SAN DIEGO, March 4, 2016 – For the first time in well over a decade, there is genuine fan excitement about the heavyweight division in boxing. Former Cuban amateur boxer Luis Ortiz (24-0, 21 KOs) is one of the rising stars generating the interest. Ortiz will face District native Tony Thompson (40-6, 27 KOs) at the DC Armory in an HBO event Saturday at 10 p.m.
Ortiz quickly grabbed fan attention after spectacular knockout wins in 2015, the last in December against a legitimately tough opponent, American Bryant Jennings. Now Ortiz finds himself in the same spot as feared knockout artists like Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin, and Terence Crawford. No one wants to take the risk in the ring without a big payday. Increased activity among hungry rising stars in the heavyweight division helps open opportunities for Ortiz.
Thompson gets credit for taking this fight on short notice after Golden Boy Promotions couldn’t finalize a deal with Russian Alexander Dimitrenko and several other potential opponents declined including former champion Bermane Stiverne. Thompson hasn’t fought at home in Washington D.C. for a decade. When he learned Ortiz needed an opponent right in his backyard, Thompson told Communities Digital News he could not resist.
“I mean, it’s the whole reason for the fight,” said Thompson. “Yes, Ortiz is a good fighter. He wasn’t on my radar to be honest. But when they started saying he couldn’t find nobody to fight him, hey you know man, I’m in your backyard. Come fight with me! Call me! I’ll walk to the venue and kick your ass. Don’t tell me you can’t find no fighter to fight cause I live here!” said Thompson.
At 44 years old against a destroyer nicknamed “The Real King Kong,” this could be Thompson’s farewell bout. But he says he isn’t going into the bout to lose.
Ortiz is a rare heavyweight southpaw, facing only the third southpaw in Thompson of his career out of 25 professional fights. Ortiz scored knockouts against his previous southpaw opponents, the last one in 2013 in two minutes flat.
Unlike the gregarious Thompson, Ortiz is soft spoken and is fond of saying he prefers to let his fists do the talking for him. “Unlike Mr. Thompson who uses humor and good words and is very well spoken, I instill fear through my hard work. In the ring is where I’m most comfortable and that’s where I’ll continue to prove why I am the most feared heavyweight on the planet. Tony said that he is Godzilla. I didn’t see the movie, but on Saturday night, King Kong is going to beat Godzilla.”
Although it wasn’t by design, facing a southpaw gives Ortiz a chance to test some different skills and looks. Thompson may be able to avoid Ortiz’s most dangerous weapons, his left hook and left uppercut. This is relative as Ortiz can score knockouts with right hooks and right upper cuts with equal ease. He will have to work a little harder to close the distance on Thompson. He should not have a problem. His extensive amateur career, ability to control the ring, and Thompson’s age should make it an easy night and another highlight reel knockout in the making.
Ortiz’s WBA title will not be at stake. The sanctioning body doesn’t consider Thompson a significant enough opponent. Assuming Ortiz beats Thompson, he has a mandatory defense against Alexander Ustinov of Russia (33-1, 24 KOs). It’s a possibility for the undercard of the Canelo Alvarez vs. Amir Khan bout on May 7 in Las Vegas. Looking down the road later in the year, Ortiz could face one of two southpaw heavyweights in the top 30, who happen to be Charles Martin and Ruslan Chagaev. Chagaev fights this weekend against Australian prospect Lucas Browne for his WBA title; Martin faces Britain’s sensational Anthony Joshua on April 9 for Martin’s IBF title. While most fans would love to see Ortiz against Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury, these guys aren’t in Ortiz’s immediate future. It’s something to look forward to.
On the undercard, unbeaten welterweight Sadam Ali of Brooklyn, New York (22-0, 13 KOs) and Jessie Vargas of Las Vegas 26-1 (9 KOs) battle for the vacant WBO title. It’s the same title Vargas failed to take from Timothy Bradley Jr. in his single loss last June. Bradley has since vacated the title in order to fight Manny Pacquiao next month.
Vargas remains convinced he was robbed of a last second victory after he rocked Bradley in the final minute of the bout but couldn’t finish him off when the fight was cut short. Referee Pat Russell misheard the 10-second warning as the final bell and the fight ended seven seconds early. Vargas has never been a knockout artist, so it was a surprise he got that close to a solid stoppage at all. Vargas comes into the fight with his sixth trainer in eight years, Dewey Cooper.
Ali leapt into the upper ranks of welterweights with a Luis Carlos Abregu in 2014, but he hasn’t been able to capitalize on it with solid opportunities. He has been out of the ring since last April. In an interview withe Communities Digital News, Ali said it’s important to him to put on a good show for fans.
“Of course, that’s one of the most important things to me in boxing,” said Ali. “Because at the end of the day, we’re in there to change the sport, so we put a lot just going in the ring but at the end of the day I like to perform, I like to impress, I like to look special. So that is very important to me.
“It’s important for the viewers, it’s important for everyone who doubted. It’s important for my career, it’s important for what I do after this. I’m not looking past Vargas, this is the biggest fight of my life right now, and I feel I’m going to say that every fight after this,” said Ali.
Vargas agrees with Ali about giving the fans great fights. “What can I say, I’m excited,” said Vargas. “And I’m planning on making Sadam Ali quit. That’s my goal, and I plan to achieve it. I’m not going to stop pushing from beginning to end. I’ve conditioned myself. I’ve prepared myself for that fight to come in busy basically and not leave it up to the judges. Just win a clear, decisive fight.”
This is a solid 50-50 match-up between two young, talented boxers who have something to prove. A flashy win for either one opens up the kind of fights and paydays they’ve been working hard to get. Ali has the edge due to a solid amateur pedigree and great punching power. We call it for Ali by TKO in the later rounds.
HBO Boxing presents Ortiz vs. Thompson and Vargas vs. Ali, Saturday, March 5, at 10 p.m. ET/PT (tape delayed to the West Coast).
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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