Luis Ortiz thinks quite highly of Deontay Wilder.
In fact, during a recent interview with Boxing Scene, he interchangeably labeled the WBC champion as both the best heavyweight in the world and the best heavyweight of the era.
Nevertheless, he expects that impression to change this weekend.
The 40-year-old Cuban will get a second chance to land an aura-shifting shot on Saturday night in Las Vegas, when he meets the unbeaten “Bronze Bomber” in a scheduled 12-rounder atop a Fox Sports pay-per-view show from the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The two big men met in memorable fashion 20 months ago in Brooklyn, where Ortiz got within perhaps a flurry of dethroning Wilder before the incumbent rallied for a dramatic 10th-round TKO win.
This time, he insists, the job will get done – thanks to the boost gained by putting Wilder in that position, and the angst that’s since served as fuel for preparation.
“I know I have what it takes to beat him,” he said. “I was a few punches away from ending the fight, so I’m confident in that regard. On the other hand, it’s frustrating because I know I could have done some things different going into the fight that would have given me a better chance to finish him off.
“My desire and hunger to prove I’m the better fighter is playing a big role in me mentally. He’s the best heavyweight in the world and I had him hurt. I know the damage I can do and I plan on doing it again.”
Ortiz, who’d won 28 straight before the first fight, has rebounded from the defeat with morale-boosting victories over middling opposition – including KOs of Razvan Cojanu and Travis Kauffman, alongside a near-shutout decision over 10 rounds against Christian Hammer, then the 12th-best heavyweight according to the Independent World Boxing Rankings.
He’s not beaten a top-10 foe since stopping former title challenger Bryant Jennings back in 2015, and he’ll enter the rematch ranked eighth in the world to Wilder’s second. Four-belt champ Andy Ruiz is slotted first, followed in the top five by Wilder, Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk.
But not according to Ortiz, who’d turned down the short-notice date with Joshua before Ruiz stepped in and pulled off 2019’s biggest upset on June 1 in New York.
Those two will fight again on Dec. 7 in Saudi Arabia, but the Cuban has no regrets.
“I wanted to knock off the best heavyweight in the world, who is Wilder. That’s why I took the fight,” he said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Wilder is the best heavyweight of this era. Until someone beats him, he’s the best. Joshua got exposed, and Ruiz has problems with movement. Usyk is untested.
“Wilder is a great all-around fighter. He’s got speed, power and his length is very difficult to handle. In addition, he’s got tremendous heart. There is no quit in him. No one has beat him. But I know I can hurt him and that’s all I need to know.”
Ortiz stands 6-foot-4 to Wilder’s 6-foot-7 and has a five-inch disadvantage in reach – 83 inches to 78 – but said his training camp was stellar and will help him reverse the initial result. Indeed, pictures from the challenger’s team show a leaner, more muscular frame this time around, as opposed to the fleshy 241¼ pounds at which he weighed for the first fight.
That weight was just a quarter-pound off the career-high of 241½ for a defeat of Tony Thompson in 2016. Meanwhile, he’s been as light as 217 for a first-round stoppage of Jose Santos Peralta.
“We worked a lot smarter,” Ortiz said. “I don’t want to give up too much information, but it was the best camp of my career. I want to become the first Cuban heavyweight champion. In addition, I want to avenge my only loss as a professional, so it’s hard to say which is driving me more.
“All I know is I’m hungry. God willing, I come out victorious, I’d be willing to fight any and all other champions. Boxing is all about making the biggest fights and that’s what I want, to fight the very best.”
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
WBA super middleweight title – Liverpool, United Kingdom
Callum Smith (Champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. John Ryder (No. 1 WBA/No. 7 IWBR)
Smith (26-0, 19 KO): Second title defense; Six KO/TKO wins in 10 scheduled 12-round fights
Ryder (28-4, 16 KO): First title fight; Four fight win streak, all by KO/TKO (17 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: This one is all about levels. Ryder is a good commodity on the Commonwealth level, but Smith is a legitimate world-class operator. He’ll stay in the mix for bigger ones. Smith in 7 (95/5)
Vacant WBA super featherweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Miguel Flores (No. 2 WBA/No. 64 IWBR) vs. Leo Santa Cruz (Unranked WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Flores (24-2, 12 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled beyond 10 rounds
Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KO): Seventeenth title fight (15-1); Held titles at 118, 122 and 126 pounds
Fitzbitz says: Let’s face it, this one isn’t to be taken too seriously. Flores was a middling feather with losses to the likes of Dat Nguyen and Chris Avalos. He won’t beat Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz in 9 (99/1)
WBA featherweight title – Indio, California
Can Xu (Champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Manny Robles III (No. 3 WBA/No. 58 IWBR)
Xu (17-2, 3 KO): Second title defense; Fifth fight outside of China (4-0, 0 KO)
Robles (18-0, 8 KO): First title fight; One KO, two split decisions in three scheduled 10-rounders
Fitzbitz says: I’m really close to pulling the trigger on Robles to pull off the title-winning upset here, but I’m scared off by the 52-place rankings gap between them. That matters. Xu by decision (51/49)
WBC heavyweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Deontay Wilder (Champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Luis Ortiz (No. 3 WBC/No. 8 IWBR)
Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KO): Tenth title defense; Defeated Ortiz by stoppage (TKO 10) in March 2018
Ortiz (31-1, 26 KO): Second title fight; Two KOs, one decision in three fights since lone loss
Fitzbitz says: It’s not often that I’d look at a guy who got stopped in a fight, then go ahead and pick him in a rematch. It’s more common at heavyweight, and I think it happens here. Ortiz in 8 (60/40)
This week’s trash title-fight schedule:
WBA “world” super featherweight title – Indio, California
Andrew Cancio (“world” champion/No. XX IWBR) vs. Rene Alvarado (No. 1 WBA/No. XX IWBR)
Why it’s trash: Same old story. This one is needless. Cancio was a second-tier champ behind Gervonta Davis and maintains the same status now that Santa Cruz has entered the division’s ranks.
WBA “world” super bantamweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Brandon Figueroa (“world” champion/No. XX IWBR) vs. Julio Ceja (No. 8 WBA/No. XX IWBR)
Why it’s trash: There’s a chance he’s not even the best fighter at 122 pounds, but Daniel Roman still holds two belts – including the WBA’s. Sorry Brandon, that usurps your necessity.
Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Goulamirian; LOSS: Fornling)
2019 picks record: 90-18 (83.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,101-361 (75.3 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.