Although nothing is finalized yet, plans are in the works for a pair of significant Showtime cards at Barclays Center, the boxing hotbed in Brooklyn, New York.
The first card would take place on March 3 and pit heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder against Luis “King Kong” Ortiz, with another penciled in for April 14 — though it could move to another date that month — featuring unified welterweight titleholder Keith Thurman in a defense against former two-division world titlist Jessie Vargas, multiple sources involved in the events told ESPN.
Wilder (39-0, 38 KOs) was due to defend against Ortiz on Nov. 4 in a highly anticipated fight, but it was canceled because Ortiz tested positive for two banned diuretics in a random drug test conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association as part of the WBC’s Clean Boxing Program. Wilder instead faced a replacement opponent, mandatory challenger and former titlist Bermane Stiverne in a rematch, and knocked him out in the first round.
Ortiz (28-0, 24 KOs) claimed the substances were in his system because of medication he was taking to control high blood pressure. After investigating the situation, the WBC, whose title Wilder holds, accepted Ortiz’s reason, and he was reinstated into the organization’s rankings and cleared to compete for its world title.
Ortiz won a tuneup fight by knocking out Daniel Martz in the second round on Dec. 8, after which he and Wilder, who was scouting him at ringside and then came into the ring, jawed at each other. During their face-to-face WWE-style confrontation, Ortiz said he wanted the fight to be put back together, and Wilder promised to face him.
The March 3 event would go head-to-head with an HBO card scheduled to take place at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. That card is due to be headlined by light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs), defending his belt for the first time against Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), with Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) defending his version of the light heavyweight title in the co-feature against top contender Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs). It is highly unusual for there to be two major cards on the same night in New York, though the New York State Athletic Commission has become more open to it recently.
Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) fought only once in 2017, a split decision victory against Danny Garcia in March to unify two world titles. After the fight, he underwent right elbow surgery and missed the rest of the year, but he spoke to reporters at a news conference to give an update on his elbow and address his future before a recent Barclays Center card and said he would be back in the ring in March or April to defend his belts.
Vargas (28-2, 10 KOs) recently signed with adviser Al Haymon, who also handles Thurman, Wilder and Ortiz, and had the first fight of his new deal on Dec.15, an easy 10-round unanimous decision against Aaron Herrera in a tuneup fight for what Vargas said was supposed to be a title opportunity in his first fight of 2018.