Luis Ortiz hinted at cracks in Deontay Wilder’s armour – but is he still a force in the heavyweight division?

Luis Ortiz may have sighed regretfully at seeing Deontay Wilder trounced by Tyson Fury earlier this year.

It was Ortiz who, not once but twice, found himself within touching distance of ending Wilder’s fearsome reign – but on both occasions he succumbed to come-from-behind knockout punches.

Now aged 41, Cuba’s heavyweight contender Ortiz is in last-chance saloon and is set to return on Saturday night against Alexander Flores.

Ortiz was, particularly from 2016 to 2018, considered to be an avoided and dangerous contender to the world heavyweight championships.

Although he had a chance to face Anthony Joshua, promoter Eddie Hearn has said, and twice challenged Wilder, he possessed a reputation as a skilful southpaw that was better left alone.

Ortiz’s left hand gave Wilder a shellacking in the seventh round of their first fight in 2018, wobbling the then-unbeaten WBC champion and coming within a whisker of an upset.

Wilder said after battling back to end Ortiz’s unbeaten record: “He’s one of the best in the world. Nobody has given Ortiz an opportunity, even after I defeated him.

“Normally after you knock somebody out, other guys are willing to fight him because they have seen weakness, chinks in the armour.

“They didn’t want to fight Ortiz, they don’t want to fight him now.”

Wilder continued: “He hit me with everything but the kitchen sink – shots that usually put people down, but I’m a different beast.

“The seventh round was an amazing time for me because it allowed me to see what I’m made of. Under the conditions, I was proud of myself for handling it.

“He had 40 seconds and he couldn’t do it. He threw everything, and I had the flu.

“I got no credit for the intellect that I had in the ring during the seventh round.”

Ortiz bounced back with three wins in a row and vowed: “Every heavyweight out there should know that I still have it at 40.”

The rematch with Wilder was completely one-sided in Ortiz’s favour for six rounds. At the time it felt like the blueprint to beat the champion.

“I thought he was winning,” admitted this weekend’s opponent Flores.

Then, bang! Wilder’s first meaningful punch of the fight sent Ortiz crashing down.

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Joshua analysed Wilder’s second knockout of Ortiz: “The good thing he does here, his back’s on the ropes against Ortiz, which is a dangerous place to be because on the ropes there’s no room to create space.

“But what he does, he flicks the jab out to make Ortiz think, ‘Hang on a minute, there’s something coming back if I dive in.’

“So Ortiz steps back and follows him across. What Wilder does as he’s moving round to get more space, from the ropes he’s moved around, he’s the general in the ring because he’s got all the space behind him.

“Now Ortiz’s back is on the ropes, which is a very dangerous place for Ortiz, so Wilder’s done a great thing there to turn the tables.

“He’s controlling with the lead hand. Not every jab is going to land, sometimes we just use it as a smokescreen to put something there.

“And once that jab touches your hand, your shoulder, your face, I know this bad boy [the right hand] is going to follow.”

Wilder’s run would eventually end due to the front-foot aggression of Fury, a different style to the one that Ortiz came so close with.

It now feels too late for the Cuban to ever become a world champion – he is 41, Fury and Joshua’s titles will be defended in December then they plan to fight each other twice in 2021.

But he’s closer than you think despite Oleksandr Usyk and Alexander Povetkin appearing to be far better-placed, and Dillian Whyte plotting to crash the party.

At No 3 in the WBC rankings, the only contenders above Ortiz are Povetkin (the mandatory challenger to Fury’s title whose status is on the line in a rematch with Whyte), former champion Wilder and Usyk (whose focus is as the mandatory challenger to Joshua).

Ortiz is also No 4 with the WBA behind Trevor Bryan, Usyk and Wilder. Should those names be tied up elsewhere, Ortiz is close enough to Joshua’s title to have his say.

Ortiz’s opponent Flores, his first in a year, is 11 years his junior, has won 18 of 21 fights, and has been knocked out by Charles Martin and Joseph Parker.

“Ortiz is a great fighter,” said Flores. “He’s still one of the most feared men in the division. A lot of the people on his level don’t want to fight him. His only losses coming against Deontay Wilder says everything about his quality.

“Whenever you fight at that calibre that Ortiz has been at, I know you’re going to know what you need to do in training. But, the older you get, the harder it is to recover. It doesn’t get easier. Maybe his age will show up Saturday night.”

There is much work to be done, and potentially a very long wait if he beats Flores on Saturday which he might not be able to afford in his 40s, but Ortiz has a chance to reintroduce himself as a player in the heavyweight landscape.

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