LAS VEGAS — Deontay Wilder was losing.
Until he wasn’t.
Wilder stopped Luis Ortiz on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, uncorking a right hand missile in the seventh round that sent Ortiz crashing to the canvas. For six-plus rounds, Ortiz controlled the fight. Round after round, the 6’3” Cuban peppered Wilder with a sharp jab. He backed him up with crisp combinations. In the final minute of the seventh, Ortiz battered Wilder with head and body shots. He had Wilder in trouble.
And then Wilder got out of it.
Not since Mike Tyson have we seen a heavyweight with the kind of crushing, fight-changing power of Wilder. A late starter, Wilder (42-0-1) jumped into boxing as a way to help his daughter, Naieya, who was born with spina bifida. He won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, was brought along slowly early in his career and not until recently, in his early 30’s, did he start to face significant challenges.
Ortiz was a significant challenge. And for the second time in as many years, Wilder wiped him out.
In 2018 it came courtesy of a 10th-round uppercut, a devastating punch that folded Ortiz like an accordion. On Saturday, it was a piston-rod right hand, a blistering shot that toppled Ortiz. Ortiz struggled to beat the count, but was on wobbly legs when referee Kenny Bayless waved the fight off.
It was Wilder, encapsulated. He has shown he can be outboxed; Tyson Fury did last December, peppering Wilder with punches and appearing on his way to a decision win before a Wilder combination dropped him, preserving an eventual draw. But there is no fight he is ever out of. Ortiz (31-2), in noticeably better shape for this fight, spent six rounds looking like the superior fighter.
He did not have superior power.
"I had to go in and out and finally I found my measurement,” Wilder said. “I saw the shot and I took it. My intellect is very high in the ring and no one gives me credit for me. I think I buzzed him with a left hook earlier in the round and I took it from there.”
Wilder moves on, and 2020 could be the biggest year of his career. Wilder has all the ingredients to be a mainstream superstar. He’s affable, flamboyant, a natural showman. He walked to ring on Saturday in a gold-and-white, diamond encrusted ensemble, a bedazzled outfit straight out of Greek mythology.
He has the tools to be embraced.
In 2020, he may have the opponents to showcase them.
A rematch with Fury is on deck, penciled in for mid-February, timed for Fox to saturate the NFL playoffs—and Super Bowl—with promotions and ESPN, which will likely partner with Fox for the broadcast, to do its thing. More than a year will have passed since the two last met. Fury blew out Tom Schwartz and gutted out a win over Otto Wallin; Wilder owns knockout wins over Dominic Breazeale and, now, Ortiz.
It’s the boxer vs. the puncher, two sometimes shaky chins, a perfect style matchup.
To the winner could come another big fight. Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz are weeks away from a rematch of their own. If Ruiz wins, a unification fight with Wilder is easy to make. If Joshua wins, the drumbeat will be overwhelming to make the most mouthwatering matchup in boxing: Wilder vs. Joshua.
For now, Deontay Wilder celebrates. He has two wins over Ortiz, a heavyweight few top fighters have been looking to take on. He showcased his prodigious power while showing just enough weaknesses to remind fans that he is beatable. He is the most entertaining fighter in the heavyweight division, who now has a window to prove to everyone he is the best.