With IBF and WBC champion Errol Spence Jr. being forced out of his long-awaited showdown with Manny Pacquiao, the welterweight division is changing and nearly every 147-pound fighter is vying for a position.
That’s fine for Vergil Ortiz Jr., who faces Egidijus Kavaliauskas on Saturday at The Star in Frisco, Texas. Ortiz will aim to keep his undefeated record intact while ensuring that the judges are not needed to decide the winner.
At 23, Ortiz is part of a new generation of boxers who have begun to dominate the sport at a young age. The group also includes 24-year-old WBA (Super), WBO and IBF lightweight champion Teofimo López; 22-year-old WBC lightweight champion Devin Haney; Ryan Garcia, 22; Jaron Ennis, 24; David Benavidez, 24-year-old two-time WBC super middleweight champion; and Shakur Stevenson, 24. While some are champions or have massive social media followers, Ortiz has one thing none of his teammates have: a perfect knockout record.
He’ll take on Kavaliauskas, who has only 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 great message to Crawford,” Ortiz told Sporting News. “But I’m not looking for the knockout. When they come naturally, they look better and it makes me look better.”
Ortiz and Crawford haven’t just been talking lately. 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 dodging him, a notion the WBO No. 1 contender vehemently disputes.
But knowing that a lot of eyes will be on him, one has to wonder if Ortiz is feeling pressure heading into Saturday’s fight.
“No, I don’t know,” he said. “I think everyone gets a little nervous before a fight. If you don’t feel nervous, then there is something wrong with you. But once I get in the ring, all I know is that I have to do whatever it takes to win. “
Another knockout victory would extend his record to 18-0 with 18 KOs. Obviously, promotional politics could get in the way of a proposed matchup with Crawford, but Ortiz isn’t overly concerned as long as he has the right fight. Crawford is the one he wants, but he’s also open to a fight 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 write off his opponent on Saturday as an afterthought. He is aware of the challenges that the “bad machine” brings. Ortiz wants to make a statement against a fighter that many feel is his toughest test to date.
“He’s stronger and he’s got a lot of experience,” Ortiz said. “And he’s been there with the guy I want to fight.”
It’s a statement fight for Ortiz considering that Kavaliauskas was a tricky puzzle for Crawford to solve early. The Russian scored a knockdown that the referee missed and called a slip. If Ortiz looks better against Kavaliauskas than Crawford, there will be a demand for Ortiz to get the title fight he wants.
“I would love to fight one more time this year,” he said of planning his next fight. “But let’s say Crawford and Porter fight in September or October; will that 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 another month or two.
“But don’t make me wait too long because I have a career too.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.