by B.A. Cass
“I’m not like those other guys [Wilder’s] fought,” Luiz Ortiz said recently. “I’m a real fighter—tough and with a lot of experience. I’ve been fighting since I was ten years old.”
As a member of the Cuban National Team, Ortiz stacked up 343 amateur wins and only had 19 losses. In 2009, he fled Cuba for Mexico and soon found his way to America where he made his professional debut at age 30. Although two of his fights were ruled no contest, Ortiz has never lost a professional fight. He has KO’d 24 out of the 28 fighters he has faced.
And yet, when he enters the ring at Barclays Center on Saturday to face Deontay Wilder, Ortiz will be the underdog. This is a new situation for Ortiz. In all his previous bouts, he has been the favorite to win. Although not particularly fast on his feet, Ortiz is a better technical boxer than Wilder, who throws windmill punches that leave him wide open, a vulnerability that none of Wilder’s opponents have been able to exploit. Perhaps that’s because Wilder fights with the intensity of a man running into a burning house to save his family from death.
Of course, we also must acknowledge that Wilder has not faced top talent. As Ortiz’s trainer, German Caicedo, told me in September, “Deontay Wilder’s got 35 nobodies.”
Ortiz and Wilder were set to fight this past November. However, Ortiz failed to inform VADA of his prescription blood pressure medicine, medicine that is banned by VADA due to its potential use as a flushing agent for PEDs. “The dose they found in my system was too low to mask anything at all,” Ortiz said. “If I would have known this prescription drug was not allowed, I would have told my trainer and my doctor.”
The WBC later cleared Ortiz. However, he was replaced in November by Bermane Stiverne, who had had previously lost to Wilder and is the only opponent of Wilder’s to have gone the distance with him. Their rematch was a colossal joke: Wilder scored a dramatic first-round KO that was reminiscent of Ali’s performance against Liston in their rematch. As one astute observer mentioned to me, the fight couldn’t have gone better for Wilder if it his promotional team had planned it.
Wilder won’t have such an easy time with Ortiz. “He’s talking too much. He’s going to have to back that up in the ring,” Ortiz said. “He says he’s going to kill ‘King Kong.’ He’s going to knock me out. I want to watch him try.”
“He doesn’t intimidate me,” Ortiz continued. “His trash talk makes me laugh. It’s just a lot of noise. I’m hungry. I’m doing this for my family. He better take me seriously because he’s going to find himself on the canvas before he knows it. I’m going to show the world who ‘King Kong’ is.”
Confident as he may be, “King Kong” is trying not to make too much of the fight. “The key is always to avoid thinking that it’s win or die because that can put you off center.”
Ortiz, who turns 39 next month, does not have age on his side. However, he may have something else working in his favor: his family.
“They go to every fight,” Ortiz said. “That was my promise to them when I had to leave them behind in Cuba to come to the United States. They will come with me wherever I go. If I gas out, I look at them, and they keep me going.”
If Ortiz defeats Wilder, his victory will upset the plans of Lou DiBella and Eddie Hearn, who stand to make a great deal of money from the much-anticipated matchup of Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua.
If he does win, Ortiz will finally be able to call himself Heavyweight Champion of the World.
But even if his does win, his reign as champ may be short-lived. As Caicedo said to me August, “He’s not going to be the celebrated champion. He’s going to be the champion who’s holding the belt for whoever else promoters want to make a champion. Even if he becomes world champion, they’re not giving him the tune-up bouts. When and if he beats one of these world champions, his next fight is going to with someone that they want to crown a champion. Because they don’t see the money behind a Cuban. There’s no fan base.”
Follow B.A. Cass on Twitter @WiththePunch