His record would tell you that Vergil Ortiz Jr. is a hard puncher. He’s 16-0 with 16 knockouts and has been past five rounds only twice as a professional.
Ortiz is 22 now and at a stage of his career when the knockouts begin to slow down. He’s no longer a prospect; instead, he’s a full-fledged welterweight contender.
But Ortiz would be surprised if the knockouts slow. He insists he’s hitting harder now than he ever has as he prepares for his bout on Saturday on DAZN against ex-super lightweight champion Maurice Hooker.
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Knocking out Hooker would be a statement, since Hooker is by far the most difficult test of his career. But Ortiz, who only fought once in 2020 because of the pandemic, says he can see the growth in his power during training sessions.
“I feel like I’m throwing hard when I’m not even trying to,” Ortiz said. “I’m starting to learn that there are different skills to the power. You know that power is a skill. It’s not just a physical attribute. I can bring down that sledgehammer power or I can bring that snapping power. There are different types of power out there and I can do a few of them.”
Ortiz is similar to his promoter, Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya, in that he hurts guys even when it looks like he’s throwing just to connect.
De La Hoya said the power will come in handy against Hooker, because he believes Ortiz needs to step up his aggression. Often, the more aggressive a fighter gets, the more openings he creates for his opponents.
And while Hooker coyly says, “I’ve seen some things,” De La Hoya believes it will be in Ortiz’s best interest to attack.
Part of that is because of Hooker’s unusually long arms. He’s 5-11 but has an 80-inch reach. By way of contrast, Alexander Povetkin, a 6-2 heavyweight, has a 75-inch reach.
“Vergil is going to have to be more aggressive, believe it or not, if that’s possible,” De La Hoya told Yahoo Sports. “He has to be more aggressive to get inside. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a long night and that’s exactly why we chose Hooker for him. He’s going to be moving around, he’s going to be aggressive and he’s going to hit hard. He does have those long arms and it could be a big, big problem for Vergil.
“These are the tests you have to pass and that give you the confidence to take you to another level. These are the tests that prepare you for world title contention.”
De La Hoya raved about Ortiz’s talent, and said he’s a fighter who never turns down opponents. He said that’s what makes him a throwback, given that a lot of modern boxers aren’t so eager to take risks in terms of quality of opposition.
The late Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s passing just accentuates that point. The great fighters in the 1980s, when Hagler was at his peak, all fought each other, sometimes multiple times. Hagler fought Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. Leonard fought Hearns twice, Duran twice, Hagler, Wilfred Benitez, Terry Norris and Hector Camacho.
When De La Hoya was a boxer, he was known for fighting the best and never ducking anyone. If we assume that Manny Pacquiao will eventually make the International Boxing Hall of Fame when he retires, De La Hoya will have fought 11 fights against nine men who are in the Hall of Fame (Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. twice, Shane Mosley twice, Floyd Mayweather, Pacquiao, Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins, Arturo Gatti, Hector Camacho and Pernell Whitaker).
Ortiz is one of the young fighters who wants to change the tide in boxing and have those kinds of fights. That was music to De La Hoya’s ears.
“The difference is, everybody fought each other back in the day,” De La Hoya said. “If you were a world champion, if you were undefeated, if you were young, you fought. You were looking to fight the best. I don’t know why it’s hard to make these unification fights.
“So many fighters are scared to lose their undefeated records. But I think when they think that, they’re making a mistake because the public understands when you fight the best. Vergil always wants those kinds of fights.”
Hooker has heard all the plaudits sent Ortiz’s way, but he’s not yet convinced. Hooker, 31, is 27-1-3 and has faced good opposition. He went on the road to defeat Terry Flanagan in England. He stopped Alex Saucedo when Saucedo was 28-0. His only loss came in a super lightweight unification bout with Jose Ramirez in 2019.
He hasn’t seen that kind of résumé from Ortiz, so he wonders about the hype.
“I’m hearing from all you guys that he does this, that and the other thing, but let’s be honest: We really haven’t seen him fight nobody,” Hooker said. “ … For his career so far, everything is good. But now he’s getting to a different level so we’ll see how that goes.”
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