Luis Ortiz working with ex-BALCO head Victor Conte to beat Deontay Wilder

WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, left, and Luis Ortiz pose during their official weigh-in at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday in Las Vegas.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Luis Ortiz stripped down to his tights, showing off his newly improved physique. The man nicknamed King Kong pounded his chest after seeing the numbers on the scale: 236.5 pounds. The figure did not indicate much change, but the more chiseled frame sure did, from the last time he fought the opponent standing across from him.

The 40-year-old Ortiz (31-1, 26 knockouts) will be fighting Saturday against World Boxing Council champion Deontay Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs), the man he momentarily had reeling in March 2018 during the seventh round before being dropped and stopped in the 10th.

Near Ortiz stood longtime trainer Herman Caicedo, and a new team of technicians who’ve been recruited to revive the Cuban combatant’s body. They are strength and conditioning coach Larry Wade, who is UNLV’s assistant track and field coach, physical therapist Jukka Toivala and nutritional advisor Victor Conte, the former BALCO founder who’s the proprietor of the Bay Area-based company SNAC — Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning.


Ortiz, who weighed 241¼ pounds in the first fight against Wilder, said he was gassed and fatigued after unloading an unprecedented barrage in the seventh round, Wilder’s most concerning 45 seconds as a professional. But Wilder escaped the close call and recovered to finish the tired and fading Ortiz. At the time of the stoppage, Wilder was up only 85-84 across all three scorecards, and Ortiz feels he let the big win slip out of his hands.

To fight off Father Time, Ortiz, whose beyond-his-years appearance always has led to questions about his birth certificate, embarked on a path to revitalize his body, packing his frame with more muscle and developing his fast-twitch muscle fibers.

WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder makes his signature bomb squad yell during his official weigh-in at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday in Las Vegas.
WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder makes his signature bomb squad yell during his official weigh-in at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday in Las Vegas. Wilder will defend his title against Luis Ortiz in a rematch on Saturday.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

“Victor, Larry and Yukka have been instrumental and indispensable for me in this camp,” Ortiz said. “I’m ready, focused and prepared to fight. I feel great and we’re communicating well as a unit. I’ve seen a big difference in my recovery and staying injury-free.”

Conte, who spent four months in prison in 2005 for his role shilling steroids in the BALCO scandal involving high-profile athletes like Barry Bonds, is using his new lease on sports nutrition, and life, by becoming boxing’s mad scientist and championing VADA’s drug-testing program to level playing fields.

Ortiz is not concerned with his connection to Conte, even after twice testing positive for banned substances, once in 2014 for the anabolic steroid Nandrolone, and the other in 2017, which was because of high blood pressure medication that also doubles as a masking agent. Ortiz never attempted to obtain a therapeutic use exemption.

Ortiz brought on one of the most notorious steroids peddlers to his team to conduct comprehensive blood tests and prescribe a unique set of supplements based off that. Conte monitored markers of overtraining, blood-oxygen saturation, heart rate, breath frequency, blood flow and hydration.

L.A. boxer Leo Santa Cruz, who has had only one career loss, will be vying for his fourth world title Saturday in Las Vegas. Solidly in his corner is his coach, who happens to be his dad, a survivor of myeloma spinal cancer.

Conte calculated the training-load-to-recovery-interval ratio and determined how to best push Ortiz to the limits. If the enzymes and markers appeared elevated, they cut back and compensated for the oxygen deficit.

Conte said he provided bedside equipment that “super oxygenated” Ortiz’s system before and after training by pumping oxygen with a concentrator and special mask to help with recovery. Paired with a SNAC supplement regimen, it led to deep, restful sleep that lowered his heart rate and reduced breath frequency, thus producing more testosterone and releasing additional growth hormones.

“We’re accelerating healing, tissue repair and replenishing oxygen deficit in half the time,” said Conte, who’s also worked with boxers Andre Ward, Mikey Garcia and Devin Haney, among others. “We’re strategizing by understanding the body and what hormones are being produced, and what activates specific muscle tissue. That way we can make him stronger and faster and burn the fat.

“I’m not a fan of long-distance running. It develops slow-twitch muscle fiber, and that’s not what boxers do at all. We instead prefer sprint interval training, reversibility of effort training with resistance bands going in different directions and plyometrics with jumping.”

Enter Wade’s sprint program to potentially help close the distance to Wilder and quickly get into position in the pocket without getting hit.

“I’m the new stimulus to get him started. I didn’t come in and change the world,” said Wade, who also has lended a hand to boxers Shawn Porter and Caleb Plant. “I worked with Herman and made a few adjustments. Luis is a machine, and we listened to what his body was telling us. He’s going to look faster and stronger. I think Deontay will overlook him, and Luis will knock him out.”

Caicedo added, “We didn’t want any ‘what if’ questions, and to leave no stone unturned. Everyone has put in their two cents into Luis, and we’re trying to make a nickel out of it.”

Ortiz’s renewed approach to training can’t improve the strength of his chin against Wilder, who has one of the sport’s most devastating right hands.

Ortiz was dropped three times before the first fight was waved off. He said he has plenty of motivation going into this fight and wants to further disrupt the already chaotic heavyweight picture by upsetting Wilder ahead of his planned rematch with Tyson Fury on Feb. 22.

“Deontay had his reasons for taking this fight,” Ortiz said. “But on Saturday, I’m going to show why that was a mistake. I’m going to be the new heavyweight champion of the world. Being away from my family has been harder than training and dieting. These sacrifices are for a purpose. We have tunnel vision for this goal of beating Wilder.”

Ortiz also will be fighting for his ailing 11-year-old daughter Lismercedes, who is battling the painful skin condition epidermolysis bullosa.

Among Ortiz’s fans in attendance Saturday will be Lismercedes’ physician, Peter Marinkovich of Stanford University School of Medicine. The Ortiz family will head home to Miami for a quick retreat before soon meeting with Dr. Marinkovich to discuss the next phase of treatment.

With a win, Ortiz would be the king of the heavyweight division. More significant pay days would follow to help him secure the best care for his daughter.

A loss would introduce a different kind of fight for him.