First published on Gambing.com
This Saturday, among the fountains and neon of Nevada’s ‘Sin City’, WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder defends his title against Cuban veteran Luis Ortiz in a rematch of their 2018 fight. A tumultuous encounter befitting the historic championship they were contesting, and one the boxing betting world has had its eye on.
Wilder eventually triumphed via 11th round knockout. If he succeeds again, it will be the 10th defence of the belt he won at the same MGM Grand venue in January 2015. Leading boxing bookmakers are offering markets on this heavyweight clash, though margins are tight for investors.
Then, as now, Ortiz represents one of the most significant challenges of Wilder’s reign. Wilder turned 34 last month, the late August of his physical prime, and is a leading attraction in a heavyweight division further illuminated by the presence of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and, latterly, Andy Ruiz Jnr.
Against a fighter as wily and powerful as Ortiz, Wilder must remain present if he is to capitalise on the opportunities those contemporaries afford him both financially and in his much-projected pursuit of a lasting legacy, as a defeat now would be a significant blow to his hopes of redemption versus Tyson Fury in February and lucrative match-ups with Joshua and/or Ruiz in 2020.
Ortiz is a legitimate threat to those plans.
It has been a slow climb in to the public consciousness for the Arkansas giant. Despite his destructive power, wild and aggressive style, his level of opposition prior to Fury and Ortiz was simply too mediocre to convince the sport’s most ardent fans of his credibility nor entice the wider American public to follow his career.
More recently, he entertained in beating Ortiz, having survived a tortuous 7th round to prevail, and the scale of his unbeaten record and knockout out run has demanded begrudging attention too. Longevity still counts, but he needed Fury, and the drama of their fight, to truly arrive as a star.
Although Ortiz’s success was not confined to the 7th round of their 2018 clash, a contest in which he was perhaps only one more full-blooded connection from becoming a champion himself, it is in those three minutes on which this rematch is built.
Can Ortiz catch Wilder again, can he avoid Wilder’s swinging bombs and create opportunities to land his own power punches through his superior technique and craftiness? Can he go one punch further and knock the champion out? It has been a year of heavyweight shocks after all.
There is scope for those outcomes. Ortiz is a product of the Cuban amateur boxing system, and though he didn’t reach the heights of his most decorated predecessors Felix Savon and Teofilo Stevenson, he was chiselled with similar tools.
His advancing years discourage confidence, and there has been much conjecture as to whether Ortiz is in fact older than his documented age of 40, but the old adage, ‘that power is the last thing a fighter loses’ holds water longest in the heavyweight division.
And for all the dry wit and social media memes that scoff at Ortiz’s supposed age, nobody has brought forward evidence to actually challenge his date of birth. Nevertheless, he cannot be better at 40, than he was at 38, despite the training montages his camp has released to encourage the notion.
Forty, despite the pseudo-scientists who traipse around behind fighters in the modern age, proposing to preserve their charge far beyond the limits of known physiology, is still old. It’s older than Ali was versus Holmes and Louis was when engulfed by Marciano.
It is hard to imagine either fighter can, at this point in their career, evolve or improve. Wilder will forever offer opportunities to those with sounder boxing fundamentals because his defence is sloppy and his attacks often cartoonish, like a cowboy saloon brawler. But he wins.
And he keeps winning, that Fury draw notwithstanding. He is no longer a novice, or merely the ‘raw’ professional writers use as shorthand for his ungainly style, nor can his chin or will be doubted, there is method among the apparent madness.
In the Fury fight he did become discouraged, his output did fall and he did appear bereft of ideas but he retained concussive power deep into the championship rounds and, against Fury, snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat.
He isn’t a one-trick pony. He can persevere.
Boxing tradition suggests rematches tend to follow the path of the original but prove more definitive in their outcome. The knowledge Ortiz can only decline, physically, at this point, subject to whether the ageing process isn’t being suppressed by PED’s – he has failed two drug tests in the past – combined with Wilder’s increased experience from the lessons of the first fight, and the Fury contest in between, there is much to support a Wilder win, and perhaps more emphatically this time too.
The safest investment is in a Wilder victory, 1/5 the best available odds with Betfair, but an interesting return can only really be found in the precision of predicting the method of victory. Bookmakers presume a Wilder knockout most likely, anticipating the distance the fight might travel, because the American is widely favoured to win, is the key to finding that return.
I feel Ortiz – a 4/1 outsider with Unibet – remains a proud challenger and will not ‘check out’ the first time Wilder lands, though there is scope for him to have lost a little reflex, irrespective of how aesthetically ‘improved’ he appears on fight night.
Despite the forgiving nature of heavyweight boxing, there is always another shot for heavyweights it would seem, Ortiz must recognise the last chance saloon this fight represents. I’m trusting the Cuban to be in good shape and to box intelligently to his strengths and to have the wisdom to have learnt from his errors in the first encounter.
I therefore expect the fight to progress to the later rounds as a minimum, and foresee Wilder’s relative youth proving the difference once again, if there is to be a stoppage victory.
Look for Wilder stoppage wins in the later rounds, Wilder Rounds 7-12 is 6/4 with William Hill, but consider supporting a points verdict too as the odds on a Wilder win over the distance are tempting. It is plausible both may box more cautiously given the stakes, the respect for each other‘s power and the drama of their first encounter. Wilder to win on points is 6/1 with Ladbrokes.