher. His biggest and best win is against Jennings, a light-puncher by heavyweight standards, and his lesser wins against an old Barrett, an old Thompson, and career cruiserweight Kayode don't exactly inspire confidence in his ability to take a shot. He doesn't seem visibly bothered by anything his opponents throw at him, but then the gulf in power between a Jennings and a Klitschko is pretty significant. Perhaps this question will be answered when he steps up in competition, but for me, the verdict is still pending.
However, in this era of heavyweights, it seems that his ability to stay out of trouble with quick feet and good head movement may count for more than possible weaknesses in his chin. Simply put, if Wilder hits him clean, is a good chin going to matter? It might help, but taking too many shots from any of the current list of top heavyweights will see your lights put out, no matter how good your chin. Ortiz can steer clear of punishment, and I think that counts for much more.
He's without doubt talented, and I'd bet he's dangerous against any other heavyweight right now, but I'm certainly not of the opinion that he's flawless. He's an efficient old man, but I believe that's because he needs to be.
So how good is Ortiz?
Ortiz has real power, a nasty streak and fantastic accuracy and timing in his counter-punching. He sets up his shots well with the jab, and his straight left is brutally effective. On top of this, he has started to incorporate more variety in his work, wearing his opponents down with body work and pelting them with uppercuts and right hooks.
If the best heavyweights in the world right now are Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Wladimir Klitschko, and Alexander Povetkin, then I think Luis Ortiz slots in nicely just behind them. I think he's top-5 right now, with plenty of potential to go higher.
Guys like Joseph Parker and Anthony Joshua might be the future of the division, but right now they are far too green for this well-schooled Cuban, and I'd see both walking onto a perfectly-timed bomb and getting knocked out. I fancy the same to happen to someone like David Haye.
For me, the real test of Ortiz's abilities are the guys that I've ranked above him. I think he stands a good chance of putting Wilder on his back. Wilder would have a punchers chance, but I think Ortiz is just too clever and well-schooled for him.
I think his toughest outs would be against Klitschko and Fury. Klitschko, depending on what he has left, could be a very tough fight for Ortiz, as his risk-averse strategy would make it hard for Ortiz to create openings for his offense. At this stage, I think the most likely to beat Ortiz is Fury, as he could match Ortiz on his feet, whilst peppering Ortiz and dissuading him from wading in. I think Fury would be a tough fight for Ortiz.
However, the fighter I want to see Ortiz in against is Alexander Povetkin. The post-Wlad Povetkin has looked like a monster, and he is tough as hell. He would come forward and try and take Ortiz out of his comfort zone. Povetkin has been put down before, so we know that he could be vulnerable to Ortiz's power, whilst Povetkin also packs a hell of a punch, so we'd soon find out if Ortiz can withstand an elite heavy. I think there's a possibility that Povetkin vs Ortiz turns in to a brilliant fight, and I'm not sure who I see winning.
I really believe Ortiz has the tools to tackle the rest of the increasingly interesting heavyweight division. Whilst there are one or two fighters I'd favour against him, he packs a punch that could change a fight in a second. There was very little intrigue in seeing an old Thompson given a working over by Ortiz, so I'm hoping we get to see him making a step up in 2016, but I've bought my ticket to ride The Cuban Cannonball and I'm riding this hype-train right to its final destination, wherever that might be.