By Jeff Zimmerman
Vergil Ortiz Jr. (13-0, 13 KOs), out of Grand Prairie, Texas, who recently moved up from 140 to 147, has quietly become one of the hottest young fighters in boxing. The heavy handed and personable yet humble Ortiz appears destined for greatness, although he won’t be the one to tell you. And even though he has fought on the undercard of the biggest name in boxing in Canelo Alvarez multiple times and is the same age, 21, of another one of Golden Boy’s young stars in Ryan Garcia who boasts 3M Instagram followers, the spotlight is new to Ortiz.
The light will surely brighten on Saturday night as he faces his toughest foe to date in former world title contender Antonio Orozco (28-1, 17 KOs) in the main event, a fight that will also be his first in his hometown and take place at The Theatre at Grand Prairie and shown live on DAZN.
“I’m just getting used to it,” Ortiz said. “You can ask some of my friends, I’m an outgoing guy, I’m just shy. I’m getting used to all of this.”
Ortiz though is ready for the challenge and moving to the shark infested welterweight division, the hottest weight class in boxing, will certainly speed up the process. He will join the likes of Spence Jr., Crawford, Porter, Thurman, Garcia and of course the 40-year-old senator from the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao.
The choice was easy for Ortiz as he told Fightnews.com at his Media Day at the Irving Police Athletic League Wednesday in an exclusive interview, it was more about timing and the fact that his stablemate Jose Ramirez now holds two of the belts.
“At 140, there really isn’t a chance,” said Ortiz. “My teammate has 2 world titles. I’m not going to fight him, that’s a no no. I have a lot of respect for Jose Ramirez. He was my favorite fighter growing up too, so there’s that as well.
“There are also two more belts are in the Super Series and I’m pretty sure whoever wins that they are going to fight Jose Ramirez. And by the time that happens, I am not going to make 140 anymore, so why waste my time at 140 when I can go make my name at welterweight.”
But unlike other young fighters that are vying for title shots with shoddy resumes and easy opponents, the 21-year-old Ortiz wants tough tests and in no hurry to fight for a title.
“Of course not,” Ortiz stated. “There’s a lot of fighters right now, I look on Boxrec, and I see all the people they fought up to maybe 25 and honestly they fought a bunch of nobodies. They were very well taken care of.”
“Golden Boy believes in me and are giving me these harder fights and I am like 5 years ahead of these world champions right now.”
And Ortiz knows Orozco is no push over and is battletested as he went toe to toe with Ramirez over twelve blistering rounds last September losing a unanimous decision.
“He’s a huge boulder I have to climb. This is a very tough fight. I have a lot of respect for Antonio Orozco. I knew eventually I was going to have to fight him, since I had 3 or 4 fights. Our styles just meshed up with each other, we are both with Golden Boy. It was just a fight waiting to happen.”
Ortiz, who spars Ramirez regularly at the Garcia Boxing Gym in Riverside, CA, doesn’t think he will gain much insight from that fight.
“This is going to be a completely different fight. Me and Jose are different fighters, Hooker and Ramirez are different fighters, size and weight class, fighting styles and everything.”
Although Ortiz made the jump to 147lbs, he still had a keen interest in the Ramirez-Hooker 140lb unification, that took place almost 2 weeks in Arlington, not far from his hometown of Grand Prairie and Dallas where Hooker grew up.
Ortiz was surprised on how the fight played out.
“I didn’t think he was going to get him out that early. I knew he was going to get him out, but not that early. He really proved something to the whole world that night. Also, he’s one of the hardest workers in boxing. I have seen for myself. He is one of the most disciplined, most hungry that I have seen.”
Both Ramirez and his trainer Robert Garcia, who also trains Ortiz, had high praise for Ortiz after their recent victory at the post fight press conference.
“That kid’s a monster,” Ramirez said. “He’s going to do very well in this sport. I sparred Manny Pacquiao. I sparred so many fighters and no one hits or has that drive like Vergil Ortiz.”
“Jose always wants the toughest sparring out there and he told me that Vergil is the only one in this gym that can give him that kind of sparring”, stated Garcia.
“Vergil was raised to be great. His dad, Vergil Sr., who is still involved in his training Vergil with me and Hector, he was raised to be great. With that mentality only and that’s what Vergil wants. Vergil wants to be the best in the world and what the fans have seen on TV, 13-0, 13 KOs, they still haven’t seen everything.”
Ortiz was almost at a loss of words when he heard the praise.
“It’s a lot coming from them. It means a lot. He is my trainer, he’s my teammate. I have a lot of respect for them.”
Ortiz is excited to fight at home for the first time in front of family and friends and even his old teachers.
“It means a lot to me,” Ortiz stated. “I grew up in front of all these people. A lot of my teachers have already been hitting me up that they are going to come watch me fight.
“All my teachers loved me, I loved all my teachers. I wasn’t a bad student, I never caused any trouble. I look forward to putting on a great show for them, it’s the least I can do. You have your parents and your teachers, and your teachers almost see you more when you’re growing up. They are with you most of the time, so I want to give something back.”
Ortiz was happy to see so many kids show up at his workout.
“It’s crazy, I have seen these kids on their first day in the boxing gym, so it means a lot to see them grow up and as a boxer and a person. I’m glad to be able to put on a show for them Saturday.”
He also sees some similarities to the current IBF welterweight champion, Errol Spence Jr.
“Me and Spence came out of the same gym, Vivero Boxing Gym,” Ortiz said. “As far as our demeanor, I think that is just coincidence. Maybe it rubbed off on me from him. He was always a great fighter and he’s a world champion and I aspire to be a world champion as well.
“Our gym had some loudmouths in there, especially Gene, he’s funny. He doesn’t care, he’ll talk shit to anybody. He’s a cool dude and will be at the fights too.”
Ortiz could also look at the path Spence took in becoming one of the most feared fighters in the sport and where he became a big draw in his hometown. It took 5 years before he became champion and is now a fixture in boxing’s top five pound for pound list and has many high paydays in his future.
If Ortiz passes another big test on Saturday night and takes what he learned from those massive Canelo events, not only will he make his teachers happy, he will be well on his way to even brighter lights.
And if Ortiz could someday reach the heights of Spence, he won’t be one to tell you, but it will be very clear to everyone paying attention.
“Spence means a lot to DFW, he’s putting his name for Dallas and I hope to do the same.”