Andy Ruiz nearly let another one slip away.

A trio of knockdowns was the difference on the scorecards, as the Imperial, California native managed a twelve-round, unanimous decision over Miami’s Luis Ortiz. Judges Zachary Young (114-111). Eddie Hernandez (114-111) and Fernando Villareal (113-112) scored in favor of Ruiz, who floored Ortiz twice in round two and again in round seven to prevail in their WBC heavyweight title semifinal eliminator Sunday evening at Arena in Los Angeles.

“It was hard,” Ruiz admitted to Fox Sports’ Heidi Androl of facing his first career southpaw. “Ortiz is a warrior who hits hard. I did a beautiful job boxing him around. I showed more class than I usually do just coming forward.”

The anticipated slugfest opened at a measured pace. Ruiz marginally outjabbed the well-schooled Ortiz, though unable to land much behind it. Ortiz enjoyed the best sequence of the round, walking through a Ruiz jab to connect on the tail end of a left-right-left combination.

Ruiz made his presence felt in a big way in round two. Ortiz was enjoying the momentum shift at the end of the opening round, only to get cracked by a right hand that caused him to melt to the canvas. Ortiz watched as referee Thomas Taylor counted to nine before rising to his feet, though on unsteady legs. Ruiz was able to send the Cuban southpaw to the canvas seconds later, though neither of his two-punch combo appeared to land clean.

Ortiz stormed back in a big way, twice rocking Ruiz with straight left hands later in the round. Ruiz managed to land another right hand to the chin of Ortiz, who immediately countered with a left.

Ruiz’ superior hand speed was evident in round three. Ortiz worked behind his jab but left himself open for a right hand to the midsection as Ruiz was able to beat the 43-year-old heavyweight to the punch anytime Ortiz sought to turn the tide.

The pair of sizable heavyweights were understandably cautious in round four. Ortiz boxed more from the outside, extending his right while trying to set up a straight left to the body. Ruiz was able to dodge the blow, offering enough lateral movement to force Ortiz to follow him around the ring and make him pay with his jab.

Ortiz enjoyed repeat success with his long, heavy left jab throughout round five. Ruiz was slower to the draw, showing signs of swelling under both eyes and his punch output having dramatically decreased. Ortiz took advantage of Ruiz’s sudden tentativeness, sticking to the basics in round six and ending the round with a clean right hand to the chin of Ruiz.

The passionate L.A. boxing crowd began to grow restless over the slowed pace. Ruiz provided cause for applause after flooring Ortiz for the third time on the night late in round seven. Ortiz initially laughed off a right hand by Ruiz, who came right back with the weapon which prompted the Cuban export to initiate a clinch. Ruiz found enough space to land a chopping right hand to Ortiz’s left temple to send him to the canvas.

Ortiz once again beat the count and managed a sneak left hand to end the round. He took the lead in round eight, pushing Ruiz around the ring with his jab. Ruiz all but took the round off, prompting head trainer Alfredo Osuna—reunited with Ruiz for the first time in more than six years—to urge his charge to cut off the ring and let his hands go when at close quarters.

Ruiz immediately responded, rocking Ortiz with a combination early in round nine. A brief scare was averted when Ruiz was sent to the canvas, though waved off as Ortiz pushed down Ruiz’s head after landing a right hand. The sequence did stall Ruiz’s progress, as Ortiz was able to retake the lead solely on the strength of his stiff jab which controlled most of round ten.

German Caicedo, Ortiz’s career-long head trainer, begged his fighter to do more than just throw his jab and look for a right hand. The last remaining disciple of the late and legendary Angelo Dundee sensed the fight was there for the taking, but Ortiz was unable to let his hands go to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Ortiz’s hesitance provided just enough of a window for Ruiz to enjoy one last power surge. A flush right hand by Ruiz caught Ortiz flush and caused his left eye to swell, seemingly sealing the deal for the former unified heavyweight titlist.

The twelfth and final round saw both fighters come out with a sense of urgency. Ortiz—who had only fought past the tenth round just once before—provided the spark that he badly needed a round ago, though managing to catch Ruiz’s attention with a clean left hand upstairs.

It was too little, too late for Ortiz who fell to 33-3 (28KOs) even after barely outlanding Ruiz 78-to-76 though at a much lower percentage (18.2 percent, compared to 26.5 percent for Ruiz) according to Compubox’s unofficial punch statistics. The loss snaps a two-fight win streak, including a dramatic sixth-round knockout of Charles Martin in a January 1 fight that saw him down twice before rallying to stop the former IBF heavyweight titlist.

The latest defeat likely dashes Ortiz’s hopes for a third title shot. His previous two defeats came at the championship level, suffering knockout losses to then-unbeaten WBC titlist Deontay Wilder in March 2018 and November 2019, the latter where he was ahead on the scorecards before a single right hand knocked him out in the seventh round.

The moment came at a time when Ruiz (35-2, 22KOs) was still riding high during his brief WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight title reign following a seventh-round knockout of Anthony Joshua. Ruiz made history, becoming the first fighter of Mexican descent to win the heavyweight crown. He lost to Joshua six months later, having fought just twice since then including Sunday’s win. That part is an area he wants to drastically change.

“I do not want to be waiting so long to fight,” said Ruiz, who was out of the ring since a 12-round win over Chris Arreola last May 1 in Carson, California. “I want to fight at least three, four times a year, man. I want to be champion again and bring that belt back to Mexico!”

Ruiz remains one spot behind Wilder in the WBC rankings after emerging victorious in Sunday’s semifinal eliminator. Wilder (42-2-1, 41KOs) looks to rebound from back-to-back knockout losses to WBC/lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury (32-0-1, 23KOs) as he faces Robert Helenius atop an October 15 Fox Sports PPV in Brooklyn, New York.

Once upon a time, a Ruiz-Wilder fight would have represented a clash for the undisputed championship. It would now serve as a best-of-the-rest showdown, if such a fight can be made.

“Deontay Wilder’s back. He’s always looking for greatness,” Wilder said after entering the ring to congratulate both Ruiz and Ortiz. “That’s what he loves to give the fans. If that’s what’s lined up next—I gotta handle business but after that, we can get it on.”

Such a fight would work well within Ruiz’s plan to remain more active and push toward another title shot.

“God willing, he wins (against) Robert in October, me and him are in the same organization,” Ruiz stated, pointing out their alliance with Premier Boxing Champions (PBC). “I want to thank Al Haymon. He can make this fight happen. Let’s do it.”  

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox