Vergil Ortiz Jr. talks overcoming health scares, targets fights with Tim Tszyu, Terrence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. at 154 pounds

LAS VEGAS — Two years ago, Vergil Ortiz Jr. had the boxing community in the palm of his hand. The then-23-year-old was fresh off of securing his 18th knockout in just as many fights after he polished off former contender Egidijus Kavaliauskas in eight rounds. Chatter about a future showdown with Jaron “Boots” Ennis began to surface while some speculated how well he would fare against the elite welterweights of the world. 

But then health issues surfaced and forced him to either cancel or postpone fights on three different occasions. He has only boxed once since August 2021 and had to watch as fighters in his age bracket collected world titles or excelled in becoming mainstream attractions while Ortiz faded further and further into the background.

He fought the muscle condition rhabdomyolysis and then battled both dehydration and heat exhaustion more than he squared off with opponents in the ring. His future was in question. But on January 6, Ortiz Jr. will return in a new weight class as he faces Fredrick Lawson in the 154-pound main event at the Virgin Hotels.

WATCH: Vergil Ortiz Jr. vs. Fredrick Lawson, live on DAZN 

“Mentally it sucked pretty bad,” Ortiz tells The Sporting News. “I’m a person who tries to stay positive at all times. After the first cancelled fight, I thought I could just come back stronger. Then a second cancelled fight and I’m thinking we’ll do better next time. But after the third cancelled fight, I was like ‘What the f*** is going on?’ I started to have doubts about my future.” 

Ortiz says that it was challenging for him to be benched for the entirety of 2023. He was slated to face Eimantas Stanionis in what would have been the biggest fight of his career but instead spent the year going to concerts and hanging out with friends to take his mind off of the thing he loved.

Eventually, the health scares faded away and he could get back into the gym without concern that his body would fail him yet again. Now 25, Ortiz has yet to reach his physical prime but wants to remind the world why he was one of the most highly touted prospects in the sport. Unfortunately, it won’t be at 147 pounds. And that’s fine because he believes the best are all making their way to super welterweight. 

“My body was telling me to move up in weight,” he says. “But we would have moved up to 154 pounds because [Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr] held those belts hostage for a long time. It seemed like I was never going to get my shot and I never did. But all of those guys are going to move up eventually.”

Although it appears that he is further away from facing the biggest names in the sport than he was in 2021, the knockout artist from Grand Prairie, Texas believes he’s more likely than before to cross paths with the fighters he targeted two years ago. 

BET: Latest odds for Ortiz vs. Lawson on FanDuel

“I always said that me and Spence was gonna happen at 154 pounds no matter what happens,” he says. “Crawford’s probably gonna move up too. He’s already become undisputed so what else is he going to accomplish on 147? Everyone else is most likely going to move up eventually. So those fights are still just as possible as they were back then.”

The landscape of super welterweight is pretty wide open at the moment. Jermell Charlo’s stranglehold on all four major world titles has loosened up after he fell short against Canelo Alvarez and saw his WBO title stripped to be put around the waist of Tim Tszyu. Nobody knows what the future holds for Charlo at the moment and it appears that both Spence and Crawford will arrive at 154 pounds sometime this year. Ortiz is more than willing to face all of them and believes that his inactivity may be the reason why he ends up finally getting the fights he wants. 

“People are probably going to try to target me now because they don’t think that I’m 100% anymore,” he says with a smile. “And let them think that, I don’t care. They can think what they want. They can come find out.”

But first, he has to get past Lawson on January 6 and then he plans to tell his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya

“I might have to do some talking after my fight,” Ortiz says about the possibility of him calling out his next opponent. “I might say a thing or two to get out of my comfort zone because I just want to fight the best so I can prove that I’m the best.

“I’ll fight anyone that has a pedigree. Whether that is Spence, Crawford, Ennis, Tszyu or Charlo. All of those names that sound like a threat excite me. That’s what I want.” 

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