When Bad Left Hook spoke with Vergil Ortiz Jr earlier this year, the rising welterweight star was preparing for a March fight against Michael McKinson.
That event was cancelled less than a week before fight night when Ortiz had to withdraw for health reasons. He later revealed that the specific issue was rhabdomyolysis, a condition where muscle tissue breaks down and risks damaging the kidneys and other vital organs.
The diagnosis raised concern over his ability to stay at welterweight, and whether the issues that led to his illness might jeopardize his fighting career at any weight.
But, the 24 year old knockout artist is fully recovered, feeling great, and ready to get back in the ring. Ortiz (18-0, 18 KO) is once again preparing to face McKinson (22-0, 2 KO), this time in Fort Worth, Texas on August 6th.
He spoke with us about his preparations for that fight, the challenging landscape for a top contender in a weight division tied up with a potential undisputed unification, and how the health scare influenced his plans for the future.
Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
BAD LEFT HOOK: I’m guessing that everyone you’ve talked to in the past four months has asked you about the particulars of rhabdomyolysis, right?
VERGIL ORTIZ JR: Oh yeah.
Well, I’m not going to make you repeat it again. I’d like to ask a slightly different question.
We’ve spoken twice before, and each time you’ve talked about how you don’t want to waste any time in your career. You want to test yourself at the top level, and you want a chance to be a champion.
Given how dedicated you are… When you’re faced with an illness like that, something painful, potentially dangerous, how does that affect you psychologically?
You know, it makes you think. Is it going to come back again? Is it going to hurt my career? What can I do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Those are just some of the questions that I thought about.
But, I feel great now. I feel like everything is back to normal. And I think that we won’t have to worry about that again.
That’s good to hear. Most guys in their early twenties feel invincible, and a lot of them live their lives as if they are, even when they aren’t top level athletes like you. Does a health scare like that change your approach to your career, or how you plan for the future?
I wouldn’t say it changed my plans, because we’re still going to keep going the way we do.
I think it was just a really unfortunate chain of events that led to it. I had been training since October, thinking I was going to fight in January. Then I train in January for a fight in March, and I think my body had just kind of had enough of it.
But, I don’t think that will ever happen again.
Early word for this date was an eliminator between you and David Avanesyan, but then his side never signed and returned the contract.
Yeah, that was really disappointing. I was very excited for that fight.
Have you ever been that close before to a major fight you thought was settled but fell through at the last minute?
Another thing happened right after that, too. But, that [potential fight] didn’t happen, so I’m not going to say anything about it.
No, I know that you’re not really a “call-out” sort of guy. Does a breakdown on the business side frustrate you? Or is it the sort of thing you have to put aside and focus on the fights that are actually available?
I never had to deal with it before. Now that I’ve climbed up the ranks, the number of respectable people that I can fight has gotten smaller and smaller. The higher I get, it gets harder to make fights. I understand now why some fighters get frustrated, why they’re not fighting a lot.
It sucks. [Terence] Crawford has fought, like, once in the past two years? I’m sure he’s really frustrated. I’m sure it’s not him. He just wants to get in the ring, but there’s the business side of things.
You’re still at 147 pounds, and unfortunately for someone in your position, the two guys that have all the top belts have spent the past three months talking like they’ll fight each other next.
A Spence-Crawford fight is a big event, and likely brings a lot of attention to the sport. But, for you personally, what does an undisputed fight at 147 mean for your timeline or your path to the next level?
I feel like I’m ready for it. So, it seems like every fight after this one that isn’t a world title fight is just a filler fight.
I really don’t like those kinds of fights. I want to get done with my goal. You’re right, it is kind of holding me up.
Well, you’re not the only one stuck waiting for a mandatory order. Jaron Ennis, Conor Benn, even Eimantas Stanionis with his WBA Regular belt are all 27 or younger, jostling for a place in line at the top of the welterweight division.
I get annoyed waiting in a grocery line if someone slows things down at the front. I can’t imagine what it’s like for guys like you trying to move ahead with your careers. It seems like we have a lot of great fights that could happen if one or two of you guys could finally get your shot at a world title.
Yeah. We’re just waiting. And we’re so close. I just hope we don’t have to wait another year for them to decide if they want to fight or not.
You said previously that handling your training and the final stages of your weight cut feels much easier and more natural when you’re doing it from your own house. But, almost every day this month has been over 100 degrees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Sometimes way over 100, with lots of excessive heat warnings. Are you actually training in the area?
I’m in California right now. But I’ll be heading that way [the Monday of fight week]. And as far as the heat? That’s perfect. That makes my job a lot easier. [Laughs]
I’m out here by Venice Beach. We’ve been working right by the ocean. And, trust me, it has not been hot. Not one bit. At times, it can be a little challenging, though I am still losing weight with my runs. But it could be easier in Texas. That Texas heat is going to be a blessing.
Let’s talk about your fight with Michael McKinson. You two almost fought back in March, then you had your health issues. Now that you’re facing each other again four months later, have you changed anything in your preparation? Or are you taking the same approach you had last time?
Pretty much, copy and pasting it. There wasn’t really a lot to change. I feel like I’m in the same camp.
Well, I’m glad you’re healthy, and that you’re ready to get back in the ring. Any last thoughts you want to share about your fight on August 6th against Michael McKinson?
Hmmm… I usually have something to say, but I don’t think so! [Laughs]
[Laughing] Usually, you just say something like “tune in, I always try to give a good fight” or something like that.
Yeah, I always try to bring exciting fights. That’s just how I am. I don’t like to watch boring fights, so I’m not going to try and be in one.