One of the great strengths of boxing is that it is a weight class sport. As in wrestling or weight lifting, great athletes of all sizes have the chance to compete on an even playing field and establish their greatness. True fans get excited about terrific fighters in every weight class.
But if we’re honest, we have to admit that the sport lives and dies with the heavyweight division. The majority of the sport’s most iconic stars have been, not just the baddest man in their world their own size, but the baddest man period.
So part of being a boxing fan is staying ever on the look-out for the next great heavyweight star. Saturday night in Verona, New York, I think I saw that star light up the sky, as Cuba’s Luis Ortiz turned in a sensational knock-out of top-five heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings.
Luis Ortiz is a product of the celebrated Cuban amateur system, so by definition, he is a skilled, well-schooled boxer. But he’s also an extremely dangerous and explosive puncher.
The southpaw hurt Jennings badly in Round 1. Jennings showed tremendous game and a fantastic chin. From rounds two throough six, Jennings took some heavy shots but kept coming forward, attempting to hammer at Ortiz’s body.
In Round 7, Jennings looked to be battling his way back into the fight. It was the first round of the fight that he clearly seemed to be winning. Then, diassaster struck. Ortiz rocked him with yet another stunning uppercut, sending Jennings face down to the canvas.
I was stunned that Jennings managed to beat the count and convince the referee that he was fine to continue. Again, Jennings is an extremely tough and durable fighter. But Ortiz came back on him like a shark smelling blood. He wobbled Jennings with a right hook, sending him stumbling, and followed up with a clean, over-hand left that forced a stoppage at 2:41.
Afterward, Luis Ortiz said that his strategy had been to keep fight Jennings on the oustide with his jab. However, he added that “I told my trainer after the third round, I think I’ll have to fight him on the inside and the uppercut will be there.”
Indeed it was, again and again. It’s not a weapon Ortiz has shown a lot in the past, underscoring the tremendous diversity he possesses.
The KO over Jennings gives Ortiz the single most impressive win in the division. Jennings went 12 round with Wladimir Klitschko earlier this year. He’s defeated a number of very good contenders. The performance is even more impressive, due to the fact that Ortiz was battling the flu all week. Even as he was interviewed by the press after the fight, he coughed and hacked after nearly every sentence.
Luis Ortiz is a charismatic, larger-than-life fighter. He lives up to his nickname “The Real King Kong.” At 36, he could, finally, be poised to become the sport’s next big star.