Nearly three months shy of his 43rd birthday, Luis Ortiz breathes new life into his career.

The former two-time heavyweight title challenger rallied from two knockdowns to score two of his own in a sixth-round stoppage of former IBF heavyweight champion Charles Martin in their semi-final title eliminator. Ortiz was down in rounds one and four, coming back to twice floor Martin en route a dramatic knockout win at 1:37 of round six in their Fox Sports Pay-Per-View main event Saturday evening from Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

“I knew this was going to be fireworks from the start. He dropped me twice; I finished him,” Ortiz told Fox Sports’ Ray Flores after the dramatic win.

Both fighters hit the deck in an otherwise slow-paced opening round, though with only one official knockdown call. Ortiz was the busier of the two, mainly because Martin was simply not throwing punches. The St. Louis-bred southpaw—who now lives and trains in Carson, California—stumbled to the canvas after Ortiz stepped on his lead foot, correctly waved off by referee Frank Santore Jr. as a slip.

Martin would come through with a clean knockdown, slipping through a jab to set up an overhand left. Ortiz caught the shot on the temple before falling to the canvas, wearing a smirk as he was issued a mandatory eight count.

Ortiz resumed control in round two. Martin offered side to side movement but Ortiz was able to time the 6’5” heavyweight southpaw with two non-consecutive straight left hands. Martin managed to remain on his feet, though a counter left caused his legs to briefly buckle.

Both boxers were down to singular shots in a fight where both threatened to end in knockout. Martin added to his early lead with a second knockdown, this one coming in the closing seconds of round four. Ortiz was coming forward looking to land his straight left, leaving just enough space in his guard for Martin to connect with a stiff jab to floor the Cuban southpaw.

“I was very focused for this fight. I was never worried,” insisted Ortiz. “My head trainer, German Caicedo just reminded me to work the jab and will create the openings I needed.

Ortiz tried to make up for the two-point frame with an aggressive start to round five. The left hand was working for the veteran contender, though Martin quickly adjusted to land a fight-best 20 punches. Ortiz was caught by a heavy left hand late in the round but managed to shake off the blow.

The final momentum shift came in a scary moment early in round six. Martin was feeling good about his chances, only to get caught by a left hand to the temple. Martin was out on his feet and unaware of his surroundings, a scary place to be as Ortiz moved in to close the show. Martin fell into the ropes and on the canvas, though catching a break in a weird way when his left hand was tangled in the top two ropes which forced a brief timeout.

It wasn’t enough to get Martin back in the fight at that point. Ortiz whacked away at Martin’s body before bringing the attack upstairs, an accumulation of shots producing the fourth and final knockdown of the bout. Martin barely made it to his feet, only for referee Frank Santore Jr. to stop the contest.

Ortiz’s late surge in round six provided the final edge in total punches landed, connecting on 60-of-184 (32.6%) compared to 46-of-196 (23.5%) according to final Compubox statistics. Ortiz enjoyed a statistical edge in power shots, landing 41-of-72 (56.9%) compared to 37-of-91 for Martin (40.7%), though again with the fateful sixth round providing Ortiz with the final edge—and of course the knockout victory he never doubted would occur.

“My corner reminded me to remain calm, just stick to my strengths and things would go my way,” claimed Ortiz.

Martin snaps a three-fight win streak in falling to 28-3-1 (25KOs), ruining his hopes of becoming a two-time heavyweight titlist. The veteran puncher briefly held the IBF belt in 2016 before suffering a second-round knockout to then-unbeaten Anthony Joshua less than three months later. He had his shot at walking down that path, only to let his lead slip away in the worst way.

Ortiz trailed on all three scorecards—48-45, 48-45 and 47-46— at the time of the stoppage. He improves to 33-2 (28KOs), picking up his most significant win in years—if not of his entire career.

It came right on time as he now positions himself for one more shot at becoming the first Cuban to hold a piece of the heavyweight title. The lone two losses on the record of Ortiz came in knockout defeats to then-unbeaten WBC titlist Deontay Wilder, competitive in their March 2018 meeting and well ahead on the scorecards at the time of a stunning one-punch, seventh-round knockout loss in their November 2019 rematch.

Ortiz is now the mandatory challenger to the IBF title held by Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13KOs), who also owns the WBA “Super”/WBO/IBO belts that were acquired in a twelve-round win over Joshua last September. A rematch is being eyed for some time in the first half of 2022, while lineal/WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury (31-0-1, 22KOs) is expected to either next defend versus Dillian Whyte or enter a non-title fight.

Nevertheless, Ortiz is in a better position to make history for Cuba than has been the case over the past couple of years. The win on Saturday came in a semi-final eliminator for the number-two spot in the IBF rankings. Awaiting his turn in line is Filip Hrgrovic, the 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist also based out of Miami and who has endured an equally frustrating time trying to land a significant fight—even in IBF-ordered eliminators.

While he refused to call out Hrgovic or any other heavyweight by name, Ortiz has no desire to pursue anything but the toughest challenges out there for his next ring adventure.

“My message is for all of the heavyweights out there,” stated Ortiz. If you want to fight for the title, you have to go through me.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox