It’s a good time to be Vergil Ortiz Jr.
He’s young, he’s talented, and he’s making a name for himself in a welterweight division that seems on the verge of putting his generation in the spotlight.
He’s an aggressive fighter with a crowd-pleasing style, facing off against 18 men and knocking all 18 of them out in 8 rounds or fewer. And he’s eager to test himself against the best in his division, as soon as he can get them in the ring against him.
Ortiz spoke with Bad Left Hook about his career and his goals, and what makes him so eager to challenge himself at such a young age.
Vergil, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You’re 23 years old, you’re starting to build a big reputation because of your talent. But people may not know you very well yet because you’re so young and just on the cusp of what could be a very special career. So, let’s start out with the most basic question: What are you fighting for? Why are you a boxer?
I would have to say fighting people looked fun. I was five years old when I started. So, if I’m being honest? That’s what made me get into boxing.
As for now? I fight for my family. I want to make sure everyone is good, I can take care of everyone in my family, and make sure my kids have a good future. A happy childhood.
I want to ask you a few questions about your last two fights. First off, you don’t seem like the sort of fighter that’s hellbent on “protecting the 0” in the loss column. It’s a great thing for boxing fans, but it’s definitely a braver approach than most prospects take in their early- and mid-20s. What’s your plan? What path are you trying to take to reach your career goals?
I don’t like to waste time. In anything. Even when I drive, I take the fastest way possible and try to hit the least amount of lights. I’m basically doing the same thing here in boxing.
A lot of fighters are taking fights that you’re supposed to win. But, if you win, your career isn’t really going anywhere. You have to take those fights that are going to make you better. Where people are going to say “Oh, he won?” or, “He won like that?” That’s basically it. I don’t like the “easy” fights. I don’t want to take the easy way.
Your last fight was against Egidijus Kavaliauskas, who many feel is the toughest challenger Terence Crawford has faced in his three years as a welterweight champion. What does the experience and the outcome of that fight tell you about yourself and where you are as a fighter?
First and foremost, I did gain a lot of experience from that fight. It was one of the few fights where I emotionally felt excited after I won. Because Kavaliauskas is a good fighter. He was very tough.
What does that tell you about yourself? Are you hitting the peak of what you’re capable of doing? Do you feel like you belong at the top of the division now?
I feel like I belong at the top, but I don’t think I’m really anywhere near my peak. I’m only 23!
I’m not nearly as strong as what I’m going to be when I’m 28 or 29. I’m going to be a lot smarter by then. Have a lot more experience, for sure. I’m only getting better.
Two fights ago, you fought Maurice Hooker. And afterwards, he said you’re going to be a champion. That sort of thing is always nice to hear, but does it mean any more to you since it came from someone that’s already made it to that level, and happens to be a Dallas area guy like you?
Honestly, yeah. From a champion? And it means a lot more from someone you just fought.
Sometimes people are mad, people have a little more animosity. But hearing respectful words from your opponent after you beat them, and saying you’re gonna be a champion? It kind of hits a little more.
Errol Spence is another Dallas guy, and he’s had a rough few years. Between the car crash and the eye injury, it feels like for years now, we’ve spent more time worried about his ability to recover than we have enjoying his talent. Hopefully, we see him back in a few months, but it’s just another example of how the future has no guarantee for anyone. Does seeing that sort of thing factor into your willingness to take on big challenges so young?
That’s not necessarily the reason why I want to take these risks now. I want to fight the best because I want to test myself. I want to see how good I really am. How much power, how capable I am. But, that’s just another reason.
I’m not going to be young forever. Who knows how long my body is going to hold up? You know that boxing takes a lot from you, especially physically. So, it does reinforce it. It’s not necessarily the main reason, but it is a good reason as well.
Speaking of the physical toll, Kavaliauskas was a physical fight. Mo Hooker was a rough fight. What’s your recovery time like? How long before you’re ready for your kids to jump in your lap, or when you’re feeling ready to live your life again after fights like those?
It’s not too long. And after [the Kavaliauskas] fight, I was running again after like two days.
I like to rest, I like to stay home, but I get bored sometimes. I say, “I have to do something. I can’t sit here and let the days pass.” So, I’ll go run. I started strength conditioning this week already. So, I’m staying in shape. I’m staying ready for whatever comes my way.
One of the things I appreciate about you as a professional is that you talk about your future and your goals with the same sort of respect, but total self-confidence, that made Gennadiy Golovkin so charming and easy to like. You’re not disrespecting anyone else, but you’re very clear about what you want for your future. Is that your natural personality? Did your parents raise you that way? What makes you choose not to act like a wrestling heel to promote yourself?
Yeah, I know what you mean. But I like watching that too, though!
I guess that’s just how I am. I don’t really like to offend anyone. But at the same time, if I feel like some things need to be said, then I’ll say it, in a respectful way.
I’m not gonna just say something like “You’re a dumbass!” I’m not gonna say that, I’ll say it another way. That’s just my approach to things. That’s just how I am. And, of course, I was raised pretty good, I guess.
I’m always interested in what fighters think about other active fighters. I’m not trying to get you to call anyone out, so let’s say, outside of your weight class, who else out there do you look forward to seeing fight? Is anyone appointment viewing for you?
I like Naoya Inoue. I love watching him fight. He’s a badass fighter. I like watching Tank fight, he’s also a great fighter. I like watching Ryan Garcia fight. That dude has different power, snapping power.
My favorite fighter to watch, Canelo Alvarez. Hands down. I like watching the Charlos fight. They’re good. Charlos are pretty good. I like watching Josh Franco. Bam [Jesse] Rodriguez. Jose Ramirez always brings it in his fights. You can never not watch his fights. I could keep going on and on.
Anyone in particular you really respect or see as a role model for your career?
Obviously, Jose Ramirez. He definitely has not taken the easy road. When he’s fought, he’s fought his fights, for sure. And the guy he is outside of his career as well. He gives back to his community, he’s very respectful and very respected. That’s how I want to be.
Anyone on the rise right now that you think is particularly special?
I’ve heard of a kid named Xander Zayas. I think I’ve seen him fight and look like he’s gonna be pretty good.
Thanks again for your time. Anything else you want people to know about yourself or your career?
Just keep watching my career. I promise I’ll always deliver exciting fights. I don’t like boring fights, so I’m not going to be a part of one.