Vergil Ortiz Jr. & The Current Welterweight Title Picture
Vergil Ortiz Jr. is in a pickle.
The unbeaten bonafide welterweight contender has his sights set on an all-Lone Star State showdown against Errol Spence Jr. But the unified 147-pound champion—understandably— has other plans.
Ortiz, from Grand Prairie, and Spence, of DeSoto, have drawn large crowds in Texas in recent years. However, without question, Spence, who scored a 10th-round stoppage of Yordenis Ugas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington to unify the WBA, IBF, and WBC welterweight titles on Saturday, is clearly the bigger attraction. The victory marked his third pay-per-view event, all held at AT&T Stadium. While Ortiz has headlined a few events, they have taken place at smaller venues.
Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, of Golden Boy Promotions, tried to push the idea of a Spence fight on social media following the 2012 Olympian’s stunning performance.“Imagine if Al [Haymon] [allows] Errol Spence Jr. to fight Vergil Ortiz Jr. and I stage it at [AT&T Stadium] or Allegiant Stadium [in Las Vegas].”
However, Spence let De La Hoya know that he’s the man in charge.“Imagine if I said NO,” he added. “I only have interest in 1 fight &, and he’s not with you.” Of course, Spence (28-0, 22 KOs) is referring to a long-awaited showdown between himself and WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford (38-0, 29 KOs) for the undisputed crown.
So, where does this leave Vergil Ortiz? The 24-year-old is on the outside looking in.
Ortiz’s last two fights have come against former world titlist Maurice Hooker and former world title challenger Egidijus Kavaliauskas. The next one was slated to be against Michael McKinson on March 19 at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. However, Ortiz was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, which is often caused by extreme weight cutting. The latter certainly was no help to an already difficult set of circumstances.
Ortiz finds himself in a peculiar position reminiscent of Mike McCallum’s struggle to land big fights early on in his career. The three-division world champion clamored for years to land significant bouts with the late Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Roberto Durán. And ultimately, while McCallum went on to build a Hall of Fame career of his own, those missed opportunities still irritate McCallum to this day.
Back in 2015, McCallum conducted an interview with Dontae’s Boxing Nation, where he criticized the aforementioned foursome for ducking him back in the 1980s. But in reality, it was just a matter of bad timing. For instance, when Hagler was at the height of his middleweight title reign, McCallum tried to make his name a 154-pounder. Furthermore, Hagler was at a point in his career where he was chasing the money and bigger fights, i.e., Hearns, Durán, and Leonard.
From my vantage point, Hagler likely would have defeated McCallum, but it’s understandable why McCallum feels they avoided him. However, there’s always a fighter who gets left out to dry one way or the other in each generation. Ortiz has knocked out every one of his 18 opponents in the pro ranks thus far. He’s probably thinking, ‘What more do I have to do?’ He has on numerous occasions called out Spence and Crawford. Both have turned the other way, but it’s nothing personal. Besides, boxing is a business.
Spence and Crawford will hopefully fight for the undisputed championship this fall, and this should allow Golden Boy to make up for lost time. And if they learned anything from this rhabdomyolysis nightmare, they will do their best to get Ortiz as many fights as possible before the end of the year. The WBC and WBO have Ortiz (18-0, 18 KOs) ranked as the No. 1 contender, while the WBA and IBF have him rated second and fourth, respectively.
De La Hoya believes he will have no choice but to flex his muscle to get his fighter a much-deserved title shot, which, if things go his way, could transpire by 2023. “Oh yeah, absolutely. The belts are tied up. Vergil is the No. 1 in the WBC,” De La Hoya told BoxingScene.com in an interview. “I have to start beating the drum basically and force Vergil down their throats. That’s exactly the way we have to pursue the path to getting the world title. It has to be forced. Vergil will fight anybody.
“The warning that I send to all fighters in the welterweight division is that the longer you wait, the worse it will get for you when fighting Vergil Ortiz. Meaning, he’s going to gain more experience, more power, more knowledge, and it’s not going to be nice for anyone else. I encourage any fighter out there in the welterweight division to talk to your promoter and manager and let these fights happen.”
Recency bias could favor Ortiz in the matter. The WBO ordered a fight between Shawn Porter and Crawford last November and the upcoming WBC heavyweight title fight on Saturday between champion Tyson Fury and mandatory challenger Dillian Whyte at London’s Wembley Stadium.