State of the Division: Heavyweight

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

“As the heavyweight division goes, so goes boxing.” It’s an old fight-game bromide that, since Lennox Lewis fought Mike Tyson in 2002 and effectively brought to an end a great heavyweight era (or at least a great American heavyweight era), has been proven partially true. On the one hand, while the heavyweight division was slogging through several of its least interesting years ever, smaller fighters like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao picked up the slack and set box-office records. On the other hand, with conversation about heavyweight boxing on the decline, the sport has steadily, with each passing year, continued its slide further from mainstream relevance in the United States.

Now, boxing’s most historically glamorous division finds itself at an inflection point. As Wladimir Klitschko — the most dominant figure of the post-Lewis-Tyson era — readies to take on Anthony Joshua — the most promising figure of the new era — on April 29, the stage is set for a new generation to take over and maybe, just maybe, return heavyweight boxing to some semblance of its former glory. This could be a passing of the torch that ushers in a series of fights between big men that we’ll be telling our grandkids about.

But it could also be exactly the opposite. The torch might stay firmly in the grasp of a 41-year-old future Hall of Famer, and fight fans eager for the next big thing would be left to watch their hopes set ablaze.

Here’s a look at who’s who in the only weight class without a weight limit, on the eve of the ultimate crossroads clash:

The Inactive Champion: Tyson Fury

Photo: Hennessy Sports

Photo: Hennessy Sports

Let’s get the elephant in the room (no weight jokes, please) out of the way first. Fury beat Klitschko in November 2015. It was ugly, but it was effective, and it made the 6’9” scrapper from the UK the one, true heavyweight champion of the world. But he hasn’t fought since. Fury has struggled publicly with mental health issues and drug issues. He was going to rematch Klitschko, then he wasn’t. He was retired, and now he isn’t — or so he says. Since he appears to be well over 300 pounds in recent photographs, it might be a while before Fury (25-0, 18 KOs) is ready to box again. He’s only 28 years old; there’s certainly time for him to get his head on straight and return to the title picture. But for the moment, Fury is little more than an asterisk as the division moves forward without him.

The Aging Great: Wladimir Klitschko

The Hall of Fame bonafides of the Ukrainian veteran of more than two decades in the pro game are beyond debate. He encountered one of the weakest heavyweight talent pools ever, yes, but he ruled over it for a ridiculously long time and, after being written off in 2004 following his third TKO defeat, rattled off a 22-fight winning streak that lasted more than 10 years. But he just turned 41 and hasn’t fought in 17 months, and, though Fury’s awkwardness is partially to blame, Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs) looked truly terrible in dropping the title. He simply couldn’t pull the trigger. If he beats Joshua, a man who won Olympic gold 16 years after Wladimir did, it could go down as the defining win of his career. It could also go down as the fight that puts that career, and the era of the Klitschko brothers, to bed.

The Potential Savior: Anthony Joshua

Photo: Lawrence Lustig

Photo: Lawrence Lustig

If you were designing the next super-duper-star heavyweight boxer in a lab, you might very well come up with a prototype that resembles Joshua. Standing 6’6”, weighing just under 250 pounds, chiseled, handsome, articulate, charismatic … and, oh yeah, he can box a little and punch a lot. Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) is drawing enormous crowds in England, and while he still has plenty to prove in the ring at age 27, when stepping up slightly against fringe contenders like Kevin Johnson, Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale, and Eric Molina, he’s taken care of business easily. The Klitschko fight at Wembley Stadium represents a massive leap in pedigree. But it’s indicative of how impressive “AJ” has been so far that he’s more than a 2-1 favorite to win.

The Disgraced Veteran: Alexander Povetkin

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

Maybe the best non-Klitschko heavyweight of the post-Lewis, pre-Joshua years, Russian former beltholder Povetkin’s future is now as murky as Fury’s. The 37-year-old failed not one but two drug tests in the past year, scuttling bouts with both Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne. Povetkin’s record of 31-1, 23 KOs, is impressive; the only loss was to Wladimir Klitschko in 2013, while wins have come over the likes of Chris Byrd, Ruslan Chagaev, Carlos Takam, and Mike Perez. The problem is, nobody knows if Povetkin was clean and how legit those results were. He’s currently barred from fighting for certain sanctioning body titles and, as capable a fighter as he is, it’s conceivable that he won’t ever have another fight of real significance again.

The Lurking Beast: Luis Ortiz

Photo: Golden Boy Promotions

Photo: Golden Boy Promotions

He might be a little old, at 38, for “next big thing” consideration, but Ortiz, who only turned pro seven years ago after escaping his native Cuba, is nevertheless on the short list of fighters with a chance to rule this division in the immediate future. His seventh-round knockout of Bryant Jennings in 2015 was eye-opening, and a sixth-round destruction of Tony Thompson in his next fight offered confirmation. “King Kong” found an unlikely Godzilla, however, in the form of Malik Scott’s stink-‘em-out style, and his stock dropped with each passing round of a dreadful distance fight. Still, Ortiz (27-0, 23 KOs, 2 no-contests) is a heavy-handed southpaw with skill, and the next top heavyweight contender who calls him out will be the first.

The Polarizing Puncher: Deontay Wilder

Depending on where you sit, Wilder is either the most scintillating or the most carefully matched American heavyweight up-and-comer in a couple of decades. The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist is now 31 and presumably about as good as he’s going to get, so hopefully answers are coming soon. Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs) boxed effectively in his step-up fight against Bermane Stiverne a little over two years ago, but ever since, he’s struggled more than expected against middling opponents — before ultimately locating his punch and knocking them down and out. If they can both remain undefeated, Wilder vs. Joshua could be the biggest cross-continental fight the division has seen since the then-record-setting Lewis-Tyson showdown.

The Other Young Gun: Joseph Parker

At only 25 years of age, undefeated, and boasting an 82 percent knockout rate, Parker should theoretically be as a big a deal as Joshua, Wilder, and Ortiz right now. But there’s just something about him that makes him a less sexy choice to get behind. The 6-foot-4 Kiwi’s step-up fights have been a mixed bag: impressive third-round knockouts of Kali Meehan and Alexander Dimitrenko, mildly disappointing narrow decision wins over Carlos Takam and Andy Ruiz. Parker (22-0, 18 KOs) is, for now, the other guy to keep in the back of your mind. But he’s such a well-rounded prospect that it should shock no one if he turns out to be the centerpiece of the next heavyweight era.

Also In The Conversation:

Kubrat Pulev, Carlos Takam, Andy Ruiz, Dillian Whyte, Tony Bellew

Ortiz Forced to Go the Distance by Non-combative Scott

Photos: Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom

By Nat Gottlieb

On a night when Malik Scott seemed to think he was competing on “Dancing with the Stars,” the Philadelphia-based boxer managed to do something remarkable. No, he didn’t knock out the unbeaten Luis Ortiz. No, he didn’t beat him on the cards. Shockingly, by his survival style of faux boxing, Scott made the normally electrifying Cuban look boring.

Ortiz (26-0, 22 KOs), who was overwhelming predicted to take out Scott within three rounds, won every round but didn’t look particularly sharp in an unanimous decision victory over Scott (38-3-1, 13 KOs) at Salle des Étoiles in Monte Carlo on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. The scores were 120-105, 120-106, and 119-106 in what can only be called a snoozefest.

The 37-year-old Cuban was hoping to win impressively enough to land himself a title shot, but that chance will probably have to wait for another day and a better, more combative fighter in the ring with him.

This past Thursday, Scott, who seems to be more active on social media than he is in the ring, tweeted: “I believe Luis Ortiz is the best out there. He is a lion and I’ve got to tame that lion.”

Well, in order to tame the lion, you have to actually throw some punches. But Scott didn’t throw his first punch in the opening round until almost two minutes had passed. For the fight, CompuBox had him throwing a pitiful average of 13 punches per round, none of which remotely did any damage.

Some of the blame must go to Ortiz, too. For almost the entire fight the southpaw seemed intent on landing one big left hand to take Scott out. As a result, Ortiz, normally a punching machine, was not throwing many combos, and seemed to be pawing with his long jab, instead of trying to do any damage with it.

Another negative for the 6-foot-4 Cuban was having to face a fighter who seemed content to just go the distance. Further, Ortiz wasn’t able to find a strategy to cut off the ring and trap Scott. Ortiz’s corner implored him midway through the fight to change tactics, saying, “Don’t look for that home run! Corner him!” But their message fell on deaf ears.

Scott, who has never lived up to his amateur career hype, seemed to almost have a “rope-a-dope” fight plan, even dropping his hands at times to goad Ortiz to come at him. But the Cuban is no dope, and he remained patient, if not exciting, for the full 12 rounds. 

Scott went down seven times, but the only three trips to the canvas that were counted as knockdowns by referee Jean-Robert Laine came in rounds four, five and nine. It was initially unclear why the other four weren’t counted. 

Even more puzzling is why Ortiz failed to work Scott’s body, and why he only threw his usually devastating uppercut just twice, missing his elusive target both times. CompuBox had Ortiz connecting on close to 50 percent of his power shots, but they just didn’t seem to have their usual stinging effect. It certainly wasn’t due to Scott’s chin, which had betrayed him in his two previous losses, both knockouts.

Scott’s corner sounded delusional at times in its instructions to the fighter. After the eighth round, one of his corner men told him, “Pick up your hand speed, move your legs and your head! You’re right in this.”

After the fight, Ortiz said, "Malik was running around the ring and made it hard for me to fight.
Everybody comes to see a show and see someone fight and brawl. It made it hard for me.
I'm a little disappointed because I wanted to knock him out, but he was moving around and made it hard."

Where Ortiz goes from here is anybody’s guess, but it doesn’t appear his performance did much to earn him a title shot. As for Scott, his 12-round “No Mas” was a unanimous embarrassment and his days as a serious contender appear to be over. It’s likely that the talented but faint-hearted Scott will now be used as a gatekeeper for up-and-coming young heavyweight prospects.

CompuBox Preview: Luis Ortiz vs. Malik Scott

Heavyweights Luis Ortiz, left, and Malik Scott will battle Saturday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. ET/PT.

Heavyweights Luis Ortiz, left, and Malik Scott will battle Saturday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. ET/PT.

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom

By Compubox

Many factors have the potential to stop a fighter's career momentum, but, outside of injury, promotional issues are among the most damaging (just ask Mikey Garcia). Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz appeared to be an unstoppable force on his way to a title opportunity as he scored knockouts over Bryant Jennings and Tony Thompson to extend his KO string to four and his record to 25-0 (22 KO) with two no-contests. However, his switch from Golden Boy to Matchroom Sports in England has enforced a 232-day layoff, the second longest of his career. With a fight already scheduled for Dec. 10, Ortiz will return against Malik Scott, a 36-year-old who has gone 3-2-1 (both losses by KO) after starting his career with 35-straight wins and is coming off his own year-long layoff. Will this Scott be great or will "The Real King Kong" smash him to bits?

Force of Nature: After a positive drug test voided his one-round crushing of Lateef Kayode, Ortiz has won four straight, all by KO and all within seven rounds. In fact, Ortiz hasn't seen the eighth round in nearly six years. In his four fights against Byron Polley (KO 1), Matias Vidondo (KO 3), Jennings (KO 7) and Thompson (KO 6), Ortiz averaged 50.5 punches per round, landed more often (16.9 vs.11.4 per round overall, 3.9 vs. 1.7 jabs per round, 13.1 vs. 9.5 power shots per round) and did so more accurately (34% vs. 31% overall, 16% vs. 14% jabs, 49% vs. 40% power).

One potential issue could be defense; Jennings, probably Ortiz's best opponent to date, landed 47 percent of his power shots but a massive right uppercut in the seventh rendered that sobering figure moot. In his last fight against Thompson, Ortiz tightened up the defense (20% overall, 15% jabs, 26% power) and scored knockdowns in rounds one and three before registering a 10-count knockdown in round six. In that fight, Ortiz landed 35 percent of overall punches, 55 percent power punches and out-landed the 44-year-old journeyman 88-43 overall and 58-22 in terms of power punches. Overall, in his last four fights, Ortiz has landed nearly half his total punches (49.2% vs. division average of 34.2%) and 49.4 percent of his power shots (division average 41%). Meanwhile, opponents landed 39.8 percent of their power shots in that stretch.

One Dimension: While Ortiz is all about power, Scott is all about the jab. In fights against Kendrick Releford (W 8), Bowie Tupou (KO 8) and Vyacheslav Glazkov (a hotly disputed D 10), Scott landed 6.5 jabs per round and connected on 26 percent of his attempts while holding his foes to 18.7 attempts, 3.7 connects and 20 percent accuracy. He landed more than eight more punches per round (20.8 vs. 12.2) and that weapon set the table for his power shots, which landed 49 percent of the time, while limiting his foes to a 27 percent mark. 

But when the jab is taken away, Scott struggles. Dereck Chisora held Scott to 1.2 jab connects per round and 5 percent accuracy in scoring a sixth-round TKO victory while Wilder never allowed Scott a punch edgewise in scoring a 96-second knockout win. (In fact, Scott's only punch of the bout was a missed jab). Scott has won two 10-round decisions since the Wilder disaster and, like Ortiz, Tony Thompson was his most recent opponent. Scott's jab wasn't nearly as prominent as was the case in past fights as he attempted just 8.7 per round and landed 2.0 per round, but the out-of-shape 44-year-old was even less successful (21.4 thrown/0.6 connects per round). Scott appeared in full control of the match until a short right suddenly decked Scott near the end of the ninth. Scott arose, won the 10th round, out-landed Thompson 110-78 overall and 90-72 in terms of power punches and captured the decision. However, the chin that failed him against Chisora and Wilder, nearly did so again versus Thompson. Against a vicious puncher like Ortiz, that flaw could be fatal.

Prediction: Like Amir Khan vs. Canelo Alvarez and Kell Brook against Gennady Golovkin, Scott must fight perfectly for 12 straight rounds to pull the upset while Ortiz, like Alvarez and GGG, only needs to land one big one. The over-under should be measured in seconds rather than rounds. Ortiz by highlight-reel KO.

Hungry Heavyweights Ortiz and Scott Eager to Prove Themselves

Luis ortiz, left, takes on malik scott in monaco on saturday, nov. 12.

Luis ortiz, left, takes on malik scott in monaco on saturday, nov. 12.

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/Matchroom

By Diego M. Morilla

Unlike most sports, every match in boxing can be an opportunity to start anew or revive a stalled career. The bout that will pit Luis Ortiz against Malik Scott in Monte Carlo's Salle des Etoiles on Nov. 12 (HBO, 4 p.m. ET/PT with a replay at 11 p.m. ET/PT) will provide plenty of new opportunities ahead for the winner of a what could be a very interesting fight in an otherwise dull year in heavyweight boxing.

For that to happen, Scott (38-2-1, 13 KOs) will have to turn in a career-best performance against one of the most feared fighters in the division. Cuba’s Ortiz (25-0, 22 KOs) will undoubtedly have the upper hand as far as talent, pedigree and recent experience is concerned.

The doubts, however, reside on whether Ortiz can overcome the distressing streak of recent events that have taken him on a rollercoaster ride.

Earlier this year, his trip to Cuba to visit his family was literally halted at the airport minutes before boarding the plane due to an embargo-era rule still in place, and the impact of this heartbreak was noticeable on the usually moody fighter, who had longed to see his mother since he defected from his island-nation in 2009 to pursue his dream.

More recently, his scheduled bout during the Canelo Alvarez-Liam Smith card back in September fell through due to his request for a bigger purse, and that led to his split from Golden Boy Promotions. He will be operating under the banner of Matchroom Boxing, in what was a rare signing for the British promotional outfit which operates mostly within the confines of Old Albion.

True to his reclusive nature, Ortiz shut himself from the world to prepare for this fight against Scott, and he justified his silence with his typical call for more action.

“I haven’t fought in seven months, I am hungry for a fight!” Ortiz said during an interview with Boxeo De Colombia. “It is great that a promoter like Eddie [Hearn, head of Matchroom] has placed his attention on me. I feel renovated. I don’t care where I fight, my thing is fighting. Anywhere, anytime. I just want to be a champion.”

To expound further, Ortiz chose his trainer German Caicedo to do the talking.

“Luis should already be a champion. If everything goes well, in two or three fights he will be,” said Caicedo, who pointed out Ortiz’s recent streak of victories against the likes of Tony Thompson, Bryant Jennings and Matias Vidondo as proof to make his title case.

Taking down a motivated Malik Scott in a dispassionate environment as Monaco, however, will prove to be a much-welcomed test in Ortiz’s path towards a legitimate title.

“Who I am fighting means more than winning the title,” said Scott to reporter Helen Yee in a recent interview. “Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson at a time when Tyson was the most feared fighter in the world. That’s the type of victories that I want at this point in my career.”

Scott named Ortiz as part of a short list of fighters he has zeroed in as he tries to make it to the next stage in his career, with the other two being Anthony Joshua and David Haye.

A rangy and faster-than-average fighter with solid experience and decent pop, Scott will look to take advantage of Ortiz’s lack of speed and his proclivity to receive straight right counters. However, Scott will need to dramatically improve upon his last few performances. He bounced back from his two losses with a solid win over Australian Alex Leapai in the latter’s home turf, followed by a win over the always durable Tony Thompson in a fight in which Scott got off the canvas to win the bout. But Scott has a lot to make up for after his embarrassing stoppage against Derek Chisora in which he literally missed a finger or two on the referee’s hands as he was counting him out on one knee, which was followed by a devastating first-round stoppage at the hands of Deontay Wilder.

Still, Scott remains unimpressed with Ortiz’s status as the "King Kong" of the current heavyweight crop.

“I don’t see perfection. I don’t see invincibility,” said Scott in a recent interview. “I don’t see what the casual fans see. It’s my job to take advantage of those loopholes. If I can take advantage of them, he’s going to leave the ring with one loss. If he can take advantage of the things he’s seen in me, then I’ll lose. The best man will win.”

If Scott has his wish, the promise of another devastating, highlight-reel stoppage by the Cuban powerhouse will fail to materialize, and the fight will become a fork in the road for both fighters, with Scott steering towards the shortest road to his dream title bout.

"If I'm on my game on November 12, I'll shut him out,” said Scott. He's going to gas out early and I'll put on a boxing clinic. Ortiz is my pathway towards a world title opportunity, and this is my time to shine."

HBO Boxing Podcast: Ep. 143 - State of Heavyweight Division and Ortiz-Scott Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss the current state of the heavyweight division and preview the upcoming fight between Luis Ortiz and Malik Scott, which airs Saturday, Nov. 12 on HBO beginning at 4 p.m. ET/PT, with a replay at 11 p.m. ET/PT.

WATCH: Hey Harold! - Luis Ortiz vs. Malik Scott

HBO Boxing unofficial scorer Harold Lederman breaks down Luis Ortiz vs. Malik Scott.

Ortiz vs. Scott happens Saturday, November 12 live on HBO beginning at 4 p.m. ET/PT, with a replay at 11 p.m. ET/PT.

Watch the Promo for Luis Ortiz vs. Malik Scott

Watch a preview of the Nov. 12 heavyweight showdown between Luis Ortiz and Malik Scott.

Ortiz vs. Scott happens Saturday, Nov. 12 live on HBO at 4 p.m. ET/PT, with an evening replay at 11 p.m. ET/PT.

HBO Boxing Podcast - Episode 99 - Ortiz vs Thompson Postfight

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss Luis Ortiz's KO victory against Tony Thompson and the exciting undercard scrap between Jessie Vargas and Sadam Ali.