Rising prospect Vergil Ortiz on the verge of a breakthrough

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Vergil Ortiz Jr., right, hits Mauricio Herrera during a welterweight boxing match Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Vergil Ortiz Jr., right, hits Mauricio Herrera during a welterweight boxing match Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

A reason to be optimistic for the future of boxing is the high number of young fighters coming into the sport who ooze with potential.

In all divisions, there are fighters who have yet to compete for a world championship who are largely unknown. Some of them, such as featherweight Shakur Stevenson and lightweight Teofimo Lopez of Top Rank, are on the verge of title shots that will remove them from the ranks of prospects.

Others, like 20-year-old lightweight Devin Haney and 21-year-old heavyweight Daniel Dubois, are starting to blossom.

Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions, respects each of those fighters, and many others like them. But he believes he has the prospect with the potential to do the most as a pro.

Gomez fairly gushes about welterweight Vergil Ortiz, who is 13-0 with 13 knockouts.

“I believe he’s the best prospect in boxing right now, ahead of Teofimo, ahead of any of those guys,” Gomez said.

That’s a major statement, but Gomez insists it’s not hyperbole. It’s his actions, though, and not his words, which really indicate how he feels about the power puncher from Dallas.

Ortiz is just 21, but on Saturday in Grand Prairie, Texas, he’ll headline a DAZN card in a welterweight bout against Antonio Orozco. Orozco is more than 10 years older, has more than twice as many pro bouts as Ortiz and suffered his first defeat 11 months ago after 27 consecutive wins to open his career when he lost in a world title bid to Jose Ramirez.

The fact that Gomez has the confidence to put the fledgling Ortiz into the ring with a veteran of Orozco’s caliber speaks volumes about what he thinks of Ortiz’s talent.

Ortiz is an engaging and soft-spoken young man who loves to play the guitar, and who has written a few songs. Don’t, however, expect to hear them on the radio anytime soon.

“I can’t sing at all,” he said, laughing. “I am a terrible singer; horrible. I just like to play and I do it when I’m at home for myself.”

That’s a hint at the type of self-effacing man he is. He’s on the verge of a breakthrough and opened many eyes, including his own, with a third-round knockout of veteran Mauricio Herrera in May. Herrera is near the end of the road after a successful career, but he’s never been knocked out.

Ortiz nearly bent him in half with a vicious body shot that ended it 30 seconds into the third.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to knock him out because he’s a crafty veteran,” Ortiz said. “I figured that was the fight where I’d have to be ready to go some rounds. I played all the scenarios in my head on how the fight would go and I never really considered I’d knock him out.

“I shocked myself, really, and if I shocked myself, I can’t imagine there were too many other people who thought that would happen. I think it sent a wake-up message that said, ‘I’m here.’”

Gomez said that power is why he signed Ortiz after scouting him at the Desert Showdown, a major annual amateur tournament in Palm Springs, after he won his weight class with all knockouts.

“He really just stood out to me so much,” Gomez said. “He had that natural power that you don’t see that much.”

It’s the power that gives Ortiz a chance to stand apart from the crowd. Fans love knockouts more than anything else and Ortiz has consistently delivered.

He’s had a bit of a tough time coming to grips with the fame his power is bringing. With each successive victory, his reputation widens and he’s gained more fans. He’s finding adults old enough to be his father are suddenly fans, and looking to take a photo or get an autograph, and it all seems surreal to him. He said it took him a long time not to be intimidated talking to his promoter, Hall of Fame boxer Oscar De La Hoya, but said he still gets a bit starstruck when he sees middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez in person.

If he fulfills his potential and becomes the star Gomez thinks he can become, Ortiz said he’s not going to change.

“I don’t want to get popular or become well-known because of anything I say or do,” he said. “I just want to do my job in the ring, but if I do become a star, I want it to be because of my boxing and not because of anything else.”

He’s got a good head start on doing just that.

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