Is Vergil Ortiz Arriving at the Right Place, Right Time?

Boxing Scene

The consistent entertainment value of the junior middleweight division for more than half a decade has been inarguable. Battles like Jarrett Hurd-Erislandy Lara and both Jermell Charlo-Brian Castano encounters have been a highlight for the sport. We got a veritable round robin with plenty of surprises along the way.  

The thing about highly entertaining runs in particular divisions is eventually they dry up in boxing. 

Fighters age or move up in weight and the reload sometimes takes a minute. 

At junior middleweight, the reload might be happening seamlessly. 

Charlo remains the lineal king of the division, still holding two (WBC/WBA) of the four major belts. His reputation took a hit after a subdued effort in pursuit of the super middleweight crown last year, but he remains a name of value in a number of big fights. Charlo versus Terence Crawford would be a clash of two true kings of their weight classes. A showdown with WBO titlist Tim Tszyu would see Charlo tackling the most deserving contender to history’s crown.

Tszyu, with wins last year over Tony Harrison and a Brian Mendoza fresh off a stunning upset of undefeated Sebastian Fundora, isn’t enough to mark a reload.

Other names support the idea. One of them arrives at junior middleweight on Saturday (DAZN, 8 PM EST).

25-year old Vergil Ortiz (19-0, 19 KO) was built as a future threat to the welterweight crown but his body wasn’t willing to play along. Last July, he was forced to pull out of an anticipated showdown with Eimantas Stanionis for a third time when he reportedly fainted. Ortiz missed all of 2023 and, as colleague Hans Themistode noted this week, “all in all, Ortiz’s problem stemmed from weight issues.”

He wanted to be a welterweight but he wasn’t anymore. 

For now, he’s a junior middleweight set to face off with 34-year old Fredrick Lawson (30-3, 22 KO) in his division debut. Lawson has been stopped in all of his losses. Ortiz is likely to keep his knockout streak going and so the fight itself isn’t the thing. The arrival is all that matters and it’s a very good thing for a division in transition, for at least as long as Ortiz can stay in the division. 

The IBF belt has announced a purse bid for a clash between 30-year old Bakhram Murtazaliev (21-0, 15 KO) and 38-year old Jack Culcay (33-4, 14 KO). Jalol Akhmedov reported on Twitter that the WBA will be sanctioning a clash between 28-year old Magomed Kurbanov (25-0, 13 KO) and 28-year old Israil Madrimov (9-0-1, 6 KO). Whether this means the WBA is adding an additional title again or Charlo will soon be shorn of his WBA belt remains to be seen.

The bigger picture is the youth in play. Combine Ortiz, Murtazaliev, Kurbanov, and Madrimov with the 29-year old Tszyu (24-0, 17 KO) and there’s a lot of undefeated talent in the range of 30 and under. What happens in the ring will determine for sure, but it certainly looks like the ingredients for a healthy reload. 

For Ortiz, the number of belts likely to be in a play will mean opportunity. Welterweight, even if he’d been able to stay, isn’t a class with a great deal of movement in the title scene. 2023 had one monster title fight in Crawford-Spence but everything since is a bit of limbo. The IBF belt has already moved from Crawford to Jarron Ennis outside the ring but until it’s clear whether Crawford is done at welterweight altogether, everyone is waiting. 

For the moment, there are more pathways for Ortiz to get his first title shot at junior middleweight. Whether he can succeed remains to be seen but he’s the sort of young talent anyone can get excited about seeing try. What has made junior middleweight so much fun is that the fights are good.

Mix and match any of these young talents and the fights should stay that way. 

Ortiz’s body pushed him to junior middleweight. In the long run, it might have done him and the fans a favor.   

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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