By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Deontay Wilder is still suspicious of Luis Ortiz.
No matter how much Ortiz is tested, Wilder won’t completely believe the unbeaten Cuban southpaw is PED-free until they fight November 4. The WBC heavyweight champion promised Wednesday that he’ll be able to truly tell that night, based on Ortiz’s performance against him, if the challenger used performance-enhancing drugs while preparing for their title fight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The huge, hard-hitting champion just hopes Ortiz learned an unforgettable lesson from the PED problem that cost Ortiz the WBA interim heavyweight title he won by knocking out Lateef Kayode in the first round three years ago. The Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Ortiz for eight months because he tested positive for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, in a urine sample provided prior to the Kayode fight.
“I would’ve been up for that challenge years ago, when we first brought this up,” Wilder said Wednesday during a press conference to officially announce their fight. “But we already know what happened. So this time, Luis Ortiz, don’t f*** it up! Stay clean, because we’ll be checking. Stay clean. Don’t f***this up for me, nor you, because I’m gonna prove to the world that I am the best.”
Wilder was wary of boxing Ortiz in the recent past because of his history with PEDs. The last thing the American knockout artist wants is to have another important fight canceled due to an opponent’s PED use.
When the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association revealed Russia’s Alexander Povetkin tested positive for meldonium less than a week before Wilder was supposed to make a mandatory title defense against Povetkin in Moscow, their May 2016 fight was canceled and it cost Wilder a $4.5 million purse. He successfully sued Povetkin and promoter Andrey Ryabinskiy in a Manhattan federal court seven months ago, but after that civil trial the last thing Wilder wants to do is waste more time and money.
The Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native admitted Wednesday, however, that the possibility of his fight against Ortiz getting canceled due to a positive PED test is in the back of his mind.
“I pray to God that don’t happen,” Wilder said. “That’s a big concern of mines. But if he do [take PEDs], I will know. I’ve got people all over the world. If he do, I will know if he’s cheating. I will know if he’s doing PEDs. A lot of these guys in the heavyweight division does it. They don’t even know. They don’t even know. I know. I know. But I ain’t here to rat ‘em out.
“My thing is, the advice is because the heavyweight division is so small, my thing is to just advise them and give them advice. Stop it. Just stop. Just stop. Just go off of your own natural ability and just work yourself up there. Don’t stick no needles, don’t take no pills, or act like you didn’t know what was in there, or you didn’t know they were putting [it in there]. Yes, you did. Yes, you did. Just stop it. People wanna have that come-up because they seen other former champions that done it, and get caught – or become champ, and then get caught. Because a lot of them don’t get caught.”
Wilder and his handlers are more comfortable boxing Ortiz now because to fight for a WBC title, boxers must be enrolled in the Mexico City-based sanctioning organization’s Clean Boxing Program, run by VADA.
Ortiz (27-0, 23 KOs, 2 NC) wanted to replace Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk as Wilder’s opponent for his February 25 fight in Birmingham, Alabama. After Wawrzyk failed a VADA test for Stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, Wilder wasn’t about to fight Ortiz on less than a month’s notice because anyone he fights moving forward must be tested regularly to ensure that his opponents are clean.
“On short notice, we didn’t wanna run the risk of anything, when there couldn’t be testing for the fight,” said Lou DiBella, Wilder’s promoter. “And by the way, you weren’t gonna fight Luis Ortiz on three weeks’ notice. The people who were yelling about that and criticized Deontay for that were psychos. Seriously, just nuts.”
Instead, Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs) stopped previously undefeated Gerald Washington (18-2-1, 12 KOs) that night in Birmingham. In his first fight since beating Washington by fifth-round technical knockout, the 32-year-old Wilder was more than willing to fight Ortiz within a normal time frame because they’ll be tested randomly before and immediately following their “Showtime Championship Boxing” main event.
“Especially with VADA, they catching ‘em,” Wilder said. “I love working with VADA. I love it. Because they’ll surprise you. They’ll act like they going home and tell you they going home, and show up at your ass early, 5 o’clock in the morning. It brings me back to my Olympic days. You had to get up 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock in the morning, open the door and you don’t know who it is. It might be a little piece coming through, but it’s VADA people.”
His confidence in VADA notwithstanding, Wilder remains troubled by what he considers a PED epidemic in boxing. With so much money and history at stake, particularly when one fights an undefeated heavyweight champion, the outspoken champion realizes it’s not a problem that will go away any time soon.
That’s why Wilder will approach these next six weeks with some trepidation. The defending champion is well aware that the 38-year-old Ortiz, though talented and undefeated, must knock him off if Ortiz wants to make major money in the twilight of a pro career that didn’t begin until he was 30.
“I just hope he don’t f*** this up for so many people that are expecting this fight,” Wilder said. “I ain’t lying, I’m kinda scared for that, to be honest. I’m giving the guy a chance. I knew he was doing it back then. It was brought to me and it was true. So that was the only reason why Ortiz started having a little animosity towards me, because he say I talk too much. I talk the truth, because you did what you did. But we are forgiving. Boxing is forgiving. Look where they got Povetkin. Povetkin, didn’t he fight for the WBA belt or something like that? What happened? He’s back in.”
Povetkin tested positive for a PED again – this time Ostarine, an anabolic steroid – prior to his next fight against former WBC champion Bermane Stiverne. Johann Duhaupas replaced Stiverne the day before he was supposed to box Povetkin on December 17 in Ekaterinburg, Russia, where Povetkin viciously knocked out Duhaupas in the sixth round.
Two-and-a-half months later, the WBC suspended Povetkin for one year from any of its sanctioned fights and fined him $250,000 for those two positive PED tests. That didn’t stop the 38-year-old Povetkin (32-1, 23 KOs) from winning WBA and WBO regional titles by beating Andriy Rudenko in his last fight, July 1 in Moscow.
Wilder considers that unfortunate proof that boxers aren’t being punished nearly enough for positive PED tests.
“I know he know how severe this is,” Wilder said, referring to Ortiz. “If he’s really talking about gaining this title and really is serious about beating me, and wanting [to] be the first Cuban champion, then he will do the right thing and take the right protocols to just stay clean. We’ve seen he lost a lot of weight. A lot of questions are being thrown around. Why so much weight loss? I wanna know what his mentality is gonna be in the ring when he knows he can’t use [PEDs]. You know what I mean?”
While Wilder is hopeful he’ll oppose Ortiz as scheduled, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist is certain that PED use will remain a perpetual problem in boxing until the punishment is commensurate with the extremely dangerous nature of those offenses. Even then, Wilder suspects desperate and/or brazen boxers will continue trying to cheat.
“It ain’t nothing you can do to clean that up,” Wilder said. “People are gonna do what they wanna do. It’s just like your choice of drugs out on the street. People are gonna do what they want. No matter what kinda law is enforced, in place, you gonna do what you wanna do. So with that being said, it ain’t no really technique or way of cleaning up the sport.
“The only thing they can do is when it’s time to fight, they continue to test these fighters before they fight. And that’s the only thing they can do. But even with that said, what does that really do, but put people on notice that they’re users, because they don’t do nothing about it.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.