Luis Ortiz to face Tony Thompson in March heavyweight headliner

Heavyweight Luis Ortiz finally found somebody willing to step into the ring with him: former two-time world title challenger Tony Thompson.

After weeks of searching for an opponent -- and having several fighters and/or their handlers turn down the opportunity to challenge the big-hitting Ortiz, known as "The Real King Kong," for his interim world title -- Thompson signed a contract on Sunday, and Golden Boy Promotions formally announced the fight on Monday.

The bout will headline an HBO-televised "Boxing After Dark" card on March 5 (10 p.m. ET) at the DC Armory in Washington, D.C., Thompson's hometown.

"This fight is just another stepping stone on my path to becoming the unified heavyweight world champion," Ortiz said. "I came to the United States to chase my American dream, and fighting at the nation's capital is a dream come true. My life is coming full circle, and I know that this fight will put me a step closer to achieving everything I have worked so hard for in my career."

In the co-feature, Sadam Ali (22-0, 13 KOs) will face Jessie Vargas (26-1, 9 KOs) for a vacant welterweight world title.

"Luis Ortiz and Sadam Ali are two top fighters in our sport today, and both will impress audiences in the ring on March 5 in their first fights of 2016," Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya said. "Luis demonstrated in his brilliant knockout over Bryant Jennings in December that he is an elite fighter that can dominate even the toughest opponent. Sadam Ali is a phenomenal fighter, and I think he is the future of the welterweight division, which is very exciting."

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Miami-based Ortiz (24-0, 21 KOs), a 36-year-old southpaw and Cuban defector, drilled contender Jennings in sensational fashion in a seventh-round knockout win on Dec. 19 to retain his belt for the first time.

It was the kind of performance that made it difficult for Golden Boy to find anyone willing to fight him.

Golden Boy thought it had a deal with Russian Alexander Dimitrenko challenge Ortiz, but after agreeing to the fight, he asked for more money and declined to sign the contract. Previously, Golden Boy said it offered the fight to opponents Andy Ruiz, Andrey Fedosov, Carlos Takam, Alexander Ustinov and former world titleholder Bermane Stiverne, none of whom were interested.

But Thompson, who has faced many quality opponents, including former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko -- who knocked him out twice in world title bouts in 2008 and 2012 -- began making noise that he wanted a piece of Ortiz.

After Golden Boy and HBO considered other potential opponents, including inactive former titleholder Samuel Peter, Thompson (40-6, 27 KOs), a 44-year-old southpaw, got the call.

"I'm happy to be back on HBO fighting for another world title," Thompson said. "If you look at my competition and his [Ortiz], it's not even close. This isn't the amateurs. I'm going to use my experience as a professional to take him places he's never been."

Said Golden Boy vice president Eric Gomez: "Tony's very dangerous and was going after Luis a little bit. He said he wanted the fight. But you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for. It's a good fight. Tony Thompson has some impressive wins, and he's a world-class heavyweight."

Thompson is, however, 4-4 in his past eight fights dating to his rematch with Klitschko, although he has been a handful for any opponent. During that stretch, Thompson twice traveled to England and knocked out heavy favorite David Price and twice upset former title challenger Odlanier Solis, by decision and eighth-round knockout, in Turkey, the home country of Solis' promoter. Thompson is coming off a 10-round decision loss to Malik Scott on Oct. 30.

"Odlanier Solis was a great Cuban amateur, but he was also an Olympic gold medalist, and I beat him twice," Thompson said. "Ortiz thinks he has it tough. I've been avoided for my entire career. Just about all my fights have been on short notice and in foreign countries. If I fought the guys Ortiz fought, I'd be undefeated too. If Ortiz is King Kong, I'm Godzilla -- Godzilla coming to whoop some ass."

Mike Borao, Thompson's manager, said once Golden Boy offered the fight the deal was completed in less than a day because Thompson really wanted it.

"I'm happy for Tony, and Tony's happy," Borao said. "I just think Tony is a guy who is underappreciated, and he makes the best of every opportunity. We're taking on the guy who is supposed to be the boogeyman, but I think Tony was the original boogeyman that nobody wanted to fight. Tony is the original, and everyone knows the original is better than the sequel."

The 27-year-old Ali, a 2008 U.S. Olympian from Brooklyn, New York, and former junior welterweight titlist Vargas, 26, of Las Vegas, were supposed to fight on Dec. 19, but an ongoing disagreement over the location of the fight led to it being put off.

Vargas refused to fight Ali in New York State -- and the December card took place in Verona, New York -- and Ali refused to fight in Las Vegas or Southern California, where Vargas is originally from.

"To fight for the world championship is something that I have been training and fighting for my whole career," said Ali, who has not fought since last April. "I am grateful for the opportunity and promise all my fans I will not let them down. On March 5, I will have my hands raised up in victory as the new WBO welterweight world champion."

Vargas is coming off a decision loss to Timothy Bradley Jr. in an interim title bout last June but said he learned a lot from the defeat, in which he nearly knocked out Bradley in the final seconds.

"This is a different Jessie Vargas," Vargas said. "I learned a lot from my last fight, and I am ready to prove that I am still a world champion. I'm coming back with a vengeance."

Said Carl Moretti of Top Rank, Vargas' promoter, which worked with Golden Boy to put the fight together: "Jessie Vargas knows what's at stake this time around. He plans to take full advantage of this opportunity, and we fully expect his hand to be raised as the winner in what promises to be a great fight."

Gomez said that Golden Boy plans to include Washington, D.C. region prospects such as lightweight Lamont Roach (9-0, 3 KOs), super middleweight D'Mitrius Ballard (11-0, 7 KOs) and junior lightweight Kevin Rivers Jr. (12-1, 9 KOs) on the card, as well as New York junior welterweight prospect Zachary Ochoa (13-0, 6 KOs).