LAS VEGAS — Boxing trainers and analysts would have a field day breaking down video of Deontay Wilder. He wings punches like a windmill, rushes around the ring, never trying to set up anything but the next big fight that inevitably comes after a crushing KO.
They’d slow the video down and stop it at just the precise moment, as Wilder’s arms are extended to the side as if he’s trying to balance himself walking a tightrope, with his chin flung defiantly forward.
In freeze frame, he looks like an easy, inviting target.
He is, of course, anything but. He’s knocked down every man he’s ever faced in a 42-fight pro career in which he’s gone 41-0-1 with 40 knockouts and won the WBC heavyweight title.
For all of his flaws, Wilder has three things that almost make him immune to the consequences of those mistakes: He’s an extraordinarily hard hitter, he’s exceptionally fast and he’s extremely aggressive.
Those three details make taking advantage of his errors all but impossible. Only Bermane Stiverne in 2015 in Wilder’s first title fight and Tyson Fury in 2018 in a memorable title fight that ended in a split draw, have managed to go 12 rounds against Wilder.
Will Luis Ortiz, whom a flu-ridden Wilder stopped in 10 rounds in 2018 be able to repeat that and, even more importantly, be able to not only go 12 but beat Wilder and take his WBC heavyweight title when they meet Saturday (9 p.m. ET, PPV) at the MGM Grand Garden? Oddsmakers resoundingly say no. Bettors have been on Ortiz so far, but even though he’s been bet down, Wilder is still a -675 favorite. Ortiz is at +475 at the MGM Grand Sports Book.
Why Ortiz’s improved physique might backfire vs. Wilder
Ortiz has two of the attributes — power and boxing ability — needed to take advantage of the holes Wilder creates in his defense when he’s winging punches. He showed that at times when they met on March 2, 2018, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
He was able to jab Wilder, control the distance and make Wilder miss occasionally throughout the fight. Though the scores were close at the time of the finish in the 10th — all three judges had Wilder up 85-84 through the nine completed rounds — Ortiz didn’t have as much success as it may have seemed.
He was out-jabbed by Wilder, 38-24, and Wilder connected at a nearly 2-1 rate in jabs. Wilder landed 19.9 percent of his jabs while Ortiz was hitting on just 11 percent, according to CompuBox statistics.
Ortiz landed three more power punches, 63-60, and had a 43-39 edge in connect percentage with them, but Wilder’s power carried the day. One can’t beat Wilder going power shot for power shot.
“These guys fighting me, they have to be perfect for 12 rounds,” Wilder said. “I only have to be perfect for two seconds.”
That’s the conundrum Ortiz faces: Only one mistake could cost him the fight. He has above average power as well, but he couldn’t put a flu-stricken Wilder away in the seventh when he had him hurt and wobbling. Wilder was clear-headed enough to box and stay on the side where the referee was so that the referee could see he was fighting back and wouldn’t stop it.
Ortiz, though, blames the first loss on a lack of training. He said he only had six weeks to prepare for the 2018 fight, and he’s had three full months to get ready for this one. He hired the highly respected Larry Wade, who has been Shawn Porter’s strength and conditioning coach, and gotten himself into great shape.
He has muscle definition like he’s never had before and Wilder has repeatedly praised him for looking to be in good condition.
“I’m glad he’s in shape and he looks good and I thank him for that,” Wilder said. “He should be ready to give the fans a show, and there should be no excuses. He’s done what he’s needed to do.”
But there is a question if dramatically changing his body is a smart move for him at this stage. It’s reminiscent of the 2002 fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas. It is safe to say the men hated each other and there was no more bitter rivalry in the sport than De La Hoya-Vargas. At the final news conference for their super welterweight title fight, Vargas unveiled an amazingly cut physique at a news conference.
Of course, it would turn out that said physique was as the result of steroid use, and Vargas was levied with a huge fine and suspension after the bout, but at the time, no one knew that. Vargas held up his shirt to reveal a midriff rippling with muscles.
For a guy who never had the type of body which had a lot of muscle definition, it was something to behold. He looked like he could have won a bodybuilding competition. But even as Vargas beamed while showing off his physique, De La Hoya trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. made two points over and over: Bodybuilding has nothing to do with boxing and muscles can’t help one’s chin.
De La Hoya proved his trainer correct by stopping Vargas late in that bout.
How Wilder gets it done in rematch vs. Ortiz
Ortiz has always been a big, burly bull of a man, but he hasn’t had a ton of muscle definition. But for this camp, he’s rippling with muscles.
There’s been as much debate about how old Ortiz actually is — he’s listed as 40 but many speculate the Cuban-born heavyweight is far older — than there is about who may win the fight.
There are few men of 40 who suddenly transform their bodies like Ortiz did, but it’s even rarer if he’s 45 or older. Wade has a great reputation for doing things the right way and not taking shortcuts, and understands what fighters need to succeed.
But the speed gap between them that existed in the first bout figures to be wider, even with Ortiz’s re-tooled body, because Wilder isn’t sick and Ortiz is nearly two years older. It’s not like he’s all of a sudden going to be as quick as Gary Russell Jr. after a couple of months working with Wade.
One of the reasons Wilder fights are so entertaining is that he always goes for the kill and that makes him vulnerable at all times. As he’s attacked, a perfectly timed shot from the other side could catch him and end the fight.
But fighting Wilder is like being a quarterback getting blitzed by nine rushers and having to hang onto to the ball while his receiver makes a double move. There’s not a lot of time to accomplish what you want.
Ortiz has the power and boxing skill to give Wilder trouble, but Wilder is a cut above physically.
Look for him to start landing his big shots earlier this time and that should mean a shorter night than we had in 2018. I say he gets Ortiz out as early as five and no later than seven.
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