By Tris Dixon
IN our odd, fragmented little world that makes sense to us but not to those on planet earth, we have four heavyweight kings.
Lineal ruler is the inactive but steadily-returning-to-fitness Tyson Fury. WBC champion is Deontay Wilder. WBO leader is Joseph Parker. Anthony Joshua holds the WBA and IBF belts.
Each claim they are the best, and one of Parker and Joshua will be able to maintain their assertion after they meet on March 31 in Wales.
Last night, Wilder stayed in the running by surviving a scare to come through a seventh-round Cuban storm to best 40-something Luis Ortiz in New York. It was the southpaw’s first defeat in 30 fights and he eventually caved in to the same crude Wilder blows that have felled 40 previous foes.
The American’s arms, swirling leather of the heavy-duty variety, finally found their target with the accuracy and velocity needed to quell the challenger’s stubborn resistance.
In fact, it was more than that. Ortiz made an assault on the title. After a slow start, he enjoyed a period of success that no other boxer has managed against the free-swinging knockout machine from Alabama.
But Wilder had started slowly, allowing Ortiz to relax into the fight. The champion always seems safe in the knowledge that he only needs to buy one lottery ticket to win the night. His numbers initially came up in round five, a right hand forced Ortiz’s rear leg to jack-knife unsteadily before he wobbled, landing with his shorts on the bottom strand as Wilder tried to implement the coup de grace.
Ortiz initially wore a puzzled look, wondering where the power had been and why it had taken so long to detonate. Actually, he probably was not thinking that. He might have been considering how and why the fight was beginning to slip from his grasp, appearing to be in come sort of denial over what had just happened. He remonstrated with referee David Fields.
Ortiz came through some jittery moments. Then, a couple of rounds later, it was Wilder’s turn, simultaneously showing of his courage and chin.
It started to unravel for him when he launched a careless assault. Unfurling a long right, he dropped his left and the old man from Cuba zapped him with a right hook.
Wilder’s arms dangled by his sides, loosely attempting to claim an opponent who then clubbed him into the ropes with a straight left. There were 15 seconds to go and Wilder was in the midst of a Cuban crisis. He mauled, slapped, grabbed and stumbled his way through 10 final desperate seconds before woozily making it back to his stool.
Even a minute’s rest and a tardy doctor’s inspection had not bought him enough time to recover the steadiness in his legs as he trooped out for round eight. He still held his hands low, inviting more pressure. Ortiz then invested to the body while studying for a place to plant his arcing left. Wilder was trying to take stock, suppress the storm by backpedalling and pawing at the challenger to keep him at bay.
And with the mid-fight drama averted, Wilder steadied the ship.
The bout carried on its uncertain path, sometimes slow, sometimes frantically exciting but never predictable.
It came to a thrilling boil in round 10. Wilder ended up throwing the kitchen sink at a struggling challenger who was, after several uncouth bone-jarring clean shots, persuaded to crumple onto his knees. Violence, fatigue and horrifically hard punches made for an unforgiving combination.
Ortiz bravely rose, a nonchalant expression on his face, but Wilder screwed some right hands around his forlorn left and then, as the Cuban ducked for cover, a spiteful black leather glove was snapped off in his face. The uppercut forced Ortiz’s legs to desert him once more but this time they would not pick him up.
The signals from his brain to his limbs urging him to stand were either ignored, not acknowledged or did not make the journey. Ortiz had finally been crushed. Wilder was shattered.
He appeared too tired to celebrate draping his upper body over the top rope as he surveyed the crowd, picking out some familiar faces with a wave of his right fist while canvassing opinion.
He had scored stoppage number 39 in 40 wins. Yes, he has gangly arms, his legs are like pencils, he fights off-balance, he’s crude and unorthodox but yes, it was again good enough.
I recall Gene Fullmer, the legendary middleweight champion, once telling me of his old adversary Carmen Basilio, “Everything he does is wrong but it’s right.”
Gene meant it clearly worked for the upstate New York onion farmer, and it does for Wilder. You wouldn’t find his swings in a textbook, nor will you find out how to defend them on the pages of the same tome.
The WBC ruler said his victory over a “crafty” Ortiz (“One of those fighters who everybody ducked”) was “a signature win,” and then repeated his claims that he is the “most dangerous man in the world” and the “baddest man on the planet.”
He added that it was a matter of time before he would solidify his position “at the top of the food chain.”
Wilder reckons last night’s win was more impressive than Joshua’s over Wladimr Klitschko last year. He might think his belt is shinier, too. None of that matters, of course. None of the bartering or the one-upmanship away from the ring means a jot. To prove yourself as number one you must beat those who also consider themselves top dogs. You must conquer, unify and rein.
Until you do that, all of the dazzling knockouts, exciting fights and unbeaten records retain a ring that stays hollow pending a substantial body of work that fills the centre of one’s boasts or claims.
The heavyweight division houses an enthralling blend of styles that adds to the allure of the potential matches. It is the distinct personalities, too, that makes the mix more enticing.
You have the crude power of Wilder, the increasingly refined more upright style of Joshua and the lucid wildcard swagger of the gypsy king Fury. And all three can hold their own when it comes to holding court, whether it is the outspoken and bombastic Wilder, the manicured and professional Joshua or the controversial and belligerent Fury.
First, though, comes Joshua-Parker and Ortiz – in coming close against Wilder – reminded us all that in heavyweight boxing nothing can be taken for granted.
And we should know, in our odd, fragmented little world, that things are never as straightforward as they should be.