Talented young welterweights on the rise like Jaron “Boots” Ennis and Vergil Ortiz Jr. help boxing fans get past their frustration with current division champions failing to face each other in the ring.
There's another undefeated welterweight who won't be overlooked. Eimantas Stanionis of Lithuania wants fans to keep his name top of mind, too. The 28-year-old former amateur standout is the current WBA Welterweight regular champion. Stanionis (14-0, 9 KOs) takes on Ortiz Jr. (19-0, 19 KOs) in a showdown of undefeated fighters on Saturday, April 29 on Ortiz Jr.’s turf in Arlington, Texas.
Stanionis became Lithuania’s first boxing world champion, earning a split decision over Radzhab Butaev of Russia (14-1, 11 KOs) on the Spence vs. Ugas undercard. Stanionis keeps quietly mowing down his opponents with no fuss and little fanfare: Collazo, Dulorme, DeLoach.
Training in Southern California at the Wild Card Gym under the guidance of Marvin Somodio, Stanionis took a break recently to attend the card in Ontario, California headlined by Brandon Figueroa and Mark Magsayo. NYFights caught up with Stanionis to check in on his upcoming bout and learn about his recovery from an emergency appendectomy which postponed the original fight date set this weekend.
Stanionis said he had no idea he was seriously ill. “That's the funny thing. I didn't feel like, nothing. So (the) next day, something more, a little. I’m supposed to fly into the U.S. in a week.” Stanionis said a routine blood test showed signs of infection. A follow-up ultrasound caught the problem before it became more serious. “They said go straight to the hospital because it's like it, in 12 or 24 hours it can explode to make it worse. I was (both) lucky and unlucky,” laughed Stanionis.
He appeared fit and eager to fight, saying he would have been ready for the original fight date this weekend but understood advisors urging him to proceed more cautiously.
“After like, three days I started training. The doctor let me, so after two weeks I was completely 100%, I was ready to go,” insists Stanionis. “And after three and a half weeks, I started sparring,” although he avoided any direct body or liver shots in the early going. “Everybody makes a big deal with it. We were supposed to fight on March 18. I would be fit in that in that time. But I’ll take a little time off, it's better.”
Ortiz Jr. is known for his vicious body punching. He will not hesitate to target Stanionis in what he hopes is a weaker-than-usual condition. Stanionis said he knows it, he expects it and he’s ready for it. “I’ll take his body shots, I'll hit him also with the body shots.”
Stanionis Seizing His Opportunity
Stanionis knows the stakes are high in this fight for his future. NYFights asked what a win would mean for his boxing career.
Stanionis has the proper amount of respect for Ortiz Jr.s’ skillset. “He's a good fighter. He is dangerous, he's explosive, you know, but I have a plan to beat him,” he said. Although Stanionis said the plan’s execution depends in part on what Ortiz Jr. shows him, he expects Ortiz Jr. to meet him in the middle of the ring. “Make no mistake it's going to be a brutal fight,” said Stanionis with relish at the idea of it.
“Boxing needs the firefights, you know. When you put in the fighters in their prime, both fighters you know, that's what just boxing needs and I'm all for it.”
“I fear no one,” added Stanionis. “You know, it's a fight game I’m in the fight business so why would we have to be concerned about the fight? I'll fight anyone that's for sure. It's in my DNA.
“I want to fight the best. That's why I came here. I didn't come here for a long time, I came for a good time. I'm trying to take advantage, of going into the fire and just fighting,” said Stanionis. Although he acknowledges Ortiz Jr. will be the biggest challenge of his career, the Lithuanian pointed to his extensive amateur experience as an asset. “Styles makes fights and this one excites me a lot.”
Count on Entertaining Two-Way Traffic
In a statement after the fight date was rescheduled, Vergil Ortiz Jr. said, “Stanionis is a great fighter with massive power, and I know we are going to put on a good show for everyone.” Chairman and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions Oscar De La Hoya agreed, promising “Ortiz and Stanionis are elite level fighters who will be unafraid to unleash treacherous power and pressure to be crowned world champion.”
Ortiz is currently ranked first by the WBA and WBO, second by the WBA, and third by the IBF. This will be the first time he will be fighting for a world title.
Stanionis is realistic about still being the lesser-known fighter in the U.S., having to “earn my stripes” as the challenger and fight on his opponent’s turf this time in Texas. He expects a large contingent of fellow Lithuanians ringside to support him.
Stanionis has deceptive speed and power despite his low knockout ratio. He’s smart in the ring and has excellent movement when he needs to box. He’s flown under the radar and it’s perfectly OK with him. But if he’s the winner on April 29, count on this to change.
BW photo: Dranginis Vytautas