Two hungry heavyweights from different paths throw down tomorrow on Showtime PPV in their quest to reach a similar goal.
The last time we saw Luis Ortiz on a big stage he was one or two punches away from turning the heavyweight division upside down.
The hulking Cuban had unbeaten WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder badly hurt and on the brink of a knockout in an unforgettable seventh round back on March 3. Just the right shot or shots could’ve finished the job, making Ortiz the first from his nation to win a major heavyweight title.
Instead, Wilder, showing impressive resilience, survived and turned the tables: He stopped Ortiz in a sensational 10th round to retain his belt.
Ortiz, well aware of the price he paid, was left with the bitter taste of disappointment in his mouth by the big one that got away. And, having learned from the experience, he vows to come back stronger.
“I think that my performance against Wilder and since that fight have warranted a rematch,” Ortiz said recently. “I had Wilder hurt. I just made mental mistakes during the fight, I was fatigued, but I did not get knocked out flat.
“The referee did his job, but I feel that I did enough to merit another shot. I’ve worked hard to correct the mistakes I made, and in a rematch, it would be a different ending.”
Ortiz, 39, didn’t wallow long in his misfortune. He got back to work almost immediately and was back in the ring on July 28, when he stopped Romanian giant Razvan Cojanu in only two rounds at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
And the road to redemption continues at the same venue: Ortiz (29-1, 25 knockouts) faces durable veteran Travis Kauffman in a scheduled 10-rounder on the Wilder-Tyson Fury undercard.
“I’m 100 percent ready for this fight,” Ortiz said. “We never stopped working after my last fight and I’m going to show it on Dec. 1. I love staying active. I just want to keep fighting and showing off my skills.”
Ortiz’s trainer, Herman Caicedo, expects the best from his fighter against Kauffman and moving forward.
The Cuban is no kid but, as Caicedo pointed out, it’s never too late for a fighter to learn from his mistakes. That applies to Ortiz, who had never been in the position he was in against Wilder eight months ago.
“Ortiz told me that when he first buzzed Wilder, he really saw it all right there,” said Caicedo, referring to the magnitude of a potential victory. “He saw himself with the WBC championship. He saw himself knocking out [IBF, WBA and WBO titleholder] Anthony Joshua and becoming undisputed champion. So he decided to go for it all right there.”
Caicedo went on: “Luis Ortiz went through the experience of what happened in the Wilder fight and that’s the best way to overcome it in the future. He lived it, he breathed it and now he’s going to go out and earn a chance to change the outcome.”
Of course, the goal of Kauffman (32-2, 23 KOs) is to shatter whatever dreams Ortiz might have because he’s hungry, too.
Kauffman is a tough guy from tough streets in blue-collar Reading, Pennsylvania, who has worked hard for everything he’s derived from boxing since turning pro in 2006.
“This is a huge opportunity to change the lives of me and my kids forever,” said Kauffman, referring to paydays that are sure to follow a victory over Ortiz. “I’m a single father of three kids. Losing is not an option. I need a win to set my kids up for life.
“That’s what I’ve worked for my entire life. I’ve been in boxing since I was 14 and here I am at 33. Not many people get this opportunity.”
The matchup with Ortiz is Kauffman’s first break in some time. In his last important fight, against capable Amir Mansour in March of last year, he lost a close decision and any immediate chance of taking part in a big event.
He returned 15 months later – blaming the hiatus on a lack of opportunities – against small but spirited heavyweight Scott Alexander and struggled to win a majority decision in the desert community of Lancaster, California.
Kauffman had originally been scheduled to fight former light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver on that date but the then-49-year-old couldn’t procure a license and was replaced by Alexander, which Kauffman said threw him off.
“I had prepared for a slow, old southpaw who had been off for years,” he said of Tarver. “I got 10-days’ notice [when Alexander was selected]. I knew nothing about him. I looked like s--- in the fight but I got the win. That’s what counts.”
It was enough to get him this opportunity against Ortiz.
Kauffman is a tremendous underdog, a concept at which he scoffs. Luis Ortiz? One of the baddest men on the planet? Bring it on. He seems to truly believe that he could do what others might think is impossible.
His only other loss was a fourth-round knockout against Tony Grano in 2009, 17 fights ago. He also lost a close decision to Chris Arreola in 2015, a fight he contends he won easily and which was later ruled a no-decision when Arreola tested positive for marijuana.
Kauffman’s nickname is “My Time.” Could it be?
“Every fight I’ve been in I’ve been the underdog,” said Kauffman, exaggerating to make his point. “I was the underdog against Chris Arreola and beat the s--- out of him. Ortiz was the underdog against Wilder and almost knocked Wilder out.
“I like being the underdog. That means people underestimate me. I respect [Ortiz’s] skills but I’m not afraid of anyone.”
For a closer look at Ortiz vs Kauffman, check out our fight page ... and here's more information on how to order Saturday's Wilder vs Fury SHOWTIME PPV.