There is order and stability in boxing’s heavyweight division — for now.
Deontay Wilder mustered a spectacular one-hitter-quitter knockout of Luis Ortiz in a rematch he was losing to retain his World Boxing Council heavyweight title Saturday at the MGM Grand.
Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs), who hardly landed a meaningful punch for six rounds, connected with a bone-rattling right to the head of Ortiz (31-2, 26 KOs) in the seventh, dropping and stopping the Cuban.
Referee Kenny Bayless reached the 10-count 2 minutes 51 seconds into the round in front of a crowd of more than 10,000, guaranteeing that Wilder would escape the jaws of defeat and inch closer to stepping into the ring Feb. 22 against Tyson Fury in yet another heavyweight rematch.
Wilder was down 59-55, 59-55, 58-56 on the judges’ scorecards.
The performance delivered on the promise Wilder packs — his opponents have to be perfect for 12 rounds, while he has to be perfect for only two seconds. The rematch was a 180-degree turn of their March 2018 encounter, in which Wilder had to rebound from the scariest 45 seconds of his career in the seventh round to knock out Ortiz in the 10th.
“You can see why no other heavyweight wants to fight him,” Wilder said. “He’s very crafty, he moves strategically and his intellect is very high. I had to measure him in certain places.”
The final stat sheet did not convey the masterful performance the 40-year-old Ortiz delivered until he was caught with Wilder’s trademark right hand. Ortiz landed 35 total punches to Wilder’s 34, with a bigger advantage in power punches, 28 to 17.
“I said that one of us was going to get knocked out and it wasn’t going to go 12 rounds,” Ortiz said. “I was clear-headed when I hit the canvas. When I heard the referee say seven I was trying to get up, but I guess the count went a little quicker than I thought.”
Ortiz was left confused and angry in his corner after he regained his senses, shaking his head then scratching his skull with both hands after letting another opportunity slip through his hands.
“Ortiz is one of the best in the world,” Wilder said. “You have to give him that. I want to thank his family for allowing Ortiz to come into the ring and share his energy with me. I hope one of the other top heavyweights gives this man another opportunity.
“I had to go in and out and finally I found my measurement. I saw the shot and I took it. My intellect is very high in the ring and no one gives me credit for it. I think I buzzed him with a left hook earlier in the round and I took it from there.”
Leo Santa Cruz was pegged to serve as an appetizer for the main course, and although he was moving up in weight, restless fans couldn’t wait for his fight to be over.
Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs) stepped up to the 130-pound weight class and won a world title in a fourth division via unanimous decision when he outworked Miguel Flores (24-3, 12 KOs) for a vacant version of the World Boxing Assn. junior-lightweight title.
Santa Cruz won by the scores of 117-110 twice and115-112. The tally amounted to Santa Cruz becoming the fifth Mexican fighter to win championships across four weight divisions, joining the recently anointed Canelo Alvarez, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Jorge Arce. Santa Cruz, from Los Angeles, also was a titleholder at the 118, 122 and 126-pound divisions.
In his immediate post-fight interview, the heavy favorite Santa Cruz said he wasn’t pleased with his performance either, but noted that he didn’t want to make any excuses.
“Winning this title means the world to me,” SantaCruz said. “This is all for the fans who support me. I didn’t feel myself today and didn’t perform the way I wanted to. I’m going to get back in the gym and get a big fight in 2020.”