Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz are set to renew hostilities on Saturday, when the heavyweight sluggers head back into the ring for their heavyweight title bout in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions FOX pay-per-view from Las Vegas.
What’s at stake?
Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KO) will be defending his WBC heavyweight title for a 10th time on Saturday, nearly five years after winning the belt from Bermane Stiverne. This will also be the first pay-per-view he’s headlined where he’s truly the name expected to carry the load, as Ortiz (31-1, 26 KO) just doesn’t have much of a fan base. That’ll be interesting to see how it turns out, but now’s as good a time to try as any, with boxing’s heavyweight division gaining some real buzz again over the last year, with Wilder a big part of that.
More than just the belt, it’s about standing in the division and future paydays. For Wilder, a win vaults him into the next big fight, ostensibly a rematch with Tyson Fury in Feb. 2020, but maybe not. If not, Andy Ruiz Jr could be a major money option, and if neither of them, something will come up.
For Ortiz, it’s probably the last best shot he’s going to have at age 40. If he wins, there’s a trilogy fight with Wilder. If he loses, that might be all but the end of the line for him.
How did Deontay Wilder get here?
Deontay Wilder has been an odd success story in boxing. He didn’t even take up the sport until he was already 20 years old, and to say he was a natural at boxing would probably be a bit of a stretch. Tall and gangly but athletic, Wilder did have one incredible natural resource: punching power. In 2007, he pulled big upsets on the US amateur scene, winning the National Golden Gloves and US Championships as a heavyweight (201 pounds), and he wound up competing in the 2008 Olympics, where he won a bronze medal, losing to the Italian standout Clemente Russo, who was a terrific amateur.
The pro game was more suited for Wilder, though, and that seemed clear as early as those Olympics in Beijing. That same year, at 23, he made his pro debut, and it was successful.
So were the next 30 or so fights. Let’s be clear here: Deontay Wilder took a lot of criticism for how slowly he was moved as a professional, but I said then and still say now that his team did the right thing. Wilder had won a bronze medal at the Olympics, yes, but he was still incredibly raw and learning his craft. His team knew that. He had to not only work on his skills, but he had to effectively put on some weight, too. He wasn’t going to boil down and fight at cruiserweight as a pro, and he came into the pro ranks weighing 207 pounds, which was just too thin for a professional heavyweight.
After running through no-names for a about five years, he went over to the UK in 2013 and stopped Audley Harrison in 70 seconds, which was predictable. After that he put away faded former titleholder Siarhei Liakhovich in 1:43, also predictable. He put away Malik Scott in 2014 in 1:36, and Jason Gavern followed, though Gavern survived four rounds before pulling out.
Finally, in Jan. 2015, Wilder took his shot at a world title against WBC titleholder Bermane Stiverne. It was supposed to be a big step up in competition, and in some ways that turned out to be the case. Stiverne became the first man to last any scheduled distance with Wilder, going a full 12 rounds, but Wilder dominated the fight, losing no more than two rounds.
Wilder and his team took their time, ignoring the naysayers and critics. Those naysayers and critics had a perfectly logical argument, but it often failed to take into account that throwing Wilder in against the wolves would’ve been significantly risking his ability to make big money when they felt he was genuinely ready. Obviously, it’s all turned out OK.
The title reign took some early heat, too, though, and again, the critics had their points. Wilder ran through Eric Molina and Johann Duhaupas before facing at least a little resistance from Artur Szpilka in Jan. 2016, before knocking Szpilka flat out in a highlight reel finish, which was his first headline bout at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. He also put pro boxing in his home state of Alabama on the map during this time — he beat Molina and Duhaupas there, and then Chris Arreola and Gerald Washington.
Wilder was meant to face Luis Ortiz in Nov. 2017, which was seen as another legitimate step up for the Alabaman slugger, but Ortiz failed a drug test and the bout was canceled, leaving Wilder to defend in a rematch against Stiverne, his mandatory challenger. A furious Wilder came out literally leaving his feet while throwing bombs at the challenger, and almost frighteningly wiped Stiverne out inside of one round this time.
The Ortiz fight got salvaged for Mar. 2018, and the two went to war, both landing bombs, both getting hurt, before Wilder stopped Ortiz in the 10th round of an all-out heavyweight brawl.
The big surprise of 2018 for Wilder was that he was then signed up to face Tyson Fury, a star fighter and former champion who had been out of action for two-and-a-half years before his return in June of last year. Fury, who had been working himself back into proper ring shape, wasn’t expected to take a fight of that magnitude, but the offer was right and Wilder — who had gone back-and-forth in the media with fellow titleholder Anthony Joshua and Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn — pulled an ace from his sleeve with the Fury bout.
Wilder-Fury wound up one of the most talked-about fights of 2018, as Wilder dropped Fury two times but couldn’t finish off the “Gypsy King.” Many observers felt that even with the knockdowns, Fury had done enough to win, but a split draw was the result.
After a rematch between those two was ordered, Fury threw a curveball and signed with Top Rank, opting instead to take his talents to ESPN. Wilder fought mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale in an emotionally-charged grudge match in May of this year, flattening his fellow former Olympian in 2:17.
Now we’re back to Wilder and Ortiz, with Wilder’s eyes supposedly on a Fury rematch for early 2020.
How did Luis Ortiz get here?
“King Kong” Ortiz came up in the Cuban amateur system, but he was never a big international standout for the great boxing country. After defecting, he turned pro at age 30 in 2010, and tried to move his career as quickly as he could. Instead of facing complete no-hopers early on, he took on journeyman gatekeepers like Zack Page, Kendrick Releford, and Charles Davis, and in 2011 he even fought a 45-year-old Bert Cooper.
But without a big promoter backing his play, Ortiz didn’t move as fast as he might have wanted. He did stay busy, though, fighting five times in 2010, nine times in 2011, and five times again in 2012. He slowed in 2013, fighting just twice, but by the end of the year he was on Golden Boy cards, a big boost for his career.
Then, just as he looked set to break through after a first round stoppage of Lateef Kayode in Sept. 2014, Ortiz’s win was overturned and changed to a no-contest following a failed drug test. After a nine-month suspension, he returned, and in Oct. 2015 he won an interim WBA title with a third round knockout of Matias Vidondo.
He made a defense of that belt against former title challenger Bryant Jennings just two months later, stopping Jennings in seven and looking like a rising danger in the division. He pummeled Tony Thompson down in Mar. 2016, then wound up signing a deal with Matchroom on a fight-by-fight basis before the end of that year, returning in November with a decision win in Monte Carlo over Malik Scott, which was followed by a seventh round stoppage of Dave Allen in Manchester, England.
Just as he was named mandatory challenger for the winner of the Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko fight, Ortiz signed with adviser Al Haymon. This put him in line to fight WBC titleholder Wilder in 2017, with mandatory challenger Bermane Stiverne accepting step-aside money.
But just a couple of weeks after Wilder-Ortiz was made official for Nov. 4, 2017, Ortiz failed a VADA drug test. He claimed the drugs he tested positive for were used to treat high blood pressure, but he’d failed to inform VADA that he was on the medications at the very least. Not long after, Ortiz was suspended for one year by the WBA, who removed him from their rankings (he had still been their mandatory challenger), though the WBC just fined Ortiz $25,000 and otherwise let him pass, and he returned to the ring on Dec. 8 with a quick win over Daniel Martz.
After that fight, which took place just a month after Wilder defeated Bermane Stiverne in place of Ortiz, Ortiz called out Wilder, who was in attendance. It was all set up nicely and their fight was rescheduled for Mar. 2018. Ortiz gave it a great effort, but Wilder got the stoppage in the 10th round.
Since losing to Wilder, Ortiz has mostly been low-key, fighting three times and beating Razvan Cojanu, Travis Kauffman, and Christian Hammer. The fights kept him busy enough and in line to wait on the next big opportunity. In the spring of this year, he was offered a fight with Anthony Joshua on short notice, but his team bungled that in a whole embarrassingly public ordeal. Still, here they are with the Wilder rematch, so it’s not all bad.
How do the fighters match up?
At 6’7” with an 83-inch reach, Wilder has some size advantages in a way, but he also has been weighing in between 212 and 225 pounds for the last few years. He had bulked up for a while in his career, then came in leaner for the first fight with Ortiz and leaner still for the fight with Fury. Last time out, though, Wilder was back up to 223¼, a little over 10 pounds more than he had been against Fury. He may have decided he’d gotten too lean, and that he needed some extra weight if these big boys started leaning on him at all.
Ortiz is a big, bulky, solid man at 6’4”, usually comes in around 240 pounds, has a 78-inch reach. He’s a southpaw so that gives him some advantages, but Wilder’s best punch is his right hand, and that’s the southpaw neutralizer.
Who’s the favorite?
Wilder is a comfortable favorite here, listed between -500 and -833 as of this writing, with Ortiz between +340 and +501. That said, it’s the heavyweight division, and both are good fighters who have significant power. Any punch can change or even end a fight at any time.
Who will win?
Check back on Friday at Noon ET for our staff picks!