Photo: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
"If he's King Kong," said Tony Thompson of Saturday's rival Luis "The Real King Kong" Ortiz at Thursday's final pre-fight press conference, "then I'm Godzilla."
A few minutes later, when Ortiz took his turn at the podium, he smiled and confessed that he had no idea who had won that epic cinematic battle. For the record, the movie ended with the two rolling into the Pacific Ocean, from which only Kong was later seen to emerge; and although Godzilla clearly survived, given that he was soon battling Mothra, the inference to be drawn was that he had drowned at Kong's giant hands. Which, frankly, seems a pretty good metaphor for what most observers feel awaits the affable Thompson in front of his hometown Washington, DC fans on Saturday night.
The 44-year-old heavyweight is easy-going, relaxed, and likeable – so relaxed, in fact, that he may be either supremely confident of victory or utterly resigned to defeat. It is true that he has appeared to be a sacrificial lamb on previous occasions in the not too distant past, only to wind up twice victorious against then-undefeated David Price and then-once-beaten Odlanier Solis (although it should be noted that the second Price fight, and Thompson's next victory five weeks later, were tainted by positive drug tests that led to him being suspended by commissions in two countries). Ortiz, though, is an entirely different animal.
"I am Luis Ortiz," he said, simply enough, when Thompson's habit of upsetting the applecart was brought up. The inference, in this case, was clear: Ortiz believes he is of an entirely different caliber than the fighters who lost to Thompson. And the available evidence, not least his impressive December stoppage of Bryant Jennings, suggests strongly that he is right. The overwhelming sense, to return to the original analogy, is that he will have little problem dragging Thompson into waters so deep that even the normally durable Washingtonian will be unable to prevent King Kong from being the only one to emerge upright.
It's been noted by some observers that Thompson does not appear to have made many claims to the effect that he is going to defeat Ortiz on Saturday, stating mostly that he has no intention of being embarrassed in front of his home supporters. Jessie Vargas, who takes on Sadam Ali in the welterweight co-main event, has no such compunction.
"I am not going to lose this fight," he says sternly, when it is suggested to him that, following defeat against Tim Bradley last summer, he badly needs to avoid a second successive loss.
Few neutrals would be as confident in that prediction, not because the odds favor Ali, but because this seems to be a genuinely 50-50 matchup. Both Ali and Vargas are perfectly chill outside the ring, although Vargas appears to be carrying an extra degree of intensity into this contest, but both will be fully aware that the winner here stands poised to not only pick up a title belt, but put himself in the frame for bigger and better things as the next foe for Bradley, for Manny Pacquiao (should he continue his career past April 9) or maybe even Terence Crawford.
The future of the nation may not be at stake in the country's capital on Saturday night, but that of some professional boxing careers most definitely will be.
Weights from Washington, D.C.
Luis Ortiz 242.6 lbs.
Tony Thompson 263.8 lbs.
Sadam Ali 147 lbs.
Jessie Vargas 146.2 lbs.