Versatility MAKES Jamaine Ortiz live underdog, but Vasiliy Lomachenko will pull it out.
Fighters known for serving as sparring partners for superstar fighters can either enter a big fight with the mentality of a conqueror or with that of a…sparring partner.
Larry Holmes worked for Muhammad Ali in the 1970s and learned from “The Greatest” before beating his aged mentor to a pulp when they met for real in 1980. Meanwhile, heavyweight Mike Williams, who reportedly gave a prime Mike Tyson hell in sparring in the 1980s, never came close to reaching his potential over the course of a nondescript career.
Lightweight Jamaine Ortiz, who helped prepare Vasiliy Lomachenko for a fight last year, insists he is more Holmes than Williams and coming to win when he takes on the former pound-for-pound king known as “Loma” – this time for real – at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden (Undercard, 6:15 p.m. Eastern; Main Card, 10 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, ESPN Plus). Watch the fight on ESPN+ >>
THE PRIDE OF WORCESTER
Ortiz, 16-0-1 (8 knockouts), is from Worcester, the second-most populous city in New England behind Boston. Other than Worcester native Sean Fitzgerald squaring off with an old Roberto Duran in 1993 and the city hosting Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard fights in the early 1980s, the city lately has been off the beaten boxing path.
Ortiz would like to change that.
“The Technician,” 26, began boxing at the age of seven, beat Edgar Berlanga as an amateur, and lost a close one to Jaron “Boots” Ennis. He turned pro in 2016 and was 14-0 when he climbed off the canvas vs. Joseph Adorno to salvage a draw in 2021. Late in the year, he traveled from Worcester to California to help prepare “The Matrix” (a second nickname) for his fight with Richard Commey, which Loma won by decision.
It must’ve helped Ortiz as well because, in May, he scored the biggest win of his career, outpointing former world champ Jamel Herring, which earned him the WBC’s #9 ranking.
Ortiz is a smooth boxer-puncher who is polished, has quick hands, and can switch hit. He insists he won’t freeze when he’s in there, as the sparring sessions proved that he could hang with the world’s elite.
YOU DON'T GET MORE ELITE THAN THE MAN FROM UKRAINE
Lomachenko, 16-2 (11 KO’s), was considered boxing’s pound-for-pound best in the late 2010s after an extraordinary amateur run that saw him post a 396-1 record. It was unchartered territory – for today’s boxing landscape anyway – when he fought for a world title in just his second pro fight in 2014, losing a split decision to rugged former champ Orlando Salido.
He won a world title in his next fight – his third pro outing – by decisioning Gary Russell Jr. for the vacant WBO featherweight title, tying the record of winning a world title with the fewest pro fights. He then won world titles in two other weight classes – junior lightweight and lightweight – and overwhelmed the likes of Rocky Martinez (KO 5), Nicholas Walters (TKO 7), Jason Sosa (TKO 9), Guillermo Rigondeaux (TKO 6), Jorge Linares (TKO 10), Jose Pedraza (W 12), and Luke Campbell (W 12).
After four consecutive opponents quit, he was dubbed “NoMasChenko” (a third moniker).
But a subtle decline began to show itself in the 2019 Campbell fight when he got hit more than he had ever before. A year later, the demise became less subtle, as he lost a shocking decision to Teofimo Lopez in October 2020. He looked older, flat, and uncharacteristically docile. A late rally closed the gap, but the decision for Lopez was obvious.
A few days later, Lomachenko had surgery on a torn right labrum.
He returned in June 2021, dominating tough Masaysashi Nakatani via 9th-round TKO, and then looked like the same “Hi-Tech” (a fourth nickname) when he dazzled Commey in December. He was then expected to challenge new champ George Kambosos (who’d beaten Lopez) for his old lightweight titles, but he instead returned to Ukraine to show solidarity against Russian forces.
He returned to the United States in August to begin training for Ortiz. It will have been ten months out of the ring when he steps in the ring Saturday – with perhaps more weight on his shoulders than ever with the turmoil that is affecting his countrymen.
GO WITH LOMA
— Mark Kriegel (@MarkKriegel) October 28, 2022
Even if Loma has slowed down a smidgen, he has proven that he is still quite the fighter. He overwhelmed both Nakatani and Commey, giving credence to the idea that, yes, the shoulder was the culprit in the shocking loss to Lopez.
He still had the unmatched footwork and ring awareness. He still had the speed and reflexes. And he still had the sharp punching power.
But what Ortiz brings to the table is youth – he’s eight years younger – experience and skills. Nakatani and Commey were both predictable, straight-ahead sluggers. Ortiz is more polished, and he has more layers with his switch-hitting. And, with a one-inch height advantage at 5-foot-8 and a four-inch reach advantage at 69 inches, he’s bigger too.
This may be closer than the 20-1 odds may suggest. As good as Loma still is, he is still eight years older and has many, many miles on that odometer. Youth will be served – at least for a little bit. Eventually, though, the unique skill of Loma will prove the difference down the stretch. As will the familiarity of a few rounds spent in sparring.
VASILIY LOMACHENKO VS. JAMAINE ORTIZ FIGHT PREDICTION
Lomachenko by unanimous decision.
Matthew Aguilar may be reached at [email protected]