Wilder vs. Ortiz II will be worth the wait

Boxing’s heavyweight division could soon have an injection of clarity and order, with two men situated atop the sport’s marquee weight class and ready to square off for ultimate bragging rights.

Saturday’s blockbuster rematch between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz is the mouthwatering start to a three-month stretch filled with what are, frankly, the bouts that had to happen to get closer to answering the conundrum of who is the baddest man in the fight game. Wilder vs. Ortiz II is available on FOX PPV this Saturday, November 23, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

The neat and tidy outcome, in many ways, is for Wilder to kick things off by repeating his thrilling victory over Ortiz from March 2018 and retaining his WBC belt; then for Anthony Joshua to exact some revenge on Andy Ruiz Jr. when they meet in Saudi Arabia next month and snatch back the WBA, IBF and WBO titles.

Then, finally, we would presumably get Wilder and Tyson Fury to settle the score from their hotly-debated 2018 draw when they meet in a match currently set for February.

No disrespect to Ortiz, the highly-skilled Cuban who was not able to turn pro until age 30, or the big-punching, Snickers-munching upset machine Ruiz, but if boxing is facing the prospect of a Wilder-Joshua or Joshua-Fury unification by the time the spring flowers start to bloom, many will feel the division is in the strongest position it has been in years.

All of that could well happen, exactly as planned. But this is boxing, a sport where any assumption of predictability is made moot by the reality that any fight — especially with the power-packed heavyweights — can turn or end with a single perfect blow, altering career paths, bank balances and best-laid plans along the way.

So yes, the most unforgiving division of all might be destined for an impending crescendo. Or, depending on how things go at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas this weekend and continue thereafter, we could be headed for chaos. And chaos, in boxing, is sometimes where the fun starts.

“The chess pieces are always moving around in boxing,” FOX boxing analyst and elite fight trainer Joe Goossen told me in a telephone conversation. “It is always in flux, and you can see chaos at any time. Just when everyone thinks a certain thing is going to happen, boxing has the habit of producing the unexpected. That’s one of the most special things about it — and we’re at that point now.”

Goossen believes Wilder will have learned from his struggles during the pair’s first fight, when Ortiz had him troubled at the midway point and was just a single point behind on the scorecards when he was ultimately knocked out after tiring in the 10th round.

“I think it’s a big plus for Wilder that he stopped Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs), a guy who had never been stopped before,” Goossen added. “Once you put a little crack in the china, it adds a little bit to you.”

Former welterweight champion Shawn Porter, who recently lost a fight of the year candidate to Errol Spence, will also be part of the FOX broadcast crew on Saturday (https://www.foxsports.com/boxing/pbc/pay-per-view-wilder-vs-ortiz-ii-121) and he takes a similar tack. He believes this contest is the ideal way for the heavyweight season of destiny to commence.

“The first fight was really exciting and I’m looking forward to that kind of action again, but also to see what kind of adjustments the guys make,” Porter told me. “What makes this good is that this is not a fight in isolation; it is part of a really great time in heavyweight boxing. Having a fight like this just builds more momentum behind it.

“You have a great boxer in Ortiz who is one of the most skilled heavyweights we have seen, getting in there with the hardest puncher in the world. If you like knockouts, you watch this fight. If you like great boxing, you watch this fight. And if you like unpredictability and not knowing what can happen, you definitely watch this fight.”

This is a thrilling time if you care about boxing’s overall health. The current heavyweight scene serves as a reminder that this sport thrives far more on big personalities and epic rivalries than on true individual dominance.

For a decade, Ukrainian brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko ruled the division, their technical excellence and precision leading them to one comfortable defense after another. Yet while the Klitschkos went on a combined 35-fight winning streak before Wladimir was finally outboxed by Fury and then knocked out by Joshua before retiring, for most of that period there was no suspense — and, sadly, a significant drop in the public’s appetite for the heavyweights.

Wilder isn’t cut from the same, safety-first cloth as the Klitschkos. Apart from Fury, he has been taken the distance by just one opponent: Bermane Stiverne in 2015. He relies on heavy hands and explosive power. He has made no secret of wanting to add another notch to his finishing record (41-0-1, with 40 KOs) on Saturday.

Wilder talks big and loud and knows just how to pitch his fights to the public. His interviews are full of bombast and hype and that’s all part of the fun. But the big man from Alabama is also thoughtful and sharp, and he succinctly summed up the spicy limbo his division currently finds itself in.

“No one knows; we all have to see what’s going to happen,” Wilder said. “It’s all going to get settled in the ring.”