It took two attempts for Vergil Ortiz Jr. to make his way to the ring for a fight versus then-unbeaten Michael McKinson.
The five-month delay between planned fight dates turned out to be a blessing, as it raised the stakes for their rescheduled fight last August. The winner was to become the mandatory challenger to the WBA ‘Regular’ welterweight title.
The belt is currently held by Lithuania’s Eimantas Stanionis (14-0, 9KOs; 1ND), a 2016 Olympian and the type of fighter who most view as someone they have, rather than want, to face. Most others in the division would rather wait out a shot versus Errol Spence (28-0, 22KOs) or Terence Crawford (39-0, 30KOs), who meet for the undisputed championship July 29 in Las Vegas.
With just one fight in nearly two years, Ortiz has waited long enough for a big opportunity. Besides, his last win put him in line for the fight he really wanted next—and even went the distance with the sanctioning body to make sure he would land the opportunity.
“We spent money making this mandatory,” Ortiz told BoxingScene.com. “We wanted this fight and were prepared to do whatever it took to make it happen. It’s just a good to fight to make and it was right there.
“If I can’t get Spence or Crawford, I’m going to get the other guy with the title.”
Golden Boy Promotions, Ortiz’s career-long promoter, claimed the rights to the secondary title fight through a purse bid hearing held during the annual WBA convention last December in Orlando, Florida. A three-month postponement pushes their anticipated Fight of the Year entry to this weekend, as they meet this Saturday atop a four-fight DAZN telecast from AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Ortiz (19-0, 19KOs) earned the fight with a ninth-round knockout of England’s McKinson last August 6 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. Each of his last three fights took place in the greater Dallas area, where he was also previously due to meet Stanionis.
Their April 29 date at the College Park Center on The University of Texas at Arlington campus was scrapped when Ortiz suffered a second bout with rhabdomyolysis. The same condition delayed his fight with McKinson which was initially scheduled for last March 19 in Los Angeles. The rescheduled date came with the distinction of serving as a final eliminator to the secondary WBA title held by Stanionis.
Spence holds the WBA ‘Super’ title along with the WBC and IBF belts he will put at stake versus Crawford and his WBO belt later this month. Like every other welterweight, Ortiz would love a shot at either of the two but knows that would put him out of the title picture until at least 2024—and without the real guarantee of getting the winner.
Instead, he became perhaps the one top welterweight in the world who openly embraced—and pursued—the chance to fight Stanionis.
“This was definitely a fight we’ve been expecting,” Ortiz revealed. “We knew this would be the path to become world champion and grabbed it.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox