Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Ruiz-Ortiz: Post-Thoughts And Analysis

In the weeks following undefeated unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk’s second victory over former two-time world champion Anthony Joshua, the man he took the title from last year, the dominant question has been what is next? Almost immediately after Usyk scored his second unanimous decision over Joshua, talk began of a potential fight with the on again, off again, retired, and un-retired undefeated WBC world champion Tyson Fury for a potential showdown between the two champions that would finally lead to one Undisputed World Heavyweight champion. 

While it remains uncertain whether that will indeed become a reality, the first significant Heavyweight bout to take place in the aftermath of Usyk’s rematch with Joshua occurred on September 4th at the legendary venue formerly known as the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA, now known as Crypto.com Arena. Even though names of arenas and stadiums in modern times seem to change as quickly as those venues are built, the building has long been a hot spot for the sport of Boxing where many memorable battles have taken place over its two-decade history. On this occasion, the arena was filled with a sizable crowd to see former unified Heavyweight world champion Andy Ruiz, the first man to defeat Anthony Joshua and former holder of the unified crown that Oleksandr Usyk now holds, and longtime top contender and former two-time world title challenger Luis Ortiz meet in a bout billed as an elimination bout for the World Boxing Council’s version of the World Heavyweight championship, currently held by Tyson Fury.

Although neither seemed to be in a position to garner a fight against either Fury or Usyk in the immediate future regardless of the outcome of this fight, as this observer said in previewing the bout, in some ways the bout between the two could amount to an audition to for lack of a better term, attempt to swoop into a world title fight if the potential unification bout between the two champions does not occur in the near future. It was a fight however, where both boxers had questions that surrounded them.

For the former world champion Andy Ruiz, the issue with him stemmed from inactivity having fought only once since his losing the unified Heavyweight crown back to Joshua in their December 2019 rematch. There also was the issue of Ruiz having put in a so, so performance against longtime contender and former world title challenger Chris Arreola, who was able to score a knockdown of Ruiz before losing a twelve round unanimous decision in March of last year. This was similar to Luis Ortiz, who came into this bout off of an impressive knockout win over former IBF Heavyweight world champion Charles Martin in January of this year, but appeared to show signs of possible decline as he was dropped twice by Martin before catching him in the fifth round and scoring the knockout victory. Although Ortiz ultimately did what he had to do in that fight, the question that surrounded him coming into this encounter was whether or not at forty-three years of age and having shown signs of having trouble keeping his balance in his fight with Martin was just how much did he have left in him to give as a fighter.

Given the styles of the two fighters that have an emphasis on offense, I did suspect that we would find out the answers to how much Ruiz’ inactivity would affect him as well as whether the wear and tear that tends to come along with a long career inside the Boxing ring as well as age would be an issue for Ortiz, rather quickly. As it would turn out, both men would bring elements of their best skills into this fight. Even though I felt that Ortiz would have the edge in terms of punching power, I did wonder how he would respond in the midst of exchanges of offense with Ruiz, who despite coming into the fight at nearly 270bs., and who has been heavy for most of his career, has exceptionally quick hands for a fighter his size. At minimum, I felt that the difference in hand speed between the two would appear early in the fight and test Ortiz’ balance that gave him trouble against Martin earlier this year. Initially, it was Ortiz’ power that became evident first as he rocked Ruiz with a solid straight left hand from the southpaw stance in the closing seconds of round one. 

Prior to that point, it was a bit surprising to see both fighters willing to stand in close range and willing to engage so early and to the eye of an objective observer, it seemed like Ruiz was getting the upper hand by a slight margin before he was tagged by the left hand of Ortiz. As he has done throughout his career, Ruiz showed the ability to take a punch and would respond in round two by dropping Ortiz in the second round with a flush counter right hook to the head.

In some ways, this reminded me of what happened to Ortiz early on in his fight against Charles Martin from the standpoint of the sudden nature of the way he was knocked down. Although the veteran did his best to milk the referee’s ten count before getting up at the count of nine, Ortiz was hurt and moments later would be knocked down for a second time by a follow-up barrage of punches by Ruiz. It was not clear, at least to this observer’s eyes, whether the second knockdown was a result of Ortiz being hurt by the punches that Ruiz was throwing, but I immediately began to wonder aloud whether this was more evidence of Ortiz potentially being a compromised fighter at this stage in his career. I also wondered if Ortiz was on the verge of being stopped.

To his credit, Ortiz used his veteran instincts and was able to survive the round and did manage to tag Ruiz with a few solid shots of his own in the process. Nevertheless, I did not think based on what I was seeing and based on what I had seen in covering Ortiz’ fight against Martin that the fight would last far beyond the second round. This was based on the balance issues Ortiz seemed to have as well as possible issues with his ability to take a punch, though in fairness to Luis Ortiz, the counter right hand that first sent him down was a case of a fighter in Ruiz using his hand speed and pinpoint timing to his advantage.

A testament to Luis Ortiz’ skillset and instincts were seen in rounds three through six where he was able to both slow the pace down and get himself into a rhythm. It was at this stage where the tempo of the combat was being controlled by the former world title challenger and this in addition to his ability to use angles to keep Ruiz on the outside and a solid jab appeared to get him right back into the fight, despite having two knockdowns against him. As is often the case in Boxing, just as it appears that the ebb and flow is shifting directions, something can happen to change the course of things. This would occur late in the seventh round when Ruiz would stun Ortiz with a right hand to the head and follow up with a right hook to the head that dropped Ortiz for the third time in the fight.

In the context of scoring, it is rare to think that a fighter who suffers three knockdowns over the course of a twelve round fight and probably lost a few rounds in between depending on one’s perspective, would still have a chance to win the fight on the scorecards. At this point in the fight, I felt Ortiz as usual, made a good account of himself, but because of the knockdowns, would need to either reverse roles and score a knockdown or two of Ruiz or outright knock him out to win the fight.

Unfortunately for Ortiz, that would not be the case. Despite being able to win rounds eight, ten, and the twelfth and final round on the official scorecards based largely on his ability to keep Ruiz at distance and seeming to out box him in those rounds, the three knockdowns proved to be the difference as Ruiz would earn a twelve round unanimous decision by a three point margin on two scorecards and a single point on the third.

Although the decision in this fight was the right one in my view and there was no controversy in terms of scoring, the narrow scores at the end of the bout are a reflection of both fighters skills and how both were able to have periods of success throughout the fight even though Luis Ortiz had three knockdowns working against him. The primary difference in my view in addition to the knockdowns came down to the advantage Andy Ruiz had in hand speed. It is indispensable however, that Luis Ortiz did have success and was able to win several rounds throughout the fight.

As for what comes next, this bout was billed as an elimination bout in the WBC’s Heavyweight ratings, but what this fight represented in reality was the first in an unofficial four-man tournament to determine the next mandatory challenger for the WBC crown currently held by Tyson Fury. This is because on October 15th former WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder will face longtime Heavyweight contender and former European Heavyweight champion Robert Helenius in a second WBC Heavyweight elimination bout.

While nothing is really set in stone in the sport of Boxing, this will likely set up Ruiz to face the winner of that fight in early 2023 at the earliest to then determine the next WBC mandatory challenger. Although this scenario is for the moment unofficial, given all four fighters, Ruiz, Ortiz, Wilder, and Helenius are aligned with the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters, the final elimination bout should be an easy one to make should this unofficial tournament play out as it appears to be drawn up.

With Luis Ortiz now back to the drawing board, Andy Ruiz now awaits the outcome of the Wilder-Helenius bout to see in all likelihood who will be his next opponent following his victory over Ortiz.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth. “

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