Six months had already passed from the time Vergil Ortiz Jr. last fought when he received that call.
Gone in an instant were designs for his promotional stablemate Ryan Garcia to usher in the triumphant return of boxing in California and on DAZN-USA. Instead, Golden Boy Promotions decided to move away from the idea of running a show on the 4th of July and go with its other big, young gun. There existed the confidence of gratitude in place of a petty and far too public feud ruined the original plan.
“When I got the news that I was the first one to fight on DAZN, it made me very excited and motivated,” Ortiz (15-0, 15KOs) admitted to BoxingScene.com of his upcoming bout versus Canada’s Samuel Vargas. “I’ve been training since January for the fight that was going to happen in March.
“I know that during the pandemic, people don’t have a lot to do. They’re going to want to see boxing and exciting fights. There will be a lot of eyes on this fight. It should be a competitive one. It should be very explosive and one for the fans to enjoy.”
Once it was confirmed that Vargas (31-5-2, 14KOs) was on board, it’s as if everything went back to normal. The two were due to collide on March 28 live on DAZN from The Forum in Inglewood, California. The initial wave of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic torched those plans, roughly two weeks from fight night and forcing Ortiz back to his Grand Prairie, Texas home and wait for world to get better.
Three months later, it reached a tolerable place to bring old plans back to fruition. The repurposed welterweight title fight now headlines a five-fight card Friday evening live from Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California (DAZN, 8:00pm ET/5:00pm local time).
Fans will not be permitted on site, in stark contrast to the rabid crowd that was expected in March. All that matters—at least for now—is hearing the sound of the opening bell for the first time since last December.
“Honestly, I’m over this quarantine stuff,” admits Ortiz, the 2019 Prospect of the Year who has been out since a 5th round stoppage of Brad Solomon last December. “That staying at home at stuff got old real quick. I played the guitar all that I wanted. I played the piano all that I wanted. Got tired of playing my PS4.
"It’s time to fight now. The fact that I’ll be the first (main event) back on DAZN makes me feel so proud.”
Patience proved to be a virtue, though perhaps not as much as knowing enough to sit back and not open his mouth. It never mattered to Ortiz whether he was the first Golden Boy boxer to play the main event for a show during the pandemic or even headline at all, just as long the team found a way to get him back in the ring.
By June 15, those plans were officially in motion with the event finalized soon thereafter. Ortiz didn’t blink in catching the first fight to southern California to hook up with head trainer Robert Garcia.
“It felt good to get back in the gym, doing something other than sit at home,” notes Ortiz. “When I’m in training camp, all I do is train and then go home to where I’m staying. At least I have the training. Without a fight, I was just staying home.”
Of course, the downtime wasn’t all bad.
Shortly after learning of his next fight, came the biggest opportunity in the career of one of his stablemates. Many have Ortiz destined to capture a welterweight title, though the division is a crowded field at the moment. It stands to reason that others in the Golden Boy family would grab a belt sooner, as a result.
First it was Joseph Diaz to bring home a title in 2020, cleanly outpointing Tevin Farmer to win a 130-pound belt. Then came the moment that hit much closer to home, tuning in to ESPN to watch San Antonio’s Joshua Franco upend previously unbeaten Andrew Moloney to lift his secondary junior bantamweight title last month in Las Vegas.
“Man, I had my TV set for an hour before the fight to make sure I didn’t miss that one,” states Ortiz. “I was very happy for him. I was excited. From what I saw, he was very focused. He really wanted to win and it made me want to just get back in the ring. He had me so charged up.
“I was very happy for JoJo when he won the title. I was extremely happy for Joshua. I grew up with Joshua. I’ve known him since I was 12 years old. I was so happy for him, for his family. It meant so much to see him win that world title.”
Now officially begins the run for Ortiz to advance from the game’s top prospect to rising welterweight contender. He was warned as much when the originally scheduled fight was first announced back in February. A press conference to kick off the promotion came complete with the unbeaten boxer being handed a plaque commemorating his four-knockout campaign in earning 2019 Prospect of the Year honors.
“This is like a diploma,” Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions told Ortiz. “You're no longer a prospect. Now you're a contender.”
The Golden Boy team still very much believes that to be the case, even with Ortiz’s 2020 campaign to come with at least one fewer fight than intended pre-pandemic.
“He can very easily challenge for a world title after this year,” Gomez insists. “We will see what happens, but he's ready.”
The first step will come Friday evening. Vargas has long established himself as a serviceable gatekeeper for the top welterweights. The 31-year old Colombian—now based out of Toronto—remains better known for his losses than for any one of his 31 victories, but still managed a solid account of himself in recent years versus former titlists Amir Khan and Luis Collazo.
Vargas has been stopped just twice in 38 pro fights, including at the hands of Ortiz’s fellow Texan in Errol Spence Jr. The moment came in 2015 when Spence (26-0, 21KOs)—now an unbeaten, unified welterweight titlist—was still a rising prospect and two years away from his first world title.
Friday’s bout will undoubtedly draw such comparisons for Ortiz, as all eyes will be on the 22-year old knockout artist. It’s the type of pressure he’s willing to live with, along the tagline of ‘The Future of Boxing is Now In the Ring’ as suggested by Golden Boy and DAZN.
“It definitely made me feel privileged,” Ortiz acknowledged of the consideration given by those guiding his career. “I jumped on this opportunity the moment they asked me. I knew I had to take advantage of the situation.
“I know this is my time. I had to take advantage of it no matter what. Once they called me, I had to make it work for me.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox