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Vergil Ortiz Jr is already thinking like a champion

The rising welterweight star spoke with Bad Left Hook ahead of next month’s fight against Michael McKinson

Vergil Ortiz Jr v Egidijus Kavaliauskas
Vergil Ortiz Jr celebrates his most recent knockout victory
Photo by Kevin Estrada/Getty Images
John Hansen joined Bad Left Hook as a staff writer in 2021 and co-hosts the "Prophets of Goom" podcast.

The last time Bad Left Hook caught up with Vergil Ortiz Jr, he said he doesn’t want to waste any time.

The 23 year old welterweight is at or near the top of the rankings for every major sanctioning body after piling up knockouts in every one of his 18 professional fights. Next month, he’ll take on the WBO #3 contender, undefeated Michael McKinson (21-0, 2 KO) in a Los Angeles main event on DAZN.

Would a win over McKinson finally lead to the mandatory shot at WBO champion Terence Crawford that Ortiz wants? We talked to Ortiz about his path to a belt, his expectations against McKinson, and more.

Our full conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

BAD LEFT HOOK: When we spoke back in August, you said you don’t want to waste any time in your career. You turn 24 about a week after your upcoming fight. Any particular goals or plans you have before you hit 25?

VERGIL ORTIZ JR: [Smiling] Hopefully I’ll be a world champion by then.

Well, you’re the highest ranked contender by the WBO and WBC, and second highest ranked contender by the IBF and WBA. Just to get straight to it, and without any disrespect intended to the belt holders: Do you think anyone is going to give you a title shot without a sanctioning body forcing them to do it?

Probably not. If it was up to me and I had a title? I would want to chase more titles, too. It makes logical sense to me.

That’s a surprisingly healthy perspective. A lot of times, as soon as a young guy cracks the top ten, they feel like they’re getting overlooked and disrespected. I think it says something that you’re already thinking like a champion, with a champion’s perspective on holding a belt.

Yeah, you kind of have to look at it through their eyes, too. It’s like when you play chess. You can’t just think about your own moves. You have to think about how they’re going to respond.

You’re fighting Michael McKinson next month, who’s ranked 3rd by the WBO. He’s the first left handed guy you’ve faced over the past six fights and three years. Three of the four welterweight belts are currently held by southpaws. Beyond handling your business to maintain your ranking, is this fight as an opportunity to get some high-level work in against a lefty opponent?

Of course. Michael McKinson, he’s number three in the WBO and he is a southpaw. I’m going to get some good experience out of this fight.

You’ve never seen a scorecard as a professional. Nobody has ever gone past eight rounds with you, and your average fight ends in less than three and a half rounds. You’ve knocked out a guy that stood up to everyone else but Terence Crawford, and another guy that stood up to everyone but Jose Ramirez. Is there any reason to think that Michael McKinson is the first guy who will make a judge decide who won one of your fights?

He very well could be. He’s a very talented fighter. I have an idea of how he’ll go about this fight. Not really going to say anything on that, but he’s gonna do his best to win. Like any other fighter would. That’s all I can really say.

You’ve headlined an event out in California before, right?

Yeah, I fought [Juan Carlos] Salgado at the top of the card. I fought Sammy Vargas, that was the second time. [Brad] Solomon… So this will be my fourth time.

How is it compared to fighting in front of a home crowd in Texas?

It’s been a while. The last time I fought here [against Vargas] was in a bubble. Before that, against Solomon, we had a good turnout. A lot of people from L.A. and Texas came out to watch me fight. Arizona, too.

I get pretty good turnouts in California just like in Texas. So, I’d say it’s pretty much the same, maybe just more hometown folks when I’m in Texas.

Some athletes say they prefer being out of their hometown because it can be easier to really focus. Fewer distractions from friends, family, usual routines, that sort of thing. How do you like leaving home to work as opposed to being in your own house? Is it easier or tougher being on the road?

I think it’s give and take. Pros and cons for both sides.

For example, losing weight at home, like for the Egidijus [Kavaliauskas] fight? I would love to do it like that for every single fight. I was in the comfort of my own house, I knew the area, I could run wherever I wanted. I felt like I was free to do whatever I wanted.

Over here, it feels like I’m at work. I’m in a working environment. Me, I could not do college over a computer. I need to be in a learning environment. That’s just the kind of person I am. So, it’s give and take.

Are you preparing in Texas, or out in California for this camp?

I’m in California.

You had Jose Ramirez work with you in camp last time. Anyone interesting dropping in to work with you this time around?

I’ve sparred Brian Castano, the guy who’s rematching Charlo. We got in some work last week. It was pretty good sparring!

You’re a guy that’s very respectful of other fighters, but also very aggressive about advancing your career. Not trying to rush anything, because you’re both still very young and both of you have a lot of business to take care of. But, we’ve seen a lot of potentially great welterweight fights get delayed a long time, or never happen at all. Can you please tell me that you’ll at least try to fight Jaron Ennis before the two of you are pushing 40?

[Laughs] Yeah, for sure.

That’s a good one. If I was a fan, I’d want to see that fight, too.

Last time we talked, you had a lot of nice things to say about Naoya Inoue, Jose Ramirez, and Xander Zayas. Anyone else, welterweight or not, that you want to share some appreciation for?

I gotta give a shout-out to Bam [Rodriguez]. Just won his first world title at 22, jumped up two weight classes. That can’t go unnoticed.

Since you’re a Dallas guy, did you see the undercard fight on that show between Ray Ford and Edward Vazquez out of Fort Worth?

Yeah, I saw that fight. Yeah. [Long pause]

I mean, the promoter said himself he thought [Vazquez] won! There’s really nothing else you can say about that. What can you do? That’s boxing.

I talked to [Vazquez] earlier and the guy is surprisingly mellow about all of it now. He’s taking it in stride. He’s got the perspective where he sees the positive impact it can have on his career. He’s handling it a lot better than I think I would.

Yeah, it can be a positive. If you think about it, people that lose sometimes get title shots first because people overlook them. And hopefully, he can surprise someone and steal a strap like that.

Before we finish up, what else do you want to tell people about this upcoming fight against McKinson? It feels like the fight before the fight we all want to see you in. No disrespect to Michael McKinson, but if you’d asked me six months ago who I was excited to see you face next, he would not have been in the top two or three names. What do you want to tell people about the fight?

Tune in. It’s going to be an interesting fight. That’s really all I can say.

If you’ve seen me fight? I feel like, without gassing myself up, that they’re always good fights. I’m always in a good fight.

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