Vergil Ortiz Jr kept his undefeated record by stopping Maurice Hooker in the seventh round of a terrific action fight tonight, but the bigger story coming out of it might be what could happen next, and whether or not it should.
Hooker is a training stablemate of WBO welterweight titleholder Terence “Bud” Crawford, who was in attendance at the bout. Earlier in the night, Crawford was interviewed by Chris Mannix for DAZN, and sort of dismissed the idea of fighting Ortiz (17-0, 17 KO) next should Ortiz beat Hooker, which he wound up doing.
But Ortiz wants that fight, and that’s not new. He said in his post-fight interview, directly but respectfully to Crawford, that he doesn’t care if he’s “ready” or not, that’s the fight he wants. At 22, Ortiz has a lot of sand to look for that sort of bout, but there’s a harsh reality at play here, too: Neither one of them have an easy big fight to make next.
Ortiz’s promoter at Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, Tweeted at Crawford after the fight to have Crawford’s promoter Bob Arum give him a call:
@terencecrawford have @BobArum call me— Oscar De La Hoya (@OscarDeLaHoya) March 21, 2021
Now listen, De La Hoya says a lot of things, but I think there’s a sincerity here.
Back in July 2020, before he fought Samuel Vargas, Ortiz did an interview and talked about wanting to fight Crawford then. Just recently, he said pretty much the same thing.
“If I beat Hooker and they offer me (Crawford) right after, I’ll take it. is what I’ve been fighting for, this is what I want,” he said. And he acknowledges fully that he understands it’s a big step. He’s shown nothing but respect for Crawford when discussing the idea.
But he also believes he can beat him.
“A lot of people thought (it was too big a step for) Teofimo Lopez with Lomachenko, and he beat him. Anything is possible,” Ortiz said last week. “And more than that, I think I’m very capable of beating Crawford.”
Ortiz didn’t leave the ring unscathed against Hooker, as the former 140-pound titlist marked up the young gun a bit and gave him a real fight. It was a legitimate test for Ortiz, the kind that he really needed. He’s had solid wins at level over some good veteran fighters, but Hooker actually provided real resistance, incredibly valuable experience.
Hooker spoke honestly post-fight and said that Vergil will one day be champion, but that he does not believe Ortiz is ready for Crawford.
Crawford said he’s “on bigger and better things,” and maybe he is. There has been a lot of talk about Crawford fighting Shawn Porter, which is a bigger fight right this moment. But there has been Crawford-Porter talk in the past, too, and it went nowhere.
If it doesn’t wind up being Porter, and it seems clear it won’t be Manny Pacquiao, who does Crawford fight next? Top Rank have run their in-house welterweights dry, and have had to go out and get faded names like Amir Khan and Kell Brook in the last two years just to find marketable opponents for the Nebraska native. The division is mostly controlled by Premier Boxing Champions — titleholders Errol Spence Jr and Yordenis Ugas are with PBC, as are Porter, Keith Thurman, and Danny Garcia. So is rising star Jaron “Boots” Ennis. So are a lot of guys you’d call the “best of the rest” like Sergey Lipinets, Jamal James, Josesito Lopez, and Eimantas Stanionis.
There are other options for both Crawford and Ortiz, of course. Either one of them could make a fight with European champ David Avanesyan, who is hot at the moment with four straight wins, including a Feb. 20 breakdown of Josh Kelly. Matchroom’s Daniyar Yeleussinov wants a big fight. Golden Boy have Rashidi Ellis, an unbeaten 27-year-old who hasn’t gotten any of the big hype.
But if Crawford doesn’t get Porter, there is really no better fight for him than Ortiz. And there’s no bigger fight for Ortiz than Crawford.
Maybe Ortiz is right: It doesn’t matter if he’s “ready,” the fight might be the right one to make anyway.