Deontay Wilder is Not Great

By: B.A. Cass

Let’s put aside all talk that Luis Ortiz threw the fight. Let’s put aside all conspiracy theories. Let’s say what needs to be said, what can be said, what we actually know: Deontay Wilder defeated Ortiz by TKO.

The moment most fight fans will remember, the moment that will be played over and over again by PBC and DiBella, the moment that will help enshrine Deontay Wilder as the “best American heavyweight champion of his generation” came late in the fight, when there was less than a minute and a half to go in the 10th round. That is when a beleaguered Wilder surmounted his fatigue, launching a swirling attack that floored his challenger. Standing over a crumpled and defeated Ortiz, the referee waved the fight off.

We should not forget (but of course most people will) that the KO came only after Wilder, frustrated at his inabilities as a boxer, wrestled with Ortiz and then flung him on to the canvas against the ropes. The referee should have docked Wilder a point for this blatant lack of sportsmanship. After getting up, Ortiz, who seemed to be working with newly unstable legs on Saturday night, could not recover. Even before this moment, Ortiz had begun to tire; this was clear from his punch output in the last two rounds.

Wilder believes that he would have easily beaten Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali in their primes. His handlers seem content to let him delude himself, and they want boxing fans to delude themselves too. They want us to believe that Wilder is the best heavyweight on the planet, superior to any current fighter in his weight class and all who have come before him. It is one thing to talk about whether Wilder will defeat Anthony Joshua in a matchup that now seems inevitable. However, believing that Wilder would have beaten Mohammed Ali on Mike Tyson or any other great heavyweight champion for that matter, save Floyd Patterson, is just ludicrous.

The outcome of Saturday night’s fight would have almost certainly been different had Wilder been in the ring with a prime Ortiz. There were numerous occasions when Ortiz failed to follow up on combinations, failed to take advantage of Wilder’s vulnerability. Ortiz just wasn’t quick enough. Certainly, Tyson would not have been so cautious or slow. Tyson would have fought his way to the inside, gotten right in there and leveled Wilder. Mohammed Ali would have danced around Wilder, clowning at every turn and then popping him in the face with quick, snapping jabs.

Perhaps we should have some empathy for Wilder. After all, this is a man who went into the fight confident that he would dominate Ortiz, confident he would knock him out in the 3rd round. What happened is that an abnormally cautious Ortiz, who is older than Wilder by at least six years and who did not look in particularly good shape, exposed Wilder for what he is: a sloppy, amateurish fighter.

Wilder does have power. His right hook is dangerous and, when uses it correctly, he has a clean, powerful jab. However, his power isn’t great enough to defeat a true champion in his prime. How can I say this? Because his power didn’t make a difference in the fight until Ortiz was spent.

If Wilder’s power was so great, then he should have been able to dispense with Ortiz early in the fight. But Wilder couldn’t because he isn’t a good boxer. He had to wait until Ortiz was exhausted, until he was gassed.

Let me recap for all those Wilder fans out there who want to talk about how he is so great: Wilder’s strategy, if you can call a strategy at all, was to allow an older and less in shape Ortiz to school him seven out of the ten rounds and then, once Ortiz was spent, use all he had left of his power, hoping for a knockout. Not really a strategy, is it? It’s something more akin to a Hail Mary pass.

But of course, Wilder didn’t need any prayers. He had an insurance policy, which included a ring doctor who under the pretense of medical concern gave him an extra ten seconds of recovery. It appears the insurance policy also included the judges.

Of course, I did not have their ringside vantage point of the judges. I watched the fight on TV, and it was clear that Ortiz was winning before he was ultimately stopped. And unless all three judges were sitting behind people as large as Andre the Giant, they should have seen that too. There are only two ways to interpret their scores. Either the judges weren’t on the level—which isn’t hard to believe if you know anything about the history of boxing—or they were swayed by the massive outpouring of support for Wilder. Wilder’s win should not be disputed, but the idea that he could be up on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage is disconcerting. Yes, the fight was close, but just because a fight is close doesn’t mean we should look past poor judging. Actually, it is when fights are close that we especially need competent judging. That’s when the scores matter.

It was embarrassing to watch Wilder fight—not quite as embarrassing as watching Chris Eubank Junior fight but close. Wilder does not have the technical ability to fight great champions in their prime. And, based on what I saw the Saturday night, it would be negligent to put him in the ring to face someone as strong and technically assured as Anthony Joshua. His handlers should be concerned for his safety.

Follow B.A. Cass on Twitter @WithThePunch

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