Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Is it possible to knock down an opponent three times, knock him out, win every minute of every round, and still turn in a slightly disappointing performance? If so, Luis "The Real King Kong" Ortiz did just that, as he halted veteran Tony Thompson in the sixth round of a Boxing After Dark main event at the DC Armory in Thompson's hometown Washington, D.C.
There are, it must be said, plenty of good points for Ortiz to take home. For one, he became only the second person – after Wladimir Klitschko – to stop Thompson. For another, he was facing a 6'4" southpaw opponent who was seeking to survive rather than win, and it can be tremendously difficult for any boxer to look good in that scenario. Even so, at times his offense was a little Johnny One Note, lacking imagination or originality, and if a certain other very tall southpaw, one who happens to hold the current heavyweight world title, was watching, he may well have noted as much. That said, Ortiz (25-0, 20 KOs) did not have to work particularly hard, and the result was never in any doubt. It was, at the end of the evening, job done for the Cuban, who continues his march through the heavyweight division.
The bout began slowly, two relaxed men poking jabs in each other's direction in the first round until Ortiz closed the distance and landed a short southpaw left along the ropes. Thompson (40-7, 27 KOs) crumpled to the canvas, rolled over as he sought to haul himself up, and looked badly buzzed, but beat the count and saw out the round.
Had there been any doubts about the 44-year-old Thompson's intentions, they were dispelled in the second, as he circled the ring, flicking out jabs, slipping the Cuban's over-telegraphed left hands and generally seeking not to win but to survive as long as possible. He even landed a few shots of his own as Ortiz stepped forward in the third, but then a left hand as the bell rang dropped him again.
Again Thompson beat the count, and again he set about his mission of survival. For a man who had been dropped hard twice already, he looked remarkably relaxed; but so too did Ortiz, who at one stage even circled his left hand as if threatening a bolo punch. At times the Ortiz attack seemed over-reliant on catching Thompson with one of those looping overhand lefts, and the Cuban even looked a little confused as Thompson leaned back against the ropes and almost invited Ortiz to hit him.
Still, power is a great equalizer, and Ortiz has plenty of it. When he launched another overhand left into Thompson's head in the sixth, he finally brought matters to their conclusion. Thompson crashed to the canvas, and this time could not get up in time to beat the count. Referee Malik Waleed counted him out at 2:29 of the round.
"He's a fighter who has lots of experience," said Ortiz afterward. "My trainer told me not to worry and that I would get him in time. You still haven't seen the best of King Kong."
Jessie Vargas produced the performance of his professional lifetime to stop previously unbeaten Sadam Ali in the ninth round of a hugely entertaining welterweight contest in the co-main event. Ali began the contest more brightly, bouncing on his toes and landing a nice overhand right and some eye-catching combinations in a first round in which he appeared to have too much hand speed for his opponent. But Vargas responded in the second by keeping the fight at a slightly greater distance, which suited his longer reach and enabled him to land some strong hooks.
By the fourth, Vargas (27-1, 10 KOs) appeared to be in the ascendant, moving forward aggressively and throwing power punches from mid-distance; but an Ali right hand and left hook near round's end buckled Vargas' knees, sending the Las Vegan into the ropes. He smiled and beckoned Ali on, and his opponent obliged, landing several right hands to close out the frame.
Bit by bit, however, Vargas imposed himself on the fight, walking forward aggressively and landing hard punches to body and head, as Ali (22-1, 13 KOs) struggled to land his counters. Even as Vargas began to bank rounds, they were mostly fairly close ones, until a big overhand right exploded on Ali's head at the end of the eighth, dropping him hard to the canvas. Ali made it to his knees and was able to follow along with the count from Kenny Chevalier, but will have been grateful that the bell rang immediately afterward.
It provided him with little respite, however, as Vargas immediately went on the attack as the ninth began, smartly targeting Ali's body to bring down his guard. A straight right dropped him again, and Ali appeared to injure his ankle as he went down. He shook his leg as if trying to bring it to life as he rose; Chevalier allowed the contest to continue but it appeared a matter of time and one clean shot until Vargas finished proceedings, and indeed once Vargas landed another right and Ali staggered, Chevalier stepped in to halt the contest at 2:09.
"I just felt so strong tonight," said Vargas afterward, who credited new trainer Dewey Cooper for improving his power. "I tore [Ali] apart, piece by piece."