Backed into a corner for seemingly most of the night, Deontay Wilder appeared unassertive, perplexed and diminished, but not without faith or resilience.
The undefeated WBC World Heavyweight Champion, who entered the night 39-0 with 38 knockouts, openly challenged and commonly avoided Luis Ortiz, who entered 28-0 with 24 knockouts, in spite of a failed drug test which cancelled their original November fight date.
The 6-foot-7 Wilder demanded the highly rated foe for no other reason than to prove to everyone that he’s the best.
The watchful eye of many spectators suggested outwardly that Wilder lost most, if not all, the first four rounds to the exceedingly skilled Cuban, who won 343 fights as an amateur, losing only 19 times.
The early returns suggested Wilder’s belief may have come back to haunt him.
But with 15 seconds left in the fifth, the “Bronze Bomber” proved the saying “all it takes is one punch” in real-time, landing an unexpected thumping straight right hand, sending Ortiz to the canvas for the second time in his career.
In round seven, Ortiz, a southpaw, leveled Wilder with a counter right hook with 42 seconds left. The punch stunned Wilder, who weighed in at 214 pounds, his lightest since March 2009, despite shaking his head to indicate he was all good.
Wilder, clearly looped, tried to cling onto his opponent like a mother with her newborn. Ortiz pounded away through the remaining 42 seconds, where Wilder was then saved by the bell.
In round 10, Wilder highlighted for the world why he’s been atop the division since January 2015. In heavyweight boxing, no matter the skill set, power is the great equalizer, and Wilder used his to put down Ortiz twice in round 10: the first with 1:25 remaining following an erratic yet effective flurry.
Ortiz dropped to his knees, and as the spit fell from his lips, Wilder turned to the neutral corner, no confidence lost, sensing the end was inevitable. Referee David Fields timed in Ortiz with 1:08 to go.
Twelve seconds later, Fields was waving his arms over a slumped Ortiz, signaling the end of the fight, due to one final flurry with a rocket right uppercut serving as the nail in the coffin.
“He didn’t have his best night as a boxer,” Wilder’s promoter Lou DiBella, a Brooklyn native, said after the fight. “I think he maybe had his best night as a fighter.”
Wilder, now 40-0 with 39 knockouts, struggled more than he ever had in his pro career, leaning and rocking and nearly touching the canvas in round seven, while in several other instances seemingly attempting to figure out just what was Ortiz doing to negate him.
Wilder needed this. Sure, the many detractors the Alabama native already has will point to all of the shortcomings during the fight to highlight why Wilder could never be (insert heavyweight name here), because right or wrong, boxing fans demand perfection of those deemed the best.
He also didn’t have to do this.
“He overcame adversity, not against an ordinary fighter,” DiBella said. “All these damn criticisms. The trolls and the animals on the internet that pick on this guy, when he could’ve done the easiest thing on earth. Instead, he insisted on Luis Ortiz.”
“I’m not afraid to risk myself for small rewards,” Wilder added at the post-fight presser. “I want to prove to the world that I am the best, that’s my ultimate goal. I’m ready put up my title with anyone in the world that’s ready for me. I felt once I beat Luis Ortiz that their ain’t nobody else with the skill set that’s going to be able to beat me.”
DiBella indicated that Wilder is must watch precisely because of his deficiencies, combined with having the most power the sport has seen in a number of years. Ortiz, highly tactical, highly skilled, nearly had Wilder on upset alert more often than he did not.
Wilder’s resilience sparked the crowd at Barclays Center, many of whom were behind him from the jump, and then booed during the bout due to his own inactivity.
And as the heavyweight champion, Wilder knows the target will always be on his chin.
“When guys come to fight me, we know they’re going to bring their best,” he said. “They do things that we’ve never seen them do. When you fight the king of the division you better get yourself prepared, you better get yourself mentally ready, because I’ve got the heart of a lion.”