When unbeaten heavyweight Luis “The Real King Kong” Ortiz faces WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder on Saturday, he can become the first Latino or Hispanic heavyweight world champion born outside of the U.S. and just the second heavyweight of Latino or Hispanic descent to capture the heavyweight world title. The first was Massachusetts’ John Ruiz, whose parents were Puerto Rican and who defeated Evander Holyfield for the WBA heavyweight title in March 2001.
“This fight is not only important for my family, but for Cuban boxing history,” said Ortiz. “My only focus right now is on the strategy I will need to defeat Wilder, but I know this fight has a lot of significance. I’m going to make history for myself and my country when I knock out Wilder on March 3.”
Cuba has had three previous fighters vie for the heavyweight title, with Jorge Luis Gonzalez losing to Riddick Bowe in 1995 and Vitali Klitschko defeating both Juan Carlos Gomez in 2009 and Odlanier Solis in 2011. Ortiz hopes to stake his claim to the upper echelon of Cuban heavyweight lore along with heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson, who won three Olympic gold medals and is arguably the greatest Cuban fighter of all time, despite never fighting professionally.
The strong boxing tradition of Cuba has continued to this day, with Ortiz looking to become the 18th world titlist from the country. Prominent active Cuban fighters include WBA 154-pound champion Erislandy Lara, who fights Jarrett Hurd in a unification showdown April 7 on SHOWTIME, and two-division world champion Rances Barthelemy, who looks to become the first three-division champion in Cuban history March 10 on SHOWTIME.
The history of Hispanic fighters vying for the heavyweight title dates back to the legendary matchup in 1923 between Jack Dempsey and Argentina’s Luis Firpo. Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes all defended against Hispanic challengers while Deontay Wilder has beaten three Mexican-American opponents in Chris Arreola, Gerald Washington and Eric Molina.