Greatness is a product of many things, without a degree of innate talent the journey to such status is hard to even begin. It is a status that requires resistance, friction. Without a compilation of experiences that burnish and test the qualities of those who chase it, the talent beneath remains undiscovered or unresolved; an intangible or immeasurable ore.
In beating Luis Ortiz, beautifully described as the Cuban ogre by Kevin Mitchell at the Guardian in his preview, the WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder finally, belatedly, took the opportunity to step toward the greatness he craves. Victory polished his record to a pristine 40-0 with 39 knockouts and the seventh round proved he was more than the sum of those shiny statistics.
As a metric, the record is beautiful if misleading, such has been the paucity of intent among those he’s faced. Last night’s bout, despite the chequered past of Ortiz, is arguably the first time he’s overcome a fighter with a selection of tools equal, or perhaps better, than his own. A straight right hand in the fifth round floored Ortiz heavily, and following that success Wilder began to lead with his right, using the left merely to paw at the Ortiz jab.
Occasionally, the action slowed sufficiently to draw boos from the crowd, but the feints, the pawing jabs, the shuffles to the right that both took, were all important and reflected the respect both held for the other’s power. In the seventh the Barclays Centre, holding 14,069 on the night, many of whom cynics would suggest were present on a complimentary basis, erupted as Ortiz, already ahead on my card despite the knockdown, landed a wonderful counter right hook.
The impact wasn’t immediate or obvious, but Ortiz knew and invested heavily in capitalising, landing with straight lefts as Wilder desperately hung on. A champion by the thinest of threads at that point, Wilder tried desperately, with his remaining consciousness at the time, to stay inside the trajectory of Ortiz’s blows and remain upright. A bell clanged and Wilder, his long, thin legs looking ever more narrow for the task at hand, walked back to his corner. Just.
In the furnace of that final minute of the seventh, much was discovered about him by those watching, and one could reasonably assume, much was proved to himself too. Gratefully for Wilder, Ortiz was remarkably circumspect in the eighth. The 38-year-old challenger likely equally fatigued from the effort put forth to finish the fight when his chance came.
Proof of Wilder’s recovery were confirmed in the 10th alongside evidence of his ability to retain power deep into the championship rounds. Earlier, his attacks had been cautious affairs, and showed discipline and respect in a way previous opponents had failed to engender. Within the 10th, the fight slowed again, Wilder stayed closer, and landed a hard counter right with a minute gone. It proved to be the most important, as Wilder, as Ortiz had done in the 7th, recognised the damaged it caused his opponent. From there he leapt in and delivered a succession of his more characteristic wide, arcing hooks.
Once hurt, his opponents are never allowed to escape. He ignores the conventions of offering space for his own work, he doesn’t punch pick at this point, its primal from the moment the opponent pauses. The shots swing like baseball bats and look ungainly but they hurt and Ortiz, who was fit, ready and has a good chin eventually crumpled to the canvas for the second time in the round, and the third in the fight, and the referee waived it off.
The net result of Wilder’s graduation tonight is the mouthwatering prospect of him facing Anthony Joshua later this year, if the Londoner emerges successful from his unification bout with Joseph Parker next month. I maintain that both offer the other plenty of weaknesses to exploit, but the beauty of greatness is often that it isn’t a linear measurement. Wilder and Joshua may be inferior to many of their predecessors but in their equality, they may yet discover greatness together.