WASHINGTON, D.C. — Let’s do something we don’t do often around these parts. Let’s ask you to set aside the truth of the matter about HBO’s main event Saturday night, which is that it was lackluster matchmaking that wasn’t really worthy of main event status on even a lesser network. Acknowledge the dark truth of it, though: Luis Ortiz is a top-10 heavyweight; Tony Thompson was once upon a time, but the 44-year-old he’d gone 4-4 in his last eight. And the undercard fight between Sadam Ali and Jessie Vargas, which was better on paper, was better in reality, too.
That said: Ortiz is the goods.
With his 6th round knockout of Thompson, Ortiz did something only Wladimir Klitschko had done before: Stop the crafty vet. Thompson was down in the very 1st round, and again twice more, the last time for the final time. But in between, he pulled out some tricks that allowed him to land flush, hard shots, and Thompson can pop. Not only did Ortiz have little trouble cracking Thompson’s shell of savvy, he took what Thompson gave him back like it was nothing. And those left hands, sweet lord can Ortiz crack.
This writer attended in person, as a fan (alongside ace staffer Matthew Swain). Twitter suggests that HBO commentators were rough on Ortiz, as if he should’ve shown more. Fight fans can be fickle, but they also can be excitable, as a caveat to the following statement: Section N-4 was pretty damned impressed, and entertained. It was another small amicus brief in the legal case of Will Heavyweights Ever Be Exciting Again? And yes, that was the whole point — give Ortiz somebody to look good against, which might’ve been poorly thought out based on Thompson’s track record as spoiler, except Ortiz looked damn good. The answer to the above question is, it sure looks like there’s a fine top tier of up-and-comers, with Ortiz joining Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker at the top of the pack, followed by some wild cards like Deontay Wilder, Alexander Povetkin and champ Tyson Fury. Any combination of Ortiz and those names is a good time.
On the undercard, Vargas mounted a come-from-behind knockout victory over fellow welterweight Sadam Ali to hand him his first loss. Ali mixed it up a bit more eagerly than he should’ve, and Vargas was slow to turn it into the trading-power-shots offensive game he needed. By the time they met in the middle, it was pretty damn fun.
Ali, besides engaging foolishly (albeit for a good cause, i.e. the people who came to watch people smash each other’s faces), was also a bit inept for spells; he threw an uppercut from far away God knows how many times, and never seemed to learn to do something different. Vargas, though, eventually found the range on his right hand, and when he did it was laser-guided. The one in the 8th: Still not sure how Ali got up from that. Only referee Tony Chevalier stood between that Vargas right hand and victory, and really, Chevalier stood in the way of sanity — missing a knockdown, pulling Vargas off Ali for no reason, not noticing that Vargas’ corner was waving a white towel, deciding to stop it at an odd moment, etc. etc.
Ali still has talent, but needs some schooling, which is something Vargas has had in spades, what with his sixth trainer in eight years. Vargas has always been somewhat on the outside looking in, despite some quality victories. Some of those victories were dubious decisions, however. And he got robbed of a chanced at a career-best win by a referee’s failure, who halted the Timothy Bradley fight just as Vargas had Bradley in trouble. He brought that up again Saturday — it sticks in his craw and he wants a rematch after Bradley faces Manny Pacquiao again. After this win, a damn good, finally no dispute good one, he has a stronger argument for it.
(Sadam Ali falls to the mat after taking a punch from Jessie Vargas in their match at the DC Armory; Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)