BOXING

Wilder Passes Toughest Test Yet, Sets Sights on Anthony Joshua

Deontay Wilder Overcomes Luis Ortiz With Thrilling TKO

For a few minutes, it seemed as of everything Deontay Wilder had been hoping for and working toward would disappear:

The big fight with Anthony Joshua.

The huge payday that would come along with it.

A shot at unifying all four world titles.

The possibility of being recognized as the best heavyweight in the world.

The ability to finally prove his doubters and detractors wrong, to show that he wasn’t yet another overhyped heavyweight, that he was more than the product of a powerful right hand combined with careful matchmaking.

All of that seemed unlikely after Luis Ortiz landed a counter right hook in the final minute of the seventh round. Soon came a left hand, then another right hook, and Wilder was reeling, trying to hold on to Ortiz, trying to hold on for the sake of this fight and for the sake of the future, both of which now seemed as uncertain as his footing.

More big shots landed. Wilder’s bell was being rung. And then the bell rang.

And then Wilder showed why he deserves the big fight, the big money, the big opportunity.

 

He showed the heart and guts to get through the onslaught. He showed an ability to absorb, then recover, then retaliate. He showed that while he still lacked textbook technique, he more than made up for it with heavy hands and the ability to land them at the right time.

That time came in the 10th round, with Wilder dropping Ortiz twice to score a thrilling technical knockout victory. It was a dramatic conclusion to a fight full of twists and turns.

Ortiz, a skilled Cuban boxer from a country known for producing them, used body positioning and subtle movements to trouble Wilder in the opening rounds. Wilder tried multiple tactics to set up opportunities to land — leaning to his right to look for a better angle at one point, leaving his left hand out as a distraction for the right at another — but he still wasn’t getting many opportunities anyway.

Through three rounds, Wilder had landed just 13 punches, only four of them power shots, according to CompuBox. Ortiz’s output wasn’t much different. He’d landed just 17 punches, eight of them power shots. Yet he seemed to be the one in control. He was the one who needed to be figured out. Wilder was the one who needed to do something to change the course of the fight.

Wilder is blessed with fight-changing power.

With about 20 seconds left in the fifth, Wilder landed a right hand to the head, then another. Ortiz’s legs betrayed him, and he dropped to the canvas. He rose quickly and made it out of the round. Ortiz’s corner warned him to be aware of Wilder “coming out crazy” to start the sixth, and they cautioned him to stay down longer were he to go down again, giving himself precious seconds to recover should he need them.

The sixth belonged to Wilder. The two fighters had a wild exchange near the end of the round. Wilder was able to dodge Ortiz’s shots that time. He’d have no such luck in the seventh. Ortiz timed his shot perfectly, eating a right hand from Wilder at the same time he landed his own.

But Ortiz was unable to finish Wilder in the seventh. Wilder got a minute to rest in his corner, plus a few additional seconds at the beginning of the eighth, when a ringside physician checked on him — a sign of the abundance of caution regularly seen in New York these days ever since heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov suffered brain damage in a fight and sued the state athletic commission for negligence.

Those seconds didn’t make a huge difference for Wilder’s ability to recover. Rather, it was Ortiz’s inability to hurt Wilder again in the eighth. He stalked, seeking the right time to land a big shot rather than forcing it, but in the process he allowed Wilder to get his bearings back.

It also helped that the ninth round was relatively slow until the end, when the action heated up after Wilder landed a right that pushed Ortiz back. They traded at the bell.

Wilder was ahead on the official scorecards going into the 10th; all three judges had him up by a single point. Many unofficial observers, however, had Ortiz in the lead. Any potential for controversy would soon be rendered moot.

Wilder doesn’t get much credit for his skills. He did something rather crafty about a minute in, however. He leaned his head to the right with his left arm down, inviting Ortiz to approach with jabs. Wilder backed away, making each shot miss by inches, dodged an Ortiz left hand and then countered with a quick, short right.

Ortiz was hurt. He tried to hold on, only to be thrown down. The referee rightly ruled that it wasn’t a knockdown. Soon he’d be floored legitimately. With Ortiz standing and trading, he remained dangerously in-range as Wilder swung away. Many of those shots came in the form of wild windmilling, an oft-derided technique that can serve a functional use — think of how Ricardo Mayorga’s unorthodox style troubled an otherwise superior boxer in Vernon Forrest. Ortiz dodged what he could, and then he got hit with a couple of straight right hands and a good left hook.

Ortiz dropped to his knees, spittle dangling from his mouth. He lumbered to his feet by the count of nine. There was more than a minute left.

Wilder wouldn’t let it last that long. He landed a pair of rights. Ortiz teetered to the ropes. He leaned forward, and Wilder saw an opening for a beautiful right uppercut. Ortiz dropped again, the second time in the round, the third time in the fight, and the referee rightly had seen enough.

It was by far the biggest win in Wilder’s career, a true test that needed to be passed after more than nine years as a pro. Ortiz was a legitimate contender, a much more worthy challenger to a world title than any of the fighters Wilder had faced over the years. (Not all of that was his fault. He’d been willing to travel to Russia to face mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin, only to have Povetkin test positive for a banned substance.)

Now he’s looking to move on from one tough challenge to an even greater opponent — Anthony Joshua, who holds two of the three other major world titles, and who is fighting Joseph Parker for the third later this month.

Joshua also had his own dramatic thriller, one that nearly paralleled Wilder’s, against Wladimir Klitschko last year. Joshua put Klitschko down in the fifth round but was dropped himself by a hard right hand in the sixth. He got up, recovered, battled back and put Klitschko down twice in the 11th round for a stoppage.

Joshua is 20-0 with 20 KOs. Like Wilder, has knocked out everyone he’s faced. (Wilder beat Bermane Stiverne by decision in their first fight and stopped him in their rematch.)

If Joshua gets by Parker, then there will be even greater demand for he and Wilder to meet. And there will be millions upon millions of reasons for them to do so.

Beyond the huge payday, the winner would leave with the four world titles, as well as one other very important title — that of the best heavyweight in the world.

Sergey Kovalev Scores Second Straight Win, Stops Igor Mikhalkin

Sergey Kovalev dominated a willing but otherwise clearly overmatched Igor Mikhalkin on Saturday night, battering him en route to a seventh-round technical knockout.

Kovalev landed more than four times as many punches as Mikhalkin, scoring with 186 shots as compared to Mikhalkin’s 43, according to CompuBox. It was one-sided enough, and then the state of Mikhalkin’s face led the referee and ringside physician to stop the fight.

Kovalev is now 32-2-1 with 28 KOs. This was his second straight victory after suffering back-to-back losses to Andre Ward — one a competitive and hotly debated decision defeat, the other a stoppage. Kovalev bounced back last year with a dominant second-round TKO of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, winning a world title that was left vacant when Ward retired.

He should be done with the rebuilding process now. HBO has aired two mismatches but is otherwise clearly setting up an important collision with Dmitry Bivol, the highly regarded contender who defeated Sullivan Barrera by 12th-round technical knockout on the undercard.

David Greisman
About the Author:

David Greisman. David Greisman is an award-winning boxing writer based out of Washington, D.C., who has covered the sport since 2004. He is the senior staff writer and "Fighting Words" columnist for BoxingScene.com and a reporter for The Ring magazine. Greisman is the author of the book "Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing." Follow on Twitter @fightingwords2

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