With IBF and WBC champion Errol Spence Jr. being forced out of his highly anticipated showdown with Manny Pacquiao, the welterweight division is in flux and just about every 147-pound fighter is jockeying for position.
That’s just fine for Vergil Ortiz Jr., who faces Egidijus Kavaliauskas on Saturday at The Star in Frisco, Texas. Ortiz will be aiming to keep his undefeated record intact while also looking to make sure that the judges won’t be needed to decide the victor.
At 23, Ortiz is part of a new generation of boxers who have begun to take over the sport at a young age. The group also includes 24-year-old WBA (Super), WBO and IBF lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez; 22-year-old WBC lightweight champion Devin Haney; 22-year-old Ryan Garcia; 24-year-old Jaron Ennis; 24-year-old two-time WBC super middleweight champion David Benavidez; and 24-year-old Shakur Stevenson. While some are champions or have massive social media followings, Ortiz has one thing that none of his peers have: a perfect knockout record.
He’ll face Kavaliauskas, who only has lost to current WBO champion Terence Crawford, and see if he can keep that streak intact and be impressive enough to lure Crawford into a fight with him.
“Knocking out Kavaliauskas would send a huge message to Crawford,” Ortiz told Sporting News. “But I’m not going to look for the knockout. When they come naturally they look better and it makes me look better.”
Ortiz and Crawford have not minced words as of late. Ortiz called for a fight with Crawford after knocking out the champion’s stablemate, Maurice Hooker, in the seventh round of their March showdown. Crawford has since suggested that Ortiz was ducking him, a notion that the WBO’s No. 1 contender vehemently disputes.
But knowing that a lot of eyes will be on him, one has to wonder whether Ortiz is feeling pressure heading into Saturday’s fight.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “I think everyone feels a little bit of nerves before a fight. If you don’t feel nervous, then there’s something wrong with you. But once I step into the ring, all I know is that I have to do whatever it takes to win.”
Another win by knockout would extend his record to 18-0 with 18 KOs. Obviously, promotional politics could get in the way of a proposed showdown with Crawford, but Ortiz isn’t too concerned as long as he gets the right fight. Crawford is the one he wants, but he’s also open to a bout with rising star Conor Benn, and if former WBC champion Shawn Porter isn’t busy, he’d be more than happy to take that fight.
“Shawn Porter brings it,” Ortiz said excitedly. “That’s what I like. I like that competitiveness. I like that he has that dog in him and that’s an experience I’d love to have.”
He won’t dismiss his opponent Saturday as an afterthought. He’s aware of the challenges the “Mean Machine” brings to the table. Ortiz wants to make a statement against a fighter whom many feel is his toughest test to date.
“He’s stronger and has a lot of experience,” Ortiz said. “And he’s been in there with the guy that I want to fight.”
It’s a statement fight for Ortiz considering Kavaliauskas was a tricky puzzle for Crawford to figure out early. The Russian scored a knockdown that the referee missed and called a slip. Should Ortiz look better against Kavaliauskas than Crawford did, there will be a demand for Ortiz to get the title fight he desires.
“I would love to fight one more time this year,” he said of planning for his next fight. “But let’s say Crawford and Porter fight in September or October; is that going to give either of them enough time to prepare for a fight with me? Am I going to have to wait? I don’t mind waiting an extra month or two.
“But don’t make me wait too long because I have a career, too.”