Vergil Ortiz Jr. ended the longest layoff of his career with his deepest knockout win to date.
The rising welterweight star went past the eighth round for the first time, though not much longer than that in scoring a ninth-round stoppage of England’s Michael McKinson. Ortiz scored knockdowns late in round eight and early in round nine, the latter revealing an injured right knee which prompted a stoppage at 0:27 of round nine in the DAZN main event Saturday evening from Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
The fight was due to take place on March 19, though Ortiz had to withdraw after being hospitalized due to rhabdomyolysis. It played a significant role in Ortiz having not fought in 51 weeks, by far his longest stretch away from the ring though eventually finding his groove and maintaining his perfect knockout to win ratio.
With the end of his layoff came a third straight appearance in the greater Dallas area for Ortiz, who hails from nearby Grand Prairie, Texas. He appeared in this very venue last March 20, stopping local friendly rival and former WBO junior welterweight titlist Maurice Hooker in the seventh round. The feat was followed by an eighth-round stoppage of former title challenger Egidijust Kavaliauskas last August 14 in Frisco, Texas.
In both fights, Ortiz was able to build momentum and accomplish everything he set out to do in the ring. On Saturday, it wasn’t quite the same feeling even with the satisfactory ending.
“Honestly, in the first seven rounds I didn’t do anything good,” Ortiz claimed in a brutally honest self-assessment of his performance. “I had to adjust big time. I should have listened to my corner from the beginning but I eventually got the job done.”
Both fighters were warned right out the gate to keep it clean. McKinson landed a flicking right and then tied up Ortiz, prompting the lecture by referee Laurence Cole. McKinson settled down and managed to clip Ortiz with a left hook, which the local favorite took well though while trying to feel his way around the ring for his first fight in 51 weeks.
It didn’t take long for Ortiz to close the gap, using his jab to work his way inside. The unbeaten Texan clipped McKinson with a left hook but was unable to follow up as a clash of heads left him with a cut outside of his left eyelid.
Ortiz made his way back to the corner, where he fielded instructions from new trainer Manny Robles for the first time in a fight. Robles joined Vergil Ortiz Sr. in the corner shortly after Vergil Jr. elected to part ways with longtime head trainer Robert Garcia.
Despite the multiple voices, the common theme was the urgency to develop a body attack. Ortiz obliged, landing a left hook downstairs and bringing his right hand up top, all to the tune of chants of ‘ORTIZ’ among the sparse but passionate hometown crowd. McKinson managed to land a crisp right jab late in the round, though met with a heavy double jab Ortiz who also connected with a left hook to the body and right hand.
A left hook by Ortiz dislodged the mouthpiece of McKinson early in round three. Ortiz wasn’t given a chance to follow up, as Cole immediately interrupted the action to recover the gumshield. Action resumed with Ortiz well in control, as McKinson simply lacked the equalizer to keep the top-rated contender at bay or the infighting skills to avoid the incoming.
Ortiz continued to fire with a power jab in round four. McKinson quickly found himself on the defensive, with Ortiz masterfully cutting off the ring and ripping left hooks and right hands to the body. Mobility was no longer employed by McKinson, who was in constant punching range for Ortiz’s straight right hand and power shots downstairs.
Michael Ballingall, McKinson’s father and head trainer, urged his son to use every inch of the ring and not stand directly in front of the heavier handed Ortiz. The advice was absorbed but not always followed by the unbeaten Englishman. Ortiz walked through a left uppercut to land a crushing body shot, freezing McKinson in place. Ortiz drew a rise out of the crowd with a right hand just inside the final minute of round five.
McKinson largely played defense in round six, effective to the point of often making Ortiz miss but failing to make him pay. The Brit took a different approach as the fight entered the second half, countering Ortiz with a bit more frequency but often running the risk of being in range for an Ortiz power shot. Ortiz kept his composure and also made the ring a much smaller place for his modest hitting foe.
Ortiz entered the eighth round for just the second time in his career, though in his second straight fight. He went that far in an eventual stoppage of Kavaliauskas, though having scored five knockdowns in producing that verdict. McKinson managed to stay on his feet for nearly eight rounds, before a crippling body shot forced him to drop to his knees inside the final 0:30 of the frame.
McKinson beat the count and made it out of the round, forcing Ortiz to enter round nine for the first time in his boxing lifetime. He didn’t go very deep, as a hobbled McKinson was down within seconds of the bell. He once again beat the count, this time limping and favoring his right hip. It was detected by his corner, who climbed the ring apron with white towel in hand to call for the stoppage.
The loss is the first for McKinson (22-1, 2KOs), coming up short in his second stateside fight. The brave southpaw traveled abroad for this very opportunity in March, only to settle for a substitute opponent in Alex Martin after Ortiz fell ill just prior to fight week.
Ortiz advances to 19-0 (19KOs) with the win, and with it the status as the mandatory challenger to the version of the WBA welterweight title held by Eimantas Stanionis. The hope is that he doesn’t have to wait anywhere nearly as long for his next fight, regardless of whether it’s a title fight or another step to build toward that moment.
“I obviously want to fight everybody,” insisted Ortiz. “As long as they are in my path to a world title, I want to fight anyone that's in my way. I would like to fight again before the year ends. I’m only 24 but boxing is a very short career. I want to fight as often as possible. I love fighting here and I want to fight here.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox