Despite assertions otherwise, unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev isn’t the only active fighter with a perfect record and 100% knockout ratio. He’s got company in welterweight Vergil Ortiz Jr.
Both men are 18-0 with 18 knockouts. Beterbiev is the only champion in the category, but if given a chance, Ortiz Jr. plans to join him.
After being away from the ring for the longest stretch of his pro career at nine months, Ortiz Jr. of Grand Prairie, Texas, returns on August 6 in Fort Worth, Texas. He’ll take on the opponent he planned to face in March before a health crisis forced a cancellation, Michael McKinson of Great Britain (22-0, 2 KOs). McKinson got the nod when a deal with David Avanesyan fell through.
In an interview with NYFights this week, Ortiz Jr. declined to chew over the details, preferring to express his enthusiasm for getting back in front of fans and back in the conversation in the competitive welterweight division, where Ortiz Jr. plans to stay (at least for now).
“I’m not the one sending the contracts or negotiating anything,” said Ortiz Jr. “From what my manager (Rick Mirigian) has told me, they negotiated, and they agreed. When we sent them the contract, they were sitting on it for four and a half weeks. We didn’t hear anything. It’s not a knock on David himself. We don’t know if he said no, or his management said no. All I know is that we didn’t hear anything.”
No Time to Waste for Welterweight Ortiz Jr.
Ortiz Jr. isn’t in any position to sit on the sidelines one more minute. Barely a week before his March 19 fight with McKinson, Ortiz Jr. was hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis, a disease that breaks down muscle tissue, sometimes due to overtraining.
We asked Ortiz Jr. whether the experience had changed his approach to training.
“We made some changes here and there. Not huge changes. I feel 100% now. We’re ready to go, and we’re just going to do what we do best,” said Ortiz Jr., who admitted putting things on pause has made him anxious to return. “Yes, it did. I really want to get back in the ring now. By the time of my fight in August, it’ll be almost a whole year. I would love to fight at least twice this year. I would love to stay busier the following year,” said Ortiz Jr.
Coming back against McKinson to test his fitness isn’t unreasonable at this stage. But the 24-year-old Ortiz Jr. needs to seek more challenging opponents as if his career depended on it – because it does.
Ortiz Jr., a top-five ranked welterweight, finds himself stalled looking up at Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., Yordenis Ugas, and (depending on who you ask) Keith Thurman and Jaron “Boots” Ennis. Finding competition may mean looking at other ambitious division talents: Eimatas Stanionis, Conor Benn, Shakhram Giyasov, or perhaps his Golden Boy stablemate, Alexis Rocha.
“It really doesn’t matter. I want my shot with whoever. It doesn’t matter to me. At this point, whoever takes the fight. That’s the basic answer. Whoever wants to fight me can get it,” promised Ortiz Jr. “Michael McKinson is ranked fourth in the WBO. He’s undefeated. It would look good on my resume if I beat him.”
No fighter gives up the game plan, but Ortiz Jr. hinted at his confidence level, hesitating before saying of McKinson’s last performance, “There wasn’t a whole lot of varying, different things to look at. Everything that we expected, we saw.”
Ortiz Jr.: ‘I’m Back, I’m Better, I’m Stronger’
Ortiz Jr. also said he’s been actively training after his recovery and feels the health problem won’t have any impact. “I’ve been training, sparring, these past few weeks. I feel great. I feel like I’ve been fighting every week. I don’t think it will have any impact on my performance. Know that I’m back, I’m better, I’m stronger.”
Alongside his father, Vergil Sr., Ortiz Jr. is working with Manny Robles and longtime coach Hector Beltran. Ortiz Jr. called the change a “collective decision” after assessing “a lot of opinions, a lot of points of view.”
“I’ve learned things from all the different coaches I’ve been with,” said Ortiz Jr. “Every coach has their own point of view, different style. One thing I’ve learned from Manny is, be really explosive with your punches, don’t waste time to react, don’t think about it. ‘Cause if you think about It, you get stuck, and you can make a mistake off of that.”
Imagining a “more explosive” Ortiz Jr., Robles responded to NYFights via Twitter.
— Manny Robles (@manny_boxing) June 17, 2022
It’s fitting on Father’s Day weekend to consider both the pros and cons of having a father/trainer. Ortiz Jr. doesn’t see many drawbacks. “It depends on who you are. He pushes me to my limit and more. Some people think of that as a con. I see it as he knows what I can do, and he’s bringing it out of me … I can’t speak for everybody. What me and my dad have is very special. My dad is very open to asking for help.”
As Ortiz Jr. works toward August 6, he was asked about his record twin in Beterbiev. He had some advice for the fearsome Chechen Canadian (which came before his destruction of Joe Smith Jr.) “I think he gets hit too much, I’ll be honest. He’s a good fighter, a really good fighter. A little less defensively responsible. If he was to add a little more defense, he’d be set.”