LAS VEGAS -- On March 3, 2018, Deontay Wilder retained his heavyweight world title against Luis "King Kong" Ortiz to conclude an unforgettable fight between two of boxing's most powerful punchers.
Wilder knocked down Ortiz in the fifth round, barely survived a massive onslaught over the final 45 seconds of the seventh round and rallied to score a highlight-reel knockout in the 10th round of a fight Wilder led 85-84 on all three scorecards at the time of the knockout.
Now Wilder and Ortiz are set to meet in a rematch in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card Saturday (Fox PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the first time Wilder will be fighting there since winning the belt in 2015.
Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs), 34, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, will be defending his title for the 10th time and trying to punch his way into a rematch with lineal champion Tyson Fury.
The often-avoided southpaw Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs), 40, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, is bidding to become the first Cuban to win a heavyweight title. With a win, he can also become the second-oldest fighter to win a heavyweight title behind George Foreman, who was 45 when he regained the title by upset knockout of Michael Moorer in 1994.
This is your Ringside Seat for the fight:
Why fight Ortiz again?
When Wilder elected to give Ortiz a rematch, many wondered why he would face such a dangerous opponent again when he didn't have to, especially with a mega rematch against Fury already signed.
Wilder was under no obligation to fight Ortiz the first time or again Saturday, but if he is to be believed, he wanted the challenge of a quality opponent. And Ortiz certainly gave him a run for his money in 2018.
"It was such a great fight, I definitely wanted to run that one back with him," Wilder said.
But it was also more than that. Wilder and Ortiz might not be pals, but they have a deep respect for each other and have formed a bond due to medical conditions that their daughters face.
Wilder's teenage daughter, Naieya, was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord fail to form correctly. He began boxing professionally, in part, to earn money to take care of her.
Ortiz's daughter, Lismercedes, suffers from the painful skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, a rare genetic disorder. Earning money for her treatment was one of the reasons Ortiz defected from Cuba to turn professional.
Wilder explained his rationale for offering Ortiz a second opportunity.
"There were several reasons," he said. "One, he is one of the best in the world. No one has dared to give Ortiz the opportunity even after I defeated him the first time. Most of the time when you win, especially when you knock him out, other guys are willing to fight him. They see weaknesses. ... But Ortiz's situation in this case, they still didn't want to fight him then and they don't want to fight him now. So I wanted to give him an opportunity again to prove all doubt about our first fight that we had."
Another element was family.
"Secondly, Ortiz has a family," Wilder said. "I grew a great bond with Ortiz the first time -- with his child and my child, as she was born with a disorder as well. So I know personally how hard it is and how much it takes to take care of a child with a disorder. It takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of care."
Ortiz is grateful for Wilder's decision to fight him again but still plans to win and take home the belt.
"I have absolutely nothing personal towards Deontay. I respect him as a man, father, human being, and that's got nothing to do with nothing," Ortiz said through an interpreter. "It's all about being a world champion, coronating myself [Saturday] night, achieving my goal since I was 10 years old."
Ortiz makes adjustments
As well as Ortiz fought in the first fight, he blamed the loss on running out of energy late.
"It was a fatigue stoppage ..." Ortiz said. "It was only fatigue, but I've corrected that this time around, so the better man will win."
Ortiz utilized his training camp to get in better shape with hopes of preventing that from happening again.
Ortiz moved his training camp to Las Vegas rather than Miami where he was close to his family and the distractions of home. He said being away from home helped him "in the discipline and sacrifice for the fight. I miss my family, so it's more fuel on a daily basis to be heavyweight champion."
Ortiz also hired highly regarded strength and conditioning coach Larry Wade, who works with fighters such as super middleweight titlist Caleb Plant and former welterweight titlist Shawn Porter. Using Wade's regimen, which includes a lot of swimming, Ortiz has trimmed down and appears to be in the best condition of his career.
"As a team, we worked smart during this training camp. We did things a little different with my diet, and I believe that will make me perform at a high level on fight night. My weight is right where I want it," Ortiz said.
The Fury rematch looms
Wilder must retain his title to propel himself into a much bigger fight: the rematch that has already been signed against Fury. The bout, which would be a joint pay-per-view between ESPN and Fox, is penciled in for Feb. 22 in Las Vegas.
When they met last December in Los Angeles, Fury outboxed Wilder for long stretches, but Wilder scored two knockdowns, one in the ninth round and a huge one in the 12th round that Fury somehow survived. The fight was ruled a split draw, with Wilder winning 115-111, Fury winning 114-112 and the third judge scoring it 113-113.
Part of the deal for the rematch called for each man to have two interim fights. England's Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) has gotten through his, a second-round wipeout of Tom Schwarz on June 15 and a decision in an unexpectedly grueling fight with Otto Wallin in which Fury suffered a horrendous cut over his eye, on Sept. 14. Wilder smoked mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale in the first round on May 18 and now faces Ortiz again.
Team Wilder hasn't talked much about Fury this week, but it has addressed that rematch, especially with Fury trainer Ben Davison in town for Saturday's fight.
"I'm not even really worried about the rematch right now," Wilder said. "I got to get through a dangerous man in Luis Ortiz. He's no steppingstone. I don't want no one to misinterpret me. I'm not looking past him. I tell people all the time -- I look through my opponents. It gives me motivation to get to the next step, but I'm definitely not looking past him because he's dangerous."
Jay Deas, Wilder's co-trainer, has also declined to speak much about Fury.
"There's nothing besides Ortiz, because without Ortiz there's no [possible fight with Anthony] Joshua, there is no Fury, there is no [Andy] Ruiz Jr. There's none of that. We absolutely got to take care of business on Saturday night against a very, very good Luis Ortiz. My thought is only on Ortiz. After Saturday night, that's something I'll be glad to talk about."
Wilder, who claimed a bronze meal in the 2008 Olympics, came into the pros as a raw prospect with many questions to answer. A decade later he has done that, becoming the world's most dominant heavyweight and the division's biggest puncher.
A win over Ortiz would make it 10 successful title defenses since winning the belt from Bermane Stiverne in January 2015. With nine consecutive defenses, Wilder is tied with luminaries such as Mike Tyson (in his first reign) and Joe Frazier. It's a nice, round number, whose significance is not lost on Wilder.
"It's definitely not easy to do. It's a great accomplishment for myself and for my career," he said. "It's definitely going to carry with me as I rack up these numbers. But to be honest, at the end of the day it's just what it is. It's a number. It's a great honor to be able to say this is my 10th title defense that I'm about to have, especially when many thought I was never going to be the heavyweight champion. It's amazing to be at this point in time, and right now all I could do for my career is just rack up numbers."
Rafael's prediction: They're both great punchers, so either is capable of ending the fight with one shot at any time, as was the case in the first fight. Having seen Ortiz in training camp, he is in superb shape, so an upset would not be a shocker. Wilder survived anxious moments in the first fight to ultimately win by 10th-round knockout and might have to do it again. I like him to prevail by knockout again, maybe a couple of rounds earlier.