A New Year Brings the Same Story for Luis Ortiz

The hard-hitting Cuban is rarely mentioned as a potential opponent by other top heavyweights—unless they are already fighting someone else. Saturday night, he vows to make an example of Christian Hammer on Showtime.

Luis Ortiz may be as unflappable as heavyweights come, but even he will admit to having some nights where he has trouble sleeping.

Sometimes, the restlessness is out of concern for his young daughter, Lismercedes. Born with epidermolysis bullosa, a rare genetic disease that makes the skin highly susceptible to blisters and burns, Lismercedes must deal with the reality that there is no known cure for her condition. (In a bit of good news, though, Ortiz’s handlers said their charge recently had a promising meeting with doctors over at Stanford.)

Other times, Ortiz is fixated on a certain memory from his professional life, a snippet that unspools in his head with Technicolor clarity: The seventh round of his March 2018 title fight against WBC heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder.

“I think about it all the time,” said Ortiz. “It’s a daily ongoing scenario that I replay in my mind.”

Midway through that pivotal seventh, Ortiz landed a counter right hook during an exchange that buckled Wilder’s knees. Ortiz, his eyes wide open in anticipation of the finish, then proceeded to batter Wilder from one corner to the other with a slew of combinations.

Toward the end of the round, it appeared Wilder was done for, but somehow, in an incredible show of persistence, he remained on his feet until the bell rang. What happened next, of course, was one of the most dramatic finishes in recent memory. Wilder roared back in the 10th to blast out Ortiz for good.

“Obviously the fight speaks for itself,” Ortiz said. “I ran out of steam and I punched myself out in the seventh round. I admit I was overzealous. My punch placement could have been better. I just completely ran out of gas in that 10th round. And, of course, that fifth round (knockdown) affected me. At the same time, I was the one taking the fight to Wilder the entire time.”

To be so tantalizingly close to owning a title is a source of continual regret for the Cuban southpaw.

“I basically saw myself briefly as the heavyweight champion of the world for a split second, and then — just like that— I lost focus.”

Yet Ortiz, 30-1 (26 KOs), insists the scenario is far from over.

“It won’t be complete until I knock him out or retire,” he stated. “The errors that are made have been corrected. Game plan, stamina, all of that. This stuff happens, but it won’t happen again.”

This Saturday, Ortiz faces Germany-based Romanian Christian Hammer (24-5, 14 KOs) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on the undercard of the Erisandy Lara-Brian Castano bout, live on Showtime (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

They bring up my old age all the time. If I’m so old, fight me. Heavyweight contender - Luis Ortiz

Though he is not overlooking the credible Hammer, who has fought—in losing efforts—against the likes of Alexander Povetkin, Marius Wach, and Tyson Fury, Ortiz sees no point in dithering about his big-picture ambitions.

“I 100% deserve the rematch with Wilder,” said Ortiz, who has rebounded from the loss with two straight stoppages, over Razvan Cojanu and Travis Kauffman. “I was winning outside of a couple of rounds. A lot of media thought that, too.”

As for Hammer, Ortiz says, “I’m not even going to give him the glory (of going the distance).”

Long one of the most avoided fighters of the heavyweight division, Ortiz, 39, all but walked around wearing a sandwich board emblazoned with the words “High Risk, Low Reward.” He expected more opponents to challenge him following the loss to Wilder. That has not turned out to be the case.

“After I got beat, I thought everybody would want to fight me,” Ortiz said. “Everybody has actually gone the opposite direction. I’m not even being talked about. They still avoid me, complain that I’m too old. Whatever. (Losing to Wilder) may have done more damage than any good but whatever, they can’t avoid me now.”

Herman Caicedo, Ortiz’s trainer, points out that Ortiz’s quiet demeanor and lack of English puts him at a disadvantage compared to the more garrulous heavyweights when it comes to chasing the big-ticket fights.

“He has no advantage to ever state his case, it’s translated always,” said Caicedo. “Unfortunately, I don’t know if he is ever going to become a fluent-speaking English person.”

“It’s very frustrating and annoying,” Ortiz said. “All these guys have these big mouths and they want to talk and mention everyone but me. The way I knew boxing back in the day, to be the best you fought the best. You proved it in the ring. The only one who has done that has been Deontay. The others are just talking nonsense.”

The “others” would include UK’s multiple-beltholder Anthony Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn. Ortiz had a particularly sour experience with Hearn, who initially signed him to a promotional contract back in 2016 with the idea that Ortiz would challenge Joshua down the line. But after defeating two opponents under Hearn, Ortiz says, Hearn changed his tune.

“They backpedaled,” Ortiz claimed. “Eddie realized I was going to knock Joshua out.”

Added Caicedo, “I’m not doubting that Joshua really does want to fight Luis but someone has to tell him ‘hey, take it easy homeboy, you would get knocked the hell out.’ And that’s Eddie.”

That is now all in the past. Ortiz says he is in a better place, and that he will get his big shot soon, despite what the scuttlebutt might say. 

“Obviously the other heavyweights want me to retire,” he said, chuckling. “They bring up my old age all the time. If I’m so old, fight me.”

For a closer look at Luis Ortiz, check out his fighter page.

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