Make no mistake: Luis Ortiz’s rematch against Deontay Wilder for the WBC heavyweight championship is only the second most important fight of his life. His daughter’s fight against an incurable, agonizing, blistering skin disease is far more important.
It always will be.
Ortiz defected to the United States in 2009 from his native Cuba, hoping a career in professional boxing could provide better care for his daughter, Lismercedes, who has epidermolysis bullosa — a rare and occasionally fatal condition that results in fragile skin and painful blisters comparable to third-degree burns.
In the 10 years since his arrival, the 40-year-old nicknamed “King Kong” has bullied his way toward the top of the heavyweight division and will fight the undefeated Wilder again Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden. All the while, his daughter has been receiving treatments at Stanford University, where doctors are among the world’s leading researchers in epidermolysis bullosa.
“The (doctors are) extremely optimistic (about advancements), which only makes him very happy,” said Ortiz’s trainer, Herman Caciedo. “We all follow suit.”
Professional boxing was barred by the Cuban government for five decades, so Ortiz — despite two decades of experience and a 343-19 amateur record — could not cash in on his talents without departing for America. His daughter, now 11, was diagnosed about three months after birth and Ortiz subsequently opted to emigrate by boat to pursue a career in the sport.
He traveled through Mexico and eventually settled in South Florida, debuting in February 2010. His wife, Lisdey, and children defected in 2012 and reunited with Ortiz at the American border.
“Just being here in the United States, where the progression of (my daughter’s) disease — there’s potential to have a cure,” Ortiz said through translation from Caciedo. “In Cuba, there was no hope for that. That was a home run to start with, and as soon as I got here and my family got here, I was able to focus on both dreams that I had, which is finding a cure … and becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.”
Ortiz (31-1, 26 knockouts) combines refined technique with proficient punching power and secured 26 of his first 28 victories by knockout. He first fought Wilder in March 2018 in New York and stunned the vaunted champion with a flurry late in the seventh round. But Wilder rallied and won via knockout in the 10th round to ended Ortiz’s bid to become the first Cuban heavyweight champion.
“I don’t like to lose,” Ortiz said. “There were legitimate circumstances why I wasn’t at my best the first fight. It was a fatigue stoppage. I believe if I had continued, I would have gotten the knockout. It was only fatigue.”
Ortiz has won his last three fights and earned a rematch with Wilder, who has a daughter who was born with spina bifida, a condition that affects the development of the spinal cord, and empathizes with Ortiz and his family. They were apart for 12 weeks while Ortiz trained in Las Vegas and shed 20 pounds in preparation for Saturday’s fight. His wife and kids arrived this week.
“If no one understood, I understood the most,” said Wilder, one of boxing’s top draws who is 41-0-1 with 40 KOs. “I wanted to give him the opportunity to be on pay-per-view and gain money for his family. … I want him to get the best of the best doctors for his daughter. And this is why we’re here.”
Who: Deontay Wilder (41-0-1, 40 knockouts) vs. Luis Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: MGM Grand Garden
TV: PBC on Fox (Pay-per-view)
Tickets: Starting at $104 on axs.com
Odds: Wilder -650, Ortiz +450 (Westgate)