The story of talented power-punching Vergil Ortiz Jr. is a story as old as the New Testament and as modern as the pandemic.
Ortiz Jr. of Grand Prairie, Texas (19-0, 19 KOs) captured attention with his combination of solid skills and fan-friendly aggression, allowing his power to take the judges out of the picture. Ortiz Jr. has a 100% knockout rate in his professional career.
We selected Ortiz Jr. as our 2018 Prospect of the Year. But health challenges, both self-imposed and beyond his control, have made it a rough couple of years for Ortiz Jr.
After nearly two years out of the ring, the stakes for his return in the first major fight card of 2024 couldn’t be higher. Ortiz Jr. needs an impressive performance against Fredrick Lawson of Ghana (30-3, 22 KOs) on Saturday in Las Vegas at The Theatre at Chelsea Hotel. The card airs on DAZN starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
UPDATE: All fighters on the card made weight on Friday. Ortiz vs. Lawson was contracted at an agreed catchweight of 156 pounds. Vergil Ortiz weighed 156 pounds; Fredrick Lawson weighed 152.4 pounds. This is the first super welterweight division fight for both men.
Ortiz Jr. Knocked Out By Illness
In Matthew 26:41 in the Bible, Jesus tells his disciples to guard themselves against temptation, saying, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The saying's modern use implies a person is lazy or unmotivated.
It’s unfair to blame Ortiz Jr. for lacking mental toughness for being absent from the ring. But after 15 fights in four years, Ortiz Jr. has only fought four times in the last four years, and not since August 2022.
It began with repeated bouts of COVID-19. Battling back, Ortiz Jr. suffered setbacks trying to make weight, and a fierce training regimen was cited among possible causes for Ortiz Jr. developing the muscle-wasting disease rhabdomyolysis, which can be caused by overtraining.
Just as Ortiz Jr. was poised to return, his fight against Eimontas Stanionis in March 2023 was stalled when Stanionis had an emergency appendectomy. Rescheduled for July, Ortiz Jr. withdrew days before the bout after passing out during training. The severity of the situation was played down, but Ortiz Jr. needed emergency hospitalization.
At Thursday’s final pre-fight news conference, Ortiz Jr. admitted feeling out of place. “This feels kind of weird. I haven't done this in a few years,” said Ortiz Jr. He thanked everyone “who’s believed in me up to this point,” including his family, trainer Garcia, and Golden Boy Promotions.
Ortiz Jr.: ‘This fight is happening for sure'
Ortiz Jr. now seems on track. He has moved up to the super welterweight division and has reunited with trainer Robert Garcia. The stage is set for the return of one of boxing’s most promising young stars.
Ortiz Jr. knows all eyes are on him. He is eager to prove his problems are behind him, and so is his promoter. Golden Boy Boxing badly needs another big-name star in its stable besides Ryan Garcia.
“Everyone knows the story by this point, you know. I've had a few health problems. I had a long layoff, not that I wanted to,” said Ortiz Jr. “Who trains their ass off for months at a time to not fight and wastes thousands of dollars. That's never the intent. I put my heart into this sport. But now we're here.”
Ortiz Jr. said no one should hold off getting tickets, assuring fans, “This fight is happening for sure. And I'm ready. This is honestly the best I've ever felt fight week. I was destroying the bag yesterday. We're just ready. Am I talking too long? I'm sorry. I’m going to make a statement on Saturday. That’s it.”
Lawson Looks To Seize The Moment
Lawson intends to make the most of his opportunity to fight Ortiz Jr., though few are giving him much of a chance. He has been knocked down, and all three of his losses are by knockout.
“So we know Vergil is a very talented fighter and one of the world class boxers,” said Lawson. “Having recovered from injuries and had some setbacks in my career, this is kind of like a second wind for me. I want to seize this opportunity to show the world what I'm capable of doing.”
Ortiz Jr. says he finally feels like himself again, in a familiar state of being. He says he’s at his best when active and intends to fight three to four times this year, applying a consistent fight plan.
“I'm just going to show everyone that I'm the best, you know. I just gotta remind everyone. Robert’s seen me in the gym, my dad’s seen me in the gym. I'm still the same Vergil. I just gotta remind everyone of that on Saturday.”
Ohara Davies vs. Ismael Barroso in Co-Main Event
Super lightweight Ohara Davies of London (25-2, 22 KOs) makes his debut as a Golden Boy fighter against Ismael Barroso of Venezuela (24-4-2, 22 KOs) in a fight both men need to win to get a shot at the WBA belt held by Rolly Romero.
Davies showed off his Spanish language skills at the news conference, impressing the boss, Oscar De La Hoya. “Hola amigos. Estoy listo para una buena pelea. Vamanos!” said Davies, who promised it wouldn’t be a close fight and he would quickly stop Barroso.
“This won’t be a close fight on Saturday. I believe I’ll get him out of there easily, and if I don’t I’ll be disappointed in myself.
“I’m going to set my mark. Rolly, he’s been running for the past six months. The WBA says I need to take on Barroso. If Rolly wants to fight, I’ll take him next… I’m in my prime now. Now’s the time I’m going to get it done.”
The 40-year-old veteran Barroso became the center of attention when a premature stoppage call by referee Tony Weeks denied him a victory against Romero in May. Barroso was ahead on all three scorecards when Weeks felt Barroso was taking too much punishment. Barroso hadn’t been knocked down and Weeks admitted later he didn’t have a good view of the action. Barroso can help himself climb back toward another title fight by defeating Davies.
“We're warriors, we’re warriors, and that's what we're gonna do. We're gonna give you guys a great fight on Saturday night,” promised Barroso.
Arnold Barboza Jr. Makes Golden Boy Debut
Also newly signed to Golden Boy Boxing after leaving Top Rank, impressive undefeated super lightweight Arnold Barboza Jr. of Los Angeles (28-0, 10 KOs) faces Xolisani Ndongeni of South Africa (31-3, 18 KOs). Barboza says he feels at home with Golden Boy, saying “It’s go time!” on Saturday night.
Barboza Jr. is coming off impressive decision wins over Jose Pedraza, and then-undefeated Danielito Zorrilla. The 32-year-old Barboza Jr. seems to finally be realizing his full potential.