NEW YORK -- Despite all of the questions facing Deontay Wilder entering the biggest test of his career on Saturday, the WBC heavyweight champion had the most violent answer of all.
In a career-defining performance against the most avoided fighter in the division, Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) rallied from the brink of defeat to finish fellow unbeaten Luis "King Kong" Ortiz in a dramatic, all-action fight in Brooklyn.
"'King Kong' ain't got nothing on me!" Wilder screamed after the victory. "A true champion always finds a way to come back and that's what I did tonight. If you speak it and believe it, you will receive it, baby. The mind is very powerful."
The brash slugger made the seventh defense of his WBC title and needed to walk through hell to get there as Ortiz (28-1, 24 KOs) outboxed him early before battering Wilder in a wild Round 7 that saw the champion lucky to make the final bell.
Three rounds later, Wilder hurt Ortiz with right hands and floored him twice before referee David Fields waved off the fight at 2:05 in Round 10, setting off a cacophony of sound inside Barclays Center. The crowd of 14,069 was the second largest for boxing since the arena opened in 2012 behind only Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia last March.
"The heavyweight champion is a man's man; he has some huge cojones," Wilder promoter Lou DiBella said. "He walked through the fire and he knocked the guy out. That's what the f--- it's all about.
"His punching power is ungodly. It allows him to make mistakes that other people can't get away with."
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The 38-year-old Ortiz, a former Cuban amateur standout, appeared to outbox Wilder from distance over the first quarter of the fight. Wilder appeared gun shy as Ortiz continually countered off his jab.
"Luis Ortiz is definitely a crafty guy," Wilder said. "He put up a great fight. We knew we had to wear him down. I showed everyone I can take a punch."
The pace continued to slow through Round 5 as the crowd began to boo. But Wilder woke up the Brooklyn faithful with a counter right hand that wobbled Ortiz and followed with two more to floor him. The fast pace continued the next round with Wilder stinging Ortiz again with a straight right. But the tide began to turn dramatically in Round 7 when Ortiz hurt Wilder with a straight left in the corner and followed with a vicious onslaught of punches over the final minute.
"I almost had him, and I think I would've if there were a few more seconds in the round," Ortiz said through a translator. "Wilder was definitely saved by the bell. I thought I had him out on his feet. But you have to give him credit, he weathered the storm."
Wilder, 32, was beaten from pillar to post and routinely wobbled but he never went down. With Fields giving him every opportunity to stay in the fight, Wilder absorbed a series of hard right hooks and left crosses, showing the heart of a champion to make the final bell. All three judges scored the round 10-8 for Ortiz.
"When he leaves tonight, Ortiz can hold his head high. He gave the fans a hell of a fight," Wilder said. "He was hitting me with those furious punches, but they didn't have sting on them. He was throwing combos that knocked me off balance. I just had to get my range back and my fundamentals back. And I was able to do that. I showed I was a true champion tonight."
After Ortiz appeared to hurt Wilder again to open Round 8, the challenger visibly ran out of gas, allowing the pace of the fight to slow as Wilder recovered. After Wilder rallied to hurt Ortiz with a pair of right hands late in Round 9, he continued his assault the following round. Ortiz hit the canvas early in Round 10 after a right hand. Wilder followed up with a flurry of wild shots before a right uppercut dropped Ortiz to his knees and caused Fields to instantly wave it off.
"I feel fine; I did receive a right hand, but I'm OK," Ortiz said. "I was listening to the directions that my corner was giving me. In this sport, any punch can end a fight. In the ring anything can happen. I thought I was going to get a rhythm earlier. I thought I was winning the fight. This is heavyweight boxing and he caught me with a great shot. He's a great champion."
Wilder, who was leading 85-84 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage (CBS Sports had it 86-83 for Ortiz as outlined below), outlanded the challenger 98 to 87, according to CompuBox.
Even though Ortiz exposed Wilder's still raw technique early in the fight and took away his jab, the champion continued to prove the value of his power by getting rid of Ortiz. He also took a massive step forward in silencing critics who questioned his chin.
Ultimately, the biggest criticism Wilder answered was his willingness to take on such a dangerous opponent, even after Ortiz failed a drug test in October that pulled him from their originally scheduled fight. Wilder went out of his way to seek a second chance despite Ortiz becoming a two-time abuser of performance-enhancing drugs.
"Luis Ortiz was one of those fighters that everyone ducked, even champions ducked him," Wilder said. "I wondered why it took so long for him to get a title shot and now we know."
After the fight, Wilder continued his push for a super fight with unified champion Anthony Joshua, who faces WBO titleholder Joseph Parker on March 31 in their unification fight in Wales. The bout will air live on Showtime.
"I'm ready right now. I always said that I want to unify," Wilder said. "I'm ready whenever those guys are. I am the baddest man on the planet and I proved that tonight. This solidified my position at the top of the food chain tonight."
During Wilder's post-fight interview, unbeaten heavyweight Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller attempted to enter the ring but was held back by security. Miller has been rumored to be in line to face Joshua, should he defeat Parker, in a summer bout in New York that would act as Joshua's U.S. debut.
"Let's see if [Joshua promoter] Eddie [Hearn] stops talking about Jarrell Miller and starts talking about Deontay Wilder," DiBella said. "That's when we'll worry about [a Joshua-Wilder fight]."
CBS Sports' Wilder vs. Ortiz scorecard
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Wilder vs. Ortiz highlights
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