And then came the 10th round, and the reason Wilder remains unbeaten after 40 pro fights, despite sometimes fighting with all the technical skill of a novice Golden Glover.
Halfway through the round, Wilder suddenly found the range with a straight right-left hook combination, and down went Ortiz. He barely struggled to his feet at the count of nine.
Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times
Then, Wilder — whose name often approximates his fighting style — began flailing away with both hands, driving the rubbery-legged Ortiz against the ropes, where he made a ready target for Wilder’s right uppercut that came up seemingly from the floor and had Ortiz momentarily gazing up at the Barclay’s Center ceiling.
Ortiz dropped to his knees, referee David Fields immediately waved the bout over, and just like that, Wilder’s near-disaster had turned into a smashing success.
“Deontay walked through the fire tonight,” said Lou DiBella, Wilder’s shaken promoter, who like his fighter had stood to lose a windfall had the fight run to what appeared to be its inevitable conclusion.
Somehow, the three judges had Wilder leading, 85-84, through nine rounds, but to the 14,065 fans who packed the arena, raucously cheering Wilder’s entrance into the ring but stunned into silence by the fury of Ortiz’ seventh-round onslaught, it had to appear as if a monumental upset was in the works.
“He had me in a whirlwind,” Wilder said. “And I knew I had to get out of it.”
Wilder, who had dropped Ortiz for a brief count in the fifth round, weathered the worst moments of his unblemished career over the final 40 seconds of Round 7, after Ortiz beat Wilder to the punch as both simultaneously threw right hands. Wilder’s head snapped back and he stumbled into the ropes, where Ortiz relentlessly poured in a series of 1-2s that had Fields, the referee, looking closely at the champion, who appeared out on his feet.
But Wilder made it to the bell, and was afforded an extra 10 seconds or so of rest when the ringside physician summoned him to a neutral corner for an examination as the bell rang for round eight. With Ortiz visibly tired, Wilder was able to make it through the round and the next without sustaining much more damage, although he appeared to clearly lose both of them.
“When he made it through that seventh round, I had a feeling he was going to get this guy,” DiBella said. “He overcame adversity and that’s the true sign of a champion.”
One ringside observer, Evander Holyfield, one of the last men to hold an undisputed heavyweight title, agreed. “He got hit so many times I don’t know how he stayed up,” Holyfield said. “It takes a lot of confidence to come back from that, and in the eighth round he came back out like he never even got hit. That’s what made him win the fight.”
Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times
Of Wilder’s technical skill, Holyfield was less complimentary: “He don’t look classy, but he gets the job done.”
Wilder is a 6-foot-7, 215-pound all-around athlete from Tuscaloosa, Ala. He had aspired to a career in the N.B.A. or the N.F.L. before turning to boxing to earn money to pay the medical bills of a daughter born with spina bifida, never wore a boxing glove until he was 21, and it shows.
He is awkward and at times undisciplined. His punches sometimes miss by inches and other times by feet. Against Ortiz, a meticulously-schooled product of the powerhouse Cuban amateur boxing program, Wilder missed one left hook so badly he nearly spun to the canvas.
In short, he can’t really fight. But man, can he punch.
So far his punching power, especially in his right hand, has erased all of his mistakes in the ring.
That is what makes a showdown with Joshua, who holds the IBF title and has drawn 80,000-plus fans to each of his last two fights in Britain, so attractive. That, and the fact that there has not been an undisputed heavyweight champion of the world since Lennox Lewis retired in 2003.
A unification match between the two — Joshua has his own tough fight coming up against the unbeaten Joseph Parker of New Zealand on March 31 in Cardiff, Wales — is likely to approach the kind of revenue generated by the Holyfield-Mike Tyson fights of the 1990s, and with pay-per-view revenue, might earn each fighter upward of $50 million.
That kind of money might preclude a boxing promoter from risking any more interim fights that might derail the bonanza, but DiBella, who would represent Wilder, said he does not sense a lot of eagerness from the Joshua side to make the fight right away. He said that Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, was talking about fighting a different unbeaten heavyweight if he gets past Parker — Jarrell Miller of Brooklyn.
“I don’t think they want the fight right away,” DiBella said. “Because let’s face it, if they saw vulnerabilities that would make them want to take the fight in the seventh round, they saw things that will make them not want to take the fight in the tenth.”