Vergil Ortiz Jr expects stern challenge from tough and durable Egidijus Kavaliauskas
Do not tell Vergil Ortiz Jr. that he’s not ready for WBO welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford. According to Ortiz, he would gladly accept a fight against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world today.
But for that bout to take place early next year, Ortiz must get past the dangerous Egidijus Kavaliauskas. The pair square off Saturday night in a 12-round bout at The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas (DAZN, 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT).
Ortiz, who is rated No. 9 by The Ring at 147 pounds, is unbeaten in 17 fights with 17 knockouts. In his last bout, on March 20, the hard-hitting Texan notched a seventh-round knockout win over former junior welterweight titleholder Maurice Hooker. The 23-year-old has also scored impressive victories over former world title challengers Antonio Orozco and Mauricio Herrera, accomplishments that helped secure his mandatory position for Crawford’s title.
There was confusion as to why Ortiz did not accept a fight against Crawford earlier in the summer. According to one source, Ortiz and Kavaliauskas were already in lengthy discussions, so the WBO went down the line for the next available contender and that happened to be former two-time titleholder Shawn Porter.
In the meantime, Ortiz will face another tough challenge in Kavaliauskas, who himself challenged Crawford for the WBO title in December 2019. Kavaliauskas gave “Bud” some difficulty early on and should have been given credit for a third-round knockdown that was incorrectly ruled a slip by referee Ricky Gonzalez. Crawford would ultimately swing momentum his way, dropping the Lithuania-born fighter multiple times before the fight was stopped in the ninth.
Ortiz was modest about his performance against Hooker but believes he is ready to face the stern challenge Kavaliauskas is sure to bring.
“I thought I did okay in the Hooker fight,” Ortiz told The Ring. “He did surprise me early on. I thought it would’ve been better if I stopped him after this first knockdown. The knockout was inevitable. Unfortunately, I had to deal with the injury to my (right) hand. He was crafty, but I was able get the job done.
“(Kavaliauskas) is a tough and durable fighter. I know it’s going to take a lot more than one punch to hurt him or knock him down. He has a good chin and lots of experience from his days in the amateurs. He throws punches from weird angles. I saw the Crawford fight, I prepared for him based on what he did in that fight.”
Ortiz will once again fight close to his home in Grand Prairie. His win over Hooker took place before a modest crowd at Dickies Arena, which had to accommodate a limited number of fans due to the pandemic. Another large crowd is expected in Frisco.
Most fighters have expressed positive opinions on fighting in front of a crowd and Ortiz is no different. He is grateful he will be able to have family and friends in attendance.
“I fought in a bubble before (against Samuel Vargas on July 24 of last year),” said Ortiz, who has been promoted by Golden Boy since his pro debut in July 2016. “I fought in those conditions. I’m grateful for the fact fans will be in attendance. I love it. I get a lot of energy from there. The fact that my family and friends will be there will give me a push. There will be an electricity in the air in Frisco the same way there was when I fought Hooker in Fort Worth.”
Should he be victorious against Kavaliauskas, Ortiz is eager to face Crawford. The timing of when that fight will take place depends if the purse bid between Crawford and Porter follows through in the next couple of weeks. If a fight is made, Ortiz will have to wait until early 2022 to face the winner.
Ortiz has heard naysayers who think he may be in way over his head against Crawford. Ortiz believes people have not seen the best of him.
“Hell yeah, I will take a fight against Crawford in a heartbeat,” said Ortiz, who is trained by Robert Garcia. “I’ve made a lot of progress as a pro. My IQ is high and I have a more general feeling that I’ve gotten stronger physically.
“I think people are looking too much into my performance against Hooker. My timing was off and I was 60-70 percent of what I was capable of. I also had to deal with symptoms of COVID. If people think that they can judge me when I beat Hooker at 60-70 percent, then they don’t know what I am capable of.
“Imagine when I’m at 100 percent. A lot of people are going to critique me and that’s fine. I did my best under those circumstances. I know people will want to find something I do wrong in every fight. I just look to learn and better myself.”
Ortiz has become a bonafide contender in a stacked welterweight division. He believes he has not yet hit his peak as a fighter.
Even as an amateur and a fighter early on in his pro career, Ortiz set high standards for himself. At the same time, he reflects looking up to fighters when he was a child and how younger fans seek him out for a picture or an autograph.
“My father (Vergil Ortiz, Sr. and co-trainer Hector Beltran) have kept me humble since I was a kid. Whether it was a kid or even training at Robert’s gym, I’ve put in the time and the work. I always try my hardest and do the right things in the gym.
“I remember all my fights, whether it’s in the amateurs or as a pro. It’s crazy to think how I look up and would want to take pictures with the top fighters, like Errol Spence. Now I have younger fans doing that. It’s crazy. That’s the circle of life. I call it a process in the making. Seeing where I was then and now is crazy. I look forward to what the future holds for me.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October of 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. Francisco A. Salazar can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @FSalazarBoxing
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