Saturday night in Washington D.C., Cuban heavyweight sensation Luis Ortiz defends his WBA “interim” world heavyweight title against veteran contender Tony Thompson. The WBA “interim” belt isn’t really much of a title. But Ortiz might just be the best heavyweight boxer on the planet.
Ortiz had an outstanding amateur career as a part of the elite, Cuban national team. He turned professional in 2010 and has so far put together a record of 24-0, with 21 KOs. Most of those wins came against fairly low-level competition, since as a crafty southpaw with explosive power, Ortiz didn’t exactly have an easy time attracting credible contenders.
But last December he got his big opportunity against former world-title challenger Bryant Jennings, a top-10 heavyweight who had gone the distance with Wladimir Klitschko. Ortiz responded by turning in one of the most exciting heavyweight performances in a generation, stopping the game, but out-gunned, Jennings in Round 7.
He also did it with the flu. I was part of the media scrum that interviewed Ortiz after the bout and can attest, he very much appeared under the weather, despite recording the biggest win of his career.
Ortiz is the total package. In addition to his technical skill, he’s a big, athletic guy with power. At 6’4″ and between 235-240 pounds, he has the size to stand up to monster heavyweights and the movement and hand speed to deal with the smaller contenders. I’d be inclined to pick him against anybody else in the division.
Tony Thompson is a former two-time title challenger, knocked out twice by Klitschko. At 44, he’s developed into one of the division’s more well-established gatekeepers. In his last five fights, he’s recorded two good wins over Ortiz’s fellow Cuban, Odlanier Solis. But he’s also lost to Kubrat Pulev, Carlos Takam and Malik Scott during that stretch.
At 36, Tony Thompson is no youngster. But he needs to stay active, even in fights like this, where he’ll most certainly win. The top fighters at heavyweight are not necessarily going to line up to fight him, especially after what he did to Jennings. So he’s got to keep moving forward, to make sure he’s the one fighter in the division that everybody wants to see.