by Cliff Rold
It’s an unofficial heavyweight final four.
The last time the heavyweight division had the game board set this perfectly, the unofficial part came into play as soon as the round of four was over. Lennox Lewis defeated Razor Ruddock in 1992 just weeks before Riddick Bowe won the heavyweight championship from Evander Holyfield.
Lewis earned a mandatory crack at Bowe, the man he defeated to win the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics.
We’re still waiting for Bowe-Lewis as professionals.
When 2018 is over, will we still be waiting to see the winner of this weekend’s clash between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz against the winner of Anthony Joshua-Joseph Parker?
Let’s hope the wait is over by at least the spring of 2019. The biggest money possible among the matches that could result from these four is Joshua-Wilder. The lowest is Ortiz-Parker. What would be the best fight?
We might find that answer this weekend. In Wilder-Ortiz, we have a clash of big punching big men with lots of question marks. Ortiz is as close to 40 as Wilder is to 30 and has never faced anyone as talented as Wilder in the paid ranks. Ortiz is the most complete professional Wilder has seen on the other side of the ring. Neither has yet truly proven how they handle big time power.
This could be over quickly.
It could turn into a wild, Foreman-Lyle style war.
One man may assert dominance and box their way to a steady decision win.
All are plausible and that gives this fight a mystery that is just, well, fun.
Isn’t going into a big fight better when it’s fun?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBC heavyweight (2015-Present, 6 defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 214 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Record: 39-0, 38 KO?
Rankings: #2 (TBRB, ESPN, Ring, Boxing Monthly), #3 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-0, 6 KO
Last Five Opponents: 131-9-3 (.926)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Sergey Lyakhovich KO1; Bermane Stiverne UD12, KO1
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 241 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Miami, Florida (Born in Cuba)
Record: 28-0, 24 KO (1 NC)
Rankings: #4 (ESPN, BoxRec), #5 (Ring, Boxing Monthly)
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0, 2 KO, 1 NC all in interim WBA title fights
Last Five Opponents: 122-15-3 (.882)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: None
The Case for Wilder: Wilder is younger, faster, taller, and for a single punch is probably more lethal. His raw ability has been an asset all along, allowing him to win a Bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics with only limited experience. Wilder has the sort of explosive power that can act as an eraser against any deficit. His fights with Artur Szpilka and Gerald Washington were close until he landed bombs and made the competitiveness moot. Wilder also can be underrated in terms of stamina. After spending much of his pre-title years getting home early, he’s gone to the eighth or farther five times. If Wilder can be first consistently, and use his legs to keep some distance, the heavy feet of Ortiz could make Wilder a hard target to find. Wilder can sometimes be awkward and appear wide open but his reflexes make it dangerous to stay in range of his power too long. At his lightest weight since 2009, he’s playing for speed to accentuate those reflexes. Coming off the most highlight worthy win of his career, a blazing knockout of Stiverne, Wilder’s confidence will surely be high.
The Case for Ortiz: In technical terms, Ortiz should be seen as superior to Wilder. More than 350 recorded amateur fights give him a foundation Wilder just doesn’t have. It shows in how relaxed Ortiz stays in the ring. He can be plodding but he is also hard to move. While he’s never faced anyone who held a heavyweight belt, wins over Bryant Jennings and Tony Thompson lend credibility to his pro career. His history with failed PED tests raises a cloud. Is Ortiz artificial and an older 38 under strict testing? We’ll know more about that Saturday. One can wonder if Ortiz has lost a step. Watching the Thompson fight two years ago, versus his last affair with Daniel Martz, Ortiz looked slower and sometimes sluggish. Against Malik Scott, despite multiple knockdowns, he couldn’t trap his man and put him away and David Allen took an awful lot of shots before the end. The southpaw maintains a keen ability to place punches, or use a seeming miss to set up the punch behind it, though sometimes he can overextend in pursuit. If he can catch Wilder between shots, or coming in, he has the power and accuracy to make Wilder pay. Ortiz often pushes the action and crowding Wilder, keeping him off balance, and landing compact shots would work to his benefit. If wilder elects to try to stay at range, Ortiz will have to find ways to walk him down and can’t be lured into following. His right jab to the body and hard left to the same can’t be neglected against the lean man in front of him. Ortiz doesn’t quite have the sort of one-shot power Wilder possesses so the question is, if he can hurt Wilder, can he put him away?
This is a tough fight to predict because so much remains to be seen about both men as professionals. No one knows for sure, clipped by serious power, whether these guys can really catch. Wilder’s chin has been considered suspect since being dropped by Harold Sconiers in 2010 but many a young fighter gets dropped early in their career. He’s taken what landed well enough since. Ortiz looked like he might have been shaken for a split second against Malik Scott but that might also have been balance. Almost everyone is taking the younger Wilder and that makes sense but it feels like a lot of people are sleeping on Ortiz. Ortiz had the chance to shake some rust off in his last fight and has more experience to draw on. He’s bigger, more relaxed, and well rounded. Combine that with enough power to hurt anyone and Ortiz has the skill set to take advantage of the wilder (pun intended) aspects of the titlist’s offense. Wilder will be dangerous all night but once Ortiz gets the timing of the faster man down, his shorter, straighter shots should make the difference. The pick, without a ton of conviction, is Ortiz in the upset.
Additional Weekend Picks
Jose Uzcategui Dec. Andre Dirrell
Sergey Kovalev KO Igor Mikhalkin
Dmitry Bivol Dec. Sullivan Barrera
Rold Picks 2018: 2-3
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]