By Michael Rosenthal
Deontay Wilder: Wilder’s critics undoubtedly were poised to pounce on the WBC heavyweight titleholder in the seventh round on Saturday, when Luis Ortiz had Wilder out on his feet and on the verge of his first defeat.
“I told you he wasn’t that good, I told you,” would’ve been a common refrain on social media.
They never got their chance. Instead, it was the towering Alabamian who made a dramatic statement.
Wilder survived the harrowing seventh, regrouped and three rounds later put Ortiz down twice to score one of the more memorable return-from-the-brink knockouts in recent heavyweight history.
The plot lines were similar to the fight in which Anthony Joshua got up from the canvas to end Wladimir Klitschko’s career, which is perfectly appropriate given what might lie ahead.
Neither Wilder nor Ortiz did much of anything in the first half of the fight that hinted at what was to come in the second half at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, the only eventful moment being Wilder’s fifth-round knockdown.
And then heavyweight hell broke loose in earnest.
Ortiz landed a right hand in the final seconds of Round 7 that threatened to derail Wilder’s success story in a brain-jarring instant. Wilder, evidently tougher than some expected, deserves credit for remaining on his feet but he might not have survived had he taken the punch earlier in the round.
Wilder was fully recovered by the deciding round, when Ortiz first went down from a hail of wild punches and fell again from a right uppercut that convinced referee David Fields to stop the fight.
The script couldn’t have been more compelling for Wilder (40-0, 39 knockouts) and the promoters who hope to put together a lucrative Wilder-Joshua showdown if Joshua beats Joseph Parker on March 31. Wilder proved he could take a punch, which had been a question mark. He proved he could overcome extreme adversity, as all the best fighters must do. He proved once again that his punching power is awesome.
And, perhaps more important than all of the above, he gave the fans a night to remember. Fighters are judged by their results and their ability to entertain. He was never more entertaining than he was on Saturday.
Wilder’s detractors will continue to emphasize his unrefined technique, a legitimate observation. He remains a work in progress, which many believe will catch up to him one day. At the same time, even those who continue doubt him must give him at least grudging respect for passing an arduous test.
But does it match Joshua’s victory over Klitschko?
Probably not given their opponents. Klitschko was coming off a one-sided loss to Tyson Fury but was still Klitschko, the best-known and most-accomplished heavyweight of his era. And he seemed to be inspired that night last April.
Ortiz, a relatively fresh 38 and unbeaten as he entered the ring, has been one of the most-avoided heavyweights and demonstrated his mettle for nine-plus rounds Saturday but his resume pales next to the big Ukrainian’s.
That said, Wilder’s victory was the next best thing to beating Klitschko and sets up a heavyweight event that would captivate the world.
Undefeated heavyweights have met in big fights in the past, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier being the best example. And many knockout artists like Wilder and Joshua have met at the peak of their powers. Mexican greats Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora – a combined 74-0, with 73 KOs, when they fought – come to mind. Wilder and Joshua would be a combined 61-0, with 60 KOs if Joshua stops Parker, which would be one of the event’s many selling points. … Who would win? I’ll just say this for now: Wilder has a better chance of beating Joshua than many people believe, a notion that was re-enforced on Saturday. … Ortiz (28-1, 24 KOs) seemed to come within a few seconds of doing something spectacular, a position he might never find himself in again. That has to be painful for him. He enhanced his reputation, though. Ortiz had had a great deal of promise and a few decent victories – as well as a positive test for an illegal substance – but he largely remained a question mark until Saturday, when he seemed to realize his potential. He came up short in the end but got his message across. He’s probably the third best heavyweight in the world. … Sullivan Barrera (21-2, 14 KOs) is a very good boxer and Dmitry Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs) dominating him on Saturday at the Madison Square Garden Theater, which says a great deal about the talented WBA titleholder. Indeed, a legitimate test quickly became a rout. Bivol’s performance was comparable to that of Andre Ward, who defeated Barrera by a lopsided decision in 2016. Bivol did something Ward couldn’t do, though: He became the first to stop the Cuban, who met his end at 1:41 of the 12th and final round. Bivol has had only 13 fights but he arguably is the best 175-pounder in the world. Of course, Sergey Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) might have something to say about that. The WBO titleholder broke down and then stopped capable Igor Mikhalkin (21-2, 9 KOs) on a cut on the Bivol-Barrera card, his second consecutive stoppage since his back-to-back losses to Ward. Kovalev seems to be motivated and focused but we’ll know more when faces a next-level opponent. The winner of the upcoming Adonis Stevenson-Badou Jack fight would be a natural opponent given Kovalev’s longtime pursuit of the elusive Stevenson. And a clash with either Bivol or Artur Beterbiev would demonstrate whether Kovalev is back to his pre-Ward level. I believe he’s a threat to any of the above. … Jose Uzcategui (27-2, 23 KOs) recorded a break-through victory in his rematch with Andre Dirrell (26-3, 16 KOs) on the card at Barclay’s, stopping the veteran after seven rounds to win the interim IBF 168-pound title. Dirrell, 34, might be finished as a championship-caliber fighter. I’ll always wonder whether the injury he suffered when Arthur Abraham was DQ’d for punching him when he was down in the Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2010 stunted his growth as a fighter. He fought only nine times after that.