Knockout of the Year Nominations:
Nonito Donaire KO6 Stephon Young
Ryan Rozicki KO2 Khetag Pliev
Oscar Escandon KO1 Jhack Tepora
Teofimo Lopez TKO2 Richard Commey
Deontay Wilder KO7 Luis Ortiz
Vasily Lomachenko KO4 Anthony Crolla
Yuniel Dorticos KO10 Andrew Tabiti
Vergil Ortiz KO3 Mauricio Herrera
Naoya Inoue KO2 Emmanuel Rodriguez
Canelo Alvarez KO11 Sergey Kovalev
Devin Haney KO7 Antonio Moran
Winner: Deontay Wilder KO7 Luis Ortiz
Out of all the requisite year-end awards, Knockout Of The Year is the most enigmatic. There are no set terms for what constitutes a great knockout; in fact there is little that actually defines a knockout other than one combatant is rendered incapable of continuing by the other. A clean knockout, as opposed to a “technical” one, is always preferred, but even here, the definition is fuzzy. For example, Thomas Hearns’ second round demolition of Roberto Duran is often hailed as an all-time great “knockout,” even though no ten count was administered and in the record books it’s a TKO.
Generally, what aficionados of the knockout look for and appreciate most is something akin to a grand slam home run in baseball: a thwack that decides the outcome of the contest. Think Rocky Marciano vs Jersey Joe Walcott, or Mike Weaver vs John Tate, or the shocking end to that final, unforgettable clash between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Until the instant the fatal punch lands, it’s an entirely different contest, a different fight. Then the perfect shot connects and it’s game over. What could be more electrifying?
But sudden violence by itself is not enough. Some of the most chilling and awe-inspiring one-shot demolitions happen in matches that few care about and even fewer witness. Consequence and significance factor into the evaluation, as does the relative standing of the fighters involved. One of the reasons Sugar Ray Robinson’s 1957 knockout of Gene Fullmer is so highly regarded is that everyone knows Fullmer was one of the toughest sons of bitches who ever lived, and yet Robinson succeeded in putting him down and out with a single shot, the so-called “perfect punch.”
Now Luis Ortiz might not be the second coming of “The Utah Cyclone” when it comes to durability, but he’s also no cream puff. He’s a big, strong heavyweight with a record of 31-2, twenty-six of his wins coming inside the distance. And in his first battle with Deontay Wilder in March of 2018 he showed he had the sturdiness required to absorb heavy artillery and keep battling back. In fact, there’s little doubt he gave Wilder the toughest fight of his career up to that point, trading heavy shots and rumbling toe-to-toe until “The Bronze Bomber” finally lowered the boom in round ten. And while Wilder did stop him in that first encounter, it had taken many flush blows to turn the trick.
So if few foresaw a different kind of outcome for the Wilder vs Ortiz rematch, at the same time no one could deny that this was a dangerous fight to take for someone who had a multi-million dollar payday against Tyson Fury pretty much signed and sealed. But clearly Wilder didn’t see it that way, even after Ortiz had boxed his way to a commanding points lead on that November night in Vegas, even after he had neutralized all of Deontay’s offensive efforts over six rounds. Then came round seven.
Suddenly, and seemingly from nowhere, Wilder found the angle he was looking for and unleashed a whiplash right hand that sent a torrent of sweat spraying from the Cuban’s head before he crumpled to the floor. He valiantly struggled to his feet but as referee Kenny Bayless counted “ten” Ortiz was still unsteady. It was a clean, one-shot knockout that erased a commanding points lead and reminded everyone about the ungodly power Wilder possesses in that right fist. Coming on the heels of his one punch demolition of Dominic Breazeale last May, this knockout, perhaps more than any other in Wilder’s career, solidified his standing as one of the most powerful punchers of recent heavyweight history.
And ultimately, this is what makes Wilder vs Ortiz II the Knockout of the Year for 2019: the fallout. Seldom has a single match had such a galvanizing effect on a boxer’s reputation. As Laurence Thompson recounted in his recent column on Wilder, the outpouring of shock and awe following the fight was truly remarkable: “… Bob Arum called Wilder ‘the hardest punching son of a bitch I have ever seen.’ Respected boxing analyst Lee Wylie wrote on Twitter that Wilder ‘might be the most surefire, one-punch KO artist I’ve ever seen,’ and asked whether there was ‘anything more inevitable in boxing than a Wilder KO.’ … Stephen Edwards, trainer of Julian Williams, opined that Wilder was already guaranteed a Hall of Fame spot when he retires, and put the Bomber’s punching power dead even with that of Shavers and George Foreman, and ahead of Sonny Liston.”
Whether any of this euphoria has any basis in fact or constitutes, in Thompson’s words, a “tsunami of panegyric ejaculate,” is beside the point. What matters is what it reflects, which is that Deontay Wilder, with one imperious jolt of his right arm, made a greater impression on the sports world than any other boxer active today. Every other knockout in 2019 pales in comparison and, with few exceptions, every other victory is less emphatic. There is little room for debate: the Knockout of the Year is the one that brought renewed excitement to the heavyweight division as it made us all shake our heads in wonder at the extraordinary power of “The Bronze Bomber.” — Robert Portis