Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
Even as Luis Ortiz had been blasting his way through recent opposition, two questions remained entering his contest Saturday with fellow heavyweight Bryant Jennings. That recent opposition had not exactly been stellar, so was his apparent knockout power sufficient to affect a man like Jennings, who had never been noticeably hurt as a professional and recently went 12 hard rounds with then-champion Wladimir Klitschko? And would he be able to cope if Jennings were able to take him past the opening few rounds, deeper into a fight than he has been in a while? The answer to both proved to be a resounding yes, as the Cuban émigré hurt Jennings repeatedly en route to dropping and stopping him in the seventh round of an excellent contest that saw the arrival of a genuine new star in the heavyweight firmament.
Ortiz, 24-0 (21 KOs) with 2 no contests, served notice early that his power was genuine when he rocked Philadelphia’s Jennings in the opening round with a short right hook. Jennings walked backward into a corner, where Ortiz calmly pursued him in search of a finish, mixing up punches and hurting his opponent again with another hook. Jennings survived the round but his legs looked unsteady at its end.
Which made the American’s performance in the second round that much more impressive: undeterred by the battering of the opening three minutes, he came forward with intent, working in close, digging to the body and following up with short uppercuts that landed effectively. Ortiz regained the initiative in the third when another left sent Jennings staggering toward the ropes; but in the fourth, Jennings was back again, placing his head on Ortiz’s chest, smothering the Cuban’s punches and snapping his head back with more uppercuts.
Jennings’ recovery was sufficient to prompt Ortiz to bounce on his toes and circle Jennings from a distance in the fifth and sixth, pumping out a jab and keeping his foe at range. Jennings, 19-2 (10 KOs), was able once more to get Ortiz seemingly where he wanted him in the seventh, the fight being contested anew at close quarters, but suddenly Ortiz flashed a left uppercut of his own that sent Jennings crashing face first to the canvas. The American somehow managed to haul himself to his feet and beat the count, but another right hook sent him sagging into the ropes, a left hand knocked him backward, and referee Richard Pakozdi intervened to stop the contest at 2:41 of the round.
“He’s a fighter who deserves much respect,” said Ortiz of his beaten foe. “Not everybody goes 12 rounds with Klitschko. I have my training, I have my schooling and obviously I’m going to go out and attain my objective. Everyone has to take me into consideration as a heavyweight. I deserve to be in line to be one of the best.”
“I underestimated his pedigree,” conceded Jennings. “I was fighting pressure with pedigree. I wasn’t on my game and he got the best of me. He started to box a little more. I should have slowed it down and listened to my corner.”
At the end of Nicholas Walters’ super featherweight battle with Jason Sosa, ringside opinion was uniform. Sosa had been strong, game and brave, and he had done more than enough to hang tough and push the Jamaican in every round. But he had barely won a single frame, if indeed he had won any at all. HBO’s unofficial official, Harold Lederman, scored it 99-91 for Walters; several ringside actually had it wider.
And then the scores were read out. And by scores of 96-94 – for Sosa – and two scores of 95-95, the bout was judged a majority draw.
“I’m in total shock,” exclaimed Walters afterward. “I can’t believe it. I was in total control of the fight. He’s a good fighter, but I was never in danger, I was never hurt. It was an easy fight.”
‘Easy’ may have been overstating the case; even had the scores reflected ringside opinion, Walters would doubtless have felt the effects of a tough battle, in which each man ripped punches to his adversary’s body. Having launched himself toward stardom in 2014 by blowing away foes like Vic Darchinyan and Nonito Donaire, Walters, in his first outing at 130 lbs., surrendered size and strength advantages to the stocky Sosa, 18-1-4 (13 KOs), who sought to rip short punches in close. Walters, in contrast, began by boxing from range, but even when the battle wound up being contested in the proverbial phone booth, he appeared to be getting the better of the exchanges, courtesy not only of a sharper, more varied attack but also by subtle defensive moves that saw him slip many of Sosa’s power punches. Round after round, Sosa hung tough, and never once stopped trying; but round after round, Walters, 26-0-1 (21 KOs), had that little bit more.
Or so it seemed.
Walters, however, wasn’t the only one unhappy with the outcome.
“I thought I won the fight,” insisted Sosa. “I’m disappointed it was scored a draw.”