Scratch that. They were scared.
The Tuscaloosa native was hurt. He was dazed. He was out on his feet.
But he never went down, a fact that was not lost on Wilder promoter Lou DiBella.
“Of all the things I respect about (Saturday) night, he never went down in the seventh round,” DiBella said. “How the (expletive) did he never go down? That’s remarkable.
“An ordinary guy goes down. He’s the kind of champion (where) he wasn’t going down, period. He wasn’t going down. And he didn’t.”
Not only did Wilder not go down, he came back. The 32-year-old composed himself in the eighth round, took charge in the ninth and knocked out the previously undefeated Ortiz with 2:05 left in Round 10 of an epic battle before 14,069 at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center and a Showtime Boxing television audience.
This was Wilder’s seventh title defense and by far his greatest challenge. Ortiz (28-1 with 24 knockouts) appeared to have KO No. 25 all wrapped up. But the Bronze Bomber didn’t cooperate.
Three rounds later, Wilder, who trailed on some scorecards going into the decisive round, turned the tables with right hands that twice sent the challenger to the canvas. Referee David Fields waved off the fight with Ortiz falling into the ropes, the result of a final uppercut.
For the 40th time in 40 bouts, Wilder was a winner. For the 39th time, he knocked out his opponent. But this one was different. This was transformative.
“Last night was a turning point for him,” DiBella said in a Sunday conversation with Alabama NewsCenter. “He became the baddest man on the planet. Last night, he became a superstar. Last night changed everything for him in terms of perception.”
As the promoter put it, his fighter walked through the fire, faced adversity and then emerged triumphant.
“He fought the toughest guy he possibly could have fought and he did it because he wanted to prove himself,” DiBella said. “That guy gave him hell. He had to overcome being badly hurt and he came back and won with one of the most sensational knockouts in the heavyweight division in a long time. It was a great, great night for Deontay Wilder.
“Not only did he knock out Ortiz, he did it in the kind of style that creates legends,” he continued. “He did it in the style where people will be talking at the water coolers, at their offices.”
Before Saturday, some were critical of Wilder’s unorthodox style. Some debated if he could take what he delivered.
That question was answered.
A contributor to Boxing Now on YouTube.com called himself one of Wilder’s biggest critics, calling the WBC champ “sloppy.”
“I questioned Wilder’s chin coming in,” he said in a post-fight review. “(With) the punishment he took in that (seventh) round, that chin is now tested.”
In the ring after the fight, Wilder looked toward a possible unification bout with the winner of the March 31 fight between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker. Joshua currently holds the IBF, WBA and IBO titles.
“I’m ready right now. I always said I wanted to unify,” he said. “My goal is to unify and I’m ready whenever those guys are. It seems like they ain’t in no rush to fight me because I am the most dangerous man in the world.
“I am the most baddest man on the planet and I proved that tonight,” Wilder continued. “This solidified my position at the top of the food chain. Soon there will be one champion, one face and one name and he goes by the name of Deontay Wilder.”
DiBella won’t even say Joshua’s name, simply referring to the British boxer as “the other fighter … across the ocean right now.”
“We’re not chasing anybody,” he said. “We don’t have to beg … for an opportunity at anybody. Deontay Wilder believes he’s the best heavyweight in the world. The biggest fights are going to happen and they will happen when everyone involved is truly ready to make them.
“Deontay just has to keep going about his business because right now he is the heavyweight champion of the world,” DiBella continued. “He right now is the heavyweight champion, the baddest man on the planet. Because he took on the challenge and passed the test with the heart of a lion, Deontay Wilder is bigger than he’s ever been.”