While Fury played it safe by lining up Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin (the latter turned out to be more difficult than anyone imagined), Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) is taking a significant risk with a rematch against Luis Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs) on Saturday in Las Vegas.
In their first bout back in March 2018, Ortiz came achingly close to stopping Wilder in a furious seventh round at the Barclay’s Center in New York. The big Cuban was unable to close the deal, and Wilder bounced back by knocking out Ortiz with a vicious uppercut in the 10th frame.
Wilder must be confident he has Ortiz, a top-10 heavyweight, all figured out, because he’s risking losing his WBC world title three months before a megafight with Fury, considered by many to be the division’s lineal champion. A loss would greatly dampen the enthusiasm for that bout and might force promoters to reschedule it so Wilder can try to get his belt back.
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Ortiz, 40, should be laser-focused for this fight. It likely represents his last chance to make history by becoming the first Cuban to win a heavyweight world title.
Saturday’s pay-per-view card also features Leo Santa Cruz taking on Miguel Flores for the vacant WBA super featherweight world title. Santa Cruz has long dominated the featherweight ranks and will now be making his debut at 130 pounds.
There are plenty of reasons to expect Saturday’s fight won’t last a full 12 rounds. For one, both fighters insist they are going to end the night early. Wilder, well aware of how close he came to defeat in the first fight, seems intent on finishing off Ortiz as quickly as possible.
“He has to be perfect for 12 rounds. I only have to be perfect for two seconds and—bam, baby, good night,” he said, per ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael.
Wilder’s right hand is the most lethal in the sport, a weapon so potent that the 34-year-old has been able to reach the pinnacle of the sport without having to develop a deep repertoire of combinations or perfect his technique.
A pawing jab followed by a right cross is elementary stuff, but that’s all it takes with Wilder on most nights. His right hand detonated on Dominic Breazeale in the first round of their fight in May, sending the 6’7″ colossus crumbling to the mat like a skyscraper mid-demolition. Wilder believes Ortiz won’t be able to survive much longer.
It’s a typical boast, but you get the sense Wilder is right; Ortiz does need to be perfect on Saturday. As a southpaw, Ortiz has to be careful about opening up lanes for the orthodox Wilder to send his right hand. His defense has to be impeccable while he looks to score points and go for the KO himself.
“This is not going 12 rounds,” Ortiz told Rafael through an interpreter. “Either he knocks me out or I knock him out, and I wish there was no bell between rounds so we could just keep going.”
Bermane Stiverne and Fury are the only two boxers to go a full 12 frames with Wilder. Fury managed to avoid Wilder’s payoff punch until the last round, and a miraculous recovery from the knockdown allowed him to salvage a draw. Ortiz is much older and not nearly as slick defensively as Fury. It’s unlikely he can avoid punishment for a full 36 minutes.
According to CBS Sports’ Brian Campbell, Ortiz blames his loss to Wilder on bad cardio, which left him unable to finish the job when he had Wilder dazed in the seventh round. Campbell has noted Ortiz is now cutting a slimmer figure, hoping better stamina can propel him to victory this time around. However, being in better shape won’t mean much if old age has quietly eroded his sharpness and reflexes. Every second Ortiz is in range of Wilder’s right hands means he’s in mortal danger, and a single mistake could land him in the hospital.
Ortiz has won three fights since losing to Wilder, the most recent a 12-round, unanimous decision over Christian Hammer in March. He’s done everything he can to set up a last shot at championship glory. Wilder is boxing’s most dangerous puncher, and he has plenty riding on this match. Ortiz may have learned his lesson from the first fight, but if Wilder has answered his own riddles in the interim, he should be able to reach a similar outcome on Saturday.