Luis Ortiz, 40, won't let his age determine outcome of rematch vs. Deontay Wilder

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

LAS VEGAS — The two words — “It happened!” — have an entirely different meaning to those who heard them in 1994 when George Foreman fought Michael Moorer at the MGM Grand Garden.

The words, spoken by HBO boxing play-by-play man and long-time Foreman friend Jim Lampley, were the Hall of Famer’s incredulous reaction when Foreman knocked Moorer down and out to claim the heavyweight title.

At the time of the Nov. 5, 1994, bout, Foreman was one of the most beloved figures in sports. He was a genial, self-deprecating guy who had a constant smile and time for everyone. He also happened to be one of the best boxers ever.

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And, oh yeah, he became the first and only man in boxing history to win a version of the heavyweight title after his 40th birthday. Foreman was 45 years old when he knocked Moorer cold in the 10th round that night.

Lampley’s reaction was the perfect tone for such a stunning victory.

Luis Ortiz shadowboxes during a media workout at Las Vegas Fight Club on Oct. 31, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Luis Ortiz shadowboxes during a media workout at Las Vegas Fight Club on Oct. 31, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Luis Ortiz isn’t perceived the same way as Foreman, and nor is he remotely the caliber of fighter that Foreman was. But if Ortiz, who is a +475 underdog at the MGM Grand Sports Book, wins the title by defeating WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, PPV), it will be no less stunning.

On Saturday, Ortiz will be 40 years, seven months and 26 days old, which would make him the second-oldest man behind Foreman to win the title and the third-oldest, behind Foreman and Vitali Klitschko, to hold it if he were to upset Wilder. Klitschko, now the mayor of Kiev, Ukraine, was 42 years, five months old on the day of his last heavyweight title fight that he won prior to his retirement.

It would be a remarkable accomplishment, just 20 months after he was stopped by Wilder in the 10th round of their first fight and isn’t given much of a chance the second time around.

Ortiz is trying his best not to make his age an issue and said, “Age is just a number.” He’s in magnificent shape, which is a bit worrisome in that he tested positive for an anabolic steroid in 2014, but he’s been working with the highly regarded Larry Wade in this camp.

Wade, who has worked with Shawn Porter, Caleb Plant and Badou Jack, has transformed Ortiz’s body and he’s covered in muscles.

“Coach Larry Wade has brought professionalism to the camp that fits right in with what we already do as far as schedules and professionalism,” Ortiz said. “I got a new look at some of the stuff that's being done with fighters. So it was a nice change and obviously sometimes it can be the same thing but just approached differently and the body will react better and that's what it was. I'm very happy with Coach Wade.”

The title was within Ortiz’s grasp the first time. He hurt Wilder — Wilder prefers to say he was buzzed — and had him on the ropes in the seventh round of their first fight. Ortiz is one of the biggest punchers in the sport and needed just one more clean shot and he’d have taken the belt from Wilder.

Wilder, though, showed his class by finding a way to survive the last 45 seconds of the round.

Ortiz gave credit to Wilder for his survival skills. 

Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (R) of the US fights contender Luis Ortiz of Cuba during their WBC heavyweight title fight in New York on March 3, 2018. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)
Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (R) of the US fights contender Luis Ortiz of Cuba during their WBC heavyweight title fight in New York on March 3, 2018. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

“As soon as I made the connection and hurt him and I saw him where he was and I knew I was going to finish him,” Ortiz said. “That the fight was over, basically. I haven’t had any other situation like that where I hadn’t gotten a knockout in a scenario like that. So it’s just a matter of putting some punches together and winning this fight.

 “I don’t really remember which punch it was. It’s just like a flash. It was probably the right hook that did the damage but after that, I can’t remember what was doing more damage or not.”

If he can take those final steps, he’ll put himself into the history books. He already held a version of the WBA heavyweight title in 2015, but because it frequently seems that just about everyone except Uncle Charlie from “My Three Sons,” has held a version of the WBA belt, he hasn’t gotten much respect as an ex-champion.

But beating Wilder, who is 41-0-1 with 40 knockouts and has made nine consecutive successful title defenses, would do it for him.

“One thing for sure is that both mentally and physically, I’m at my best and prepared,” Ortiz said. “So he can bring whatever he is going to bring. No problem.”

If he does it, we may once hear those two words, it happened, that George Foreman and Jim Lampley made so famous a quarter of a century ago.

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