Deontay Wilder got the job done at Saturday night buy beating Luis Ortiz. It wasn't pretty but Wilder got the job done.
If you didn't think WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder was a superstar before Saturday night, you should have changed your mind by now. Stylistically, he's imperfect, but he possesses a handful of irrefutable qualities that helped lead him to victory over Luis Ortiz in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. Those qualities are also the biggest reason he's set to take the next step and become a pay-per-view attraction.
In his best moments of the thrilling 10-round war with the game and formidable Ortiz, Wilder didn't give up his obvious length and athleticism advantage. Early on, Wilder used a wide base and kept his head back to create distance between his chin and Ortiz's powerful left hand. Wilder also recognized he was the quicker man and he used his escapability to avoid absorbing early damage.
As the fight progressed, Wilder began to get more comfortable. He was timing Ortiz's 1-2 combination and not looking to escape as quickly. This culminated in the fifth round when a straight right hand wobbled and dropped Ortiz. Wilder doesn't get a ton of credit for his in-ring I.Q. but it was on display in this fight.
Unfortunately, he reverted to some of his old ways around the sixth and seventh rounds. He became overanxious after he hurt Ortiz in the fifth. He badly wanted to finish him and it showed. He released a primal yell as Ortiz went down in the fifth and he spent the remainder of the round and most of the sixth unleashing bombs. Every shot was intended to end the fight.
During that time, he appeared to gas out. By the end of the sixth round, Wilder didn't have the same legs he'd had in the previous two and Ortiz had recovered from the knockdown. This dynamic and more sloppy punching opened Wilder up for the hard right hand on the inside that nearly put him down in the seventh round.
In all honesty, I was shocked Wilder made it out of the frame without at least going down. Some made the argument that the judges could have scored the round 10-8 in favor of Ortiz. I can see their logic, but because Wilder had scored a legitimate knockdown earlier in the fight, it didn't seem right to award the same 10-8 score when Ortiz was unable to put the champion down.
Ultimately, it didn't matter. Wilder showed a brand of toughness and heart that he'd never had to show before in his professional career. He lost the eighth round, which he looked to have used to regain his bearings, and went back to basics in the ninth. We couldn't hear the audio from the corner between the eighth and ninth, but it wouldn't surprise me if Wilder's long-time trainer Mark Breland was telling him to go back to the jab and to allow the knockout to come naturally.
While that instruction would have been on point, it can't be applied if Wilder falls apart and accepts the first defeat of his career. He showed poise and confidence through a serious storm and that's the kind of intangible that resonates with the boxing community.
Obviously, we can't ignore the massive power Wilder possesses in his right hand. Ortiz is a tough guy and it was proven if the champion hits an opponent anywhere on the head with a power shot, there will be problems. For Wilder to have maintained that power into the 10th round of a grueling bout was noteworthy. More than anything, Wilder left us entertained on Saturday.
That should make an imprint in the minds of Anthony Joshua and his management team. It appears Joshua's side doesn't want to agree to an even split with Wilder for a potential unification bout. I understand that point of view and agree that Joshua is undoubtedly still the bigger name. However, after Saturday, the gap has closed a bit.
We're still waiting on the viewership numbers from Showtime, but they could be favorable, judging by the social media engagement.
We all know Wilder is 40-0 with 39 KOs. We know he's now defended his title seven times. That's just numbers and statistics. The accomplishments matter, but so do the human qualities. On Saturday we learned a lot about Wilder the person.
He's a made man and one who is worthy of a featured spot on a pay-per-view card, whether it's against Joshua or a top contender.