Heavyweight world titlist Deontay Wilder and Luis "King Kong" Ortiz put on one of the best fights of 2018, a dramatic, hard-hitting affair with ebbs and flows and a violent conclusion.
Fighting at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) knocked down the Cuban southpaw Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs) with a right hand in the fifth round, then survived heavy damage in the seventh round when Ortiz nearly knocked him out. Wilder rallied and scored a massive 10th-round knockout on a crushing right uppercut.
Ortiz has won three fights in a row since (KO victories over Razvan Cojanu and Travis Kauffman, and a decision win over Christian Hammer) and was promised a rematch by their mutual adviser, Al Haymon. They will meet again on Nov. 23 (Fox PPV) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with much at stake.
Dan Rafael and Steve Kim answer some key questions about the fight:
What's at stake for Wilder? What's next if he wins?
Rafael: Besides aiming to move into double-digit title defenses with a successful No. 10, Wilder has two more things at stake. One is to show that his knockout of Ortiz in their first fight in March 2018 was no fluke. Wilder did have some problems in that fight when he was nearly knocked out before storming back.
The other is to clear the final hurdle for the rematch between Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury. Their deal included each man taking two interim bouts. Fury defeated Tom Schwarz in June and Otto Wallin earlier this month. Wilder drilled Dominic Breazeale in May and now only has to get past Ortiz to make the mega rematch, penciled in for Feb. 22, a reality.
Kim: It's very simple: Not only does he successfully defend his WBC belt, but he moves on to a highly anticipated rematch with Fury in the first quarter of 2020. What's interesting is that neither Wilder nor Fury elected to face a fighter with a style that could help them prepare for each other in the lead-up to their second go-around.
What's at stake for Ortiz? What could be next if he wins?
Rafael: Ortiz was maybe a second or two away from stopping Wilder in their first bout. Revenge is at stake for Ortiz, as well as a second chance to win a heavyweight world title and become the first Cuban to do so. Those chances are fading quickly given that Ortiz is 40 and probably near the end of his career. A win would also go a long way in helping him move past his multiple failed drug tests. If Ortiz does pull the upset, undoubtedly Wilder has a rematch clause in the contract, which probably would mean a rubber match. If not, Ortiz would be well-positioned for several notable opponents, including Andy Ruiz Jr. and Adam Kownacki, given his alignment with the heavyweight-rich Premier Boxing Champions stable.
How will Wilder approach the rematch?
Kim: Based on the unexpectedly difficult time Fury had against the previously unheralded Otto Wallin, and given Ortiz's track record and the nature of their first matchup, I expect a fully focused Wilder to show up on Nov. 23. It will be interesting to see how aggressively Wilder chooses to fight this bout with Ortiz, with the Fury rematch on the line. Many times, it's the fights before the big ones that are the toughest to navigate.
Why is Wilder taking the risk of this fight?
Rafael: Wilder says he believes that after scoring two knockdowns in their first fight that he has Ortiz's number. Ortiz is now two years older and without a significant win since. Yes, there's a risk any time a fighter gets into the ring, especially with such a heavy hitter as Ortiz, but Wilder is fearless and he will be well compensated with an eight-figure guarantee.
Kim: If you look at this rationally, given that the Fury rematch is signed, why would Wilder face a guy that nearly beat him last year? It really doesn't make any sense. This is truly a game of risk. Again, go back to Fury-Wallin. Though that bout ended up being much more dramatic than expected, Wallin was chosen for a certain reason -- it was believed that he was a relatively safe choice for Fury as he looked ahead to Wilder. In Ortiz, Wilder is facing a consensus top-10 heavyweight (No. 6 in ESPN's rankings) who understands that this might be his last title opportunity. Ortiz will come in as motivated as he has ever been.
What does Ortiz need to do differently in the rematch?
Rafael: He would be well served to start quickly. The first fight was like watching paint dry for the first four rounds before it really heated up. Wilder is capable of a first-round knockout, and has scored many, but the longer it goes, the worse it probably will be for Ortiz, so he should look to start fast and go for a KO. Ortiz needs to keep his hands up and avoid Wilder's massively destructive right hand.
Kim: Should he have Wilder in the same position as he did in the seventh round of their first encounter at the Barclays Center, Ortiz can't let him off the hook again. For a full minute or so, as Wilder was dazed and disoriented from a series of punches from Ortiz, it looked like the heavyweight title was his. But he was never able to land that one last definitive blow, or shift gears to push Wilder over the edge. If that opportunity arises in the rematch, Ortiz has to empty the bucket. With that said, perhaps being in better cardiovascular shape, in order to be able to throw a higher volume of punches for a longer period of time, could be the focus in his training camp.
Who wins and why?
Rafael: I think Wilder wins and does so in much easier fashion than he did in the first fight. Wilder knows Ortiz is very vulnerable given the first fight. He doesn't want to go too deep and take big risks with the Fury rematch at stake. Wilder has predicted a first-round knockout this time and that would not at all shock me.
Kim: Ortiz has started to really look his age since the first fight against Wilder. It's impossible to outrun Father Time. Ortiz was never a particularly fast or quick fighter to begin with, but he is a heavy-handed bruiser. While his strength and power are still evident, you wonder if he has the reflexes to react to the fast, striking punches of Wilder. Wilder certainly had his difficulties with Fury last December, but that was against a much different style than Ortiz has. For whatever flaws Wilder might have technically, he possesses the most devastating punch in the sport with his right hand. He will eventually find a way to land it a some point, and stop Ortiz in the middle rounds.