LAS VEGAS – Lennox Lewis lived 18 years ago in the position Luis Ortiz occupies this week in “The Fight Capital of the World.”
A rejuvenated Lewis was preparing in November 2001 to avenge his knockout loss to Hasim Rahman, who ruined Lewis’ second WBC heavyweight championship reign the previous April in South Africa. The significant difference, according to Lewis, was that he knew Rahman made him pay for a defensive mistake by blasting Lewis with a right that knocked him out in the fifth round that stunning night in Brakpan.
Lewis believes the way Deontay Wilder knocked out Ortiz in the 10th round of their March 2018 fight for Wilder’s WBC title was much more damaging to Ortiz mentally and physically. Wilder dropped Ortiz once in the fifth round and twice in the 10th round before referee David Fields stopped their scheduled 12-rounder at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The 54-year-old Lewis will call their 12-round rematch for FOX Sports, which will distribute it as the main event of a four-fight, pay-per-view telecast from MGM Grand Garden Arena. He broke down the matchup Thursday night for a small group of reporters at MGM Grand, a short trip down “The Strip” from where Lewis dominated Rahman en route to a fourth-round knockout in their immediate rematch at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“Who’s winning the fight?,” Lewis said of the Wilder-Ortiz rematch. “This time I have to go for the puncher, because I know the boxer gets concussed easy.”
Lewis noticed while watching footage from Ortiz’s last fight that the 40-year-old Cuban southpaw didn’t react well to a punch huge underdog Christian Hammer landed during the second round. Ortiz out-boxed Hammer to win a 10-round unanimous decision March 2 at Barclays Center.
One of the most accomplished fighters in heavyweight history still can’t envision Ortiz taking comparable flush punches from the hard-hitting Wilder.
“If you’re easily concussed, then you’re easily concussed,” said Lewis, who’ll work alongside blow-by-blow announcer Brian Kenny and fellow analyst Joe Goossen on Saturday night. “And we did see it in the second round against Christian Hammer. They both caught each other, and it wasn’t that hard of a punch. But if affected Ortiz. That showed me that getting hit around the head, he gets concussed easy. And it’s hard to really build up anything against that. I mean, what are you supposed to do? Wear headgear? I guess the best thing is not to take the punch straight on, and moving with the punch is the best thing.”
Lewis was 37 when he battled Vitali Klitschko in what emerged as the final fight of Lewis’ long, illustrious career in June 2003. Klitschko was ahead by the same score, 58-56, on all three cards when Lewis was declared a technical-knockout winner because Klitschko’s gruesome gash around his left eye prevented him from continuing after the sixth round.
Having retired while in his late 30s, Lewis can’t imagine how Ortiz continues thriving at the elite level at such an advanced age.
“What he’s doing is very difficult for his age,” Lewis said. “And the first fight, I seen his age a little bit. … Look at the seventh round – he had Deontay hurt, but wasn’t able to take him out. Deontay got him hurt, took him out. So, as you get older, punches to the head, you can’t really deal with them as well as when you’re younger. So, he definitely has to watch out for Deontay’s right hand and definitely has to keep his chin down. But he’s going in there with the belief that, ‘Oh, [I] wasn’t a hundred percent in the first fight.’ So, in the second fight it would be a lot better because he’s worked, he’s sacrificed and he knows what to do.”
Ortiz insists he is in better condition for their rematch than he was for their first fight. More stamina might’ve helped him finish off Wilder within those final 40 seconds of the seventh round, once Ortiz buzzed Wilder with a right hook and then a left hand that left Wilder looking to hold him.
While Wilder was still vulnerable in the eighth and ninth rounds, Ortiz appeared tired from attempting to stop Wilder toward the end of the seventh. Lewis was impressed by the way Wilder survived those troublesome moments in the seventh round and how he came back to stop Ortiz.
“Even to survive that seventh round, it shows that he’s a champion,” Lewis said. “It shows that he’s a warrior. You know what I mean? He’s there to win it. He exudes confidence when he goes out there. That’s what he needs to do. As far as Ortiz, Ortiz lost. He has to psych himself up again and say, ‘Boy, I can’t [let] this guy knock me out again. I was a better boxer. I have to capitalize on my boxing and go out there and box this guy. He can’t box as well as I can. You know, I had him hurt. I can do it again.’ So, that’s what brought Ortiz into the fight, feeling that he can do it, feeling more confident than the last fight. He’s got another opportunity. When you have two opportunities at it, you better make ‘em count.”
Handicappers have installed Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs), of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as a 6-1 favorite to beat Miami’s Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs, 2 NC), who’s 3-0 since Wilder stopped him. Lewis expects Wilder to knock out Ortiz again, only earlier this time.
“It will be a repeat of the first fight because they both know each other,” said Lewis, who avenged both of his TKO losses to Rahman and Oliver McCall. “They know each other’s movements and I believe that Deontay’s gonna get it moving a lot quicker, because it’s not like he hasn’t boxed this guy before. So, he knows what to expect, and he knows he can take him out with one punch. The idea for him is to not really go right-hand crazy, get that jab moving, show him different looks, get that hook going, get that uppercut going. That right hand should be the last one on his mind. You can’t be going out there throwing that left-right. Obviously, Ortiz is looking for that because that’s Deontay’s best punch. So, he’s gotta disguise the run-up to it.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.