Vergil Ortiz Jr.'s immense opportunity to show he's boxing's future

Vergil Ortiz Jr., middle, surrounded by Bernard Hopkins, left, and Oscar De La Hoya, right, is one of the best Golden Boy prospect. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On June 15, Oscar De La Hoya tweeted Golden Boy Promotions' plans for its first card since the coronavirus pandemic shut down boxing cards in mid-March, and in it he defined the hierarchy of his prospects.

Due to Ryan Garcia not accepting a July 4 bout, we will return in late July with the future of boxing in Vergil Ortiz, De La Hoya tweeted.

The relationship between Golden Boy and lightweight top prospect Ryan Garcia has been an acrimonious one. It seemingly came to a head last September when the young phenom had a very public spat after his bout with Avery Sparrow fell apart, and they couldn't come to an agreement on a purse for him to face a substitute opponent.

That led to a meeting between the two parties in a conference room of an Orange County, California, hotel that was reportedly over 12 hours long, but eventually a new multiyear extension was agreed upon, which was described as one of the most lucrative ever for a prospect.

Yet, two fights later, the two sides are again battling -- and very publicly.

Without Garcia on the card, Golden Boy's return on Friday is a big opportunity for the promotion to spotlight one of the other brightest young stars on the roster. Vergil Ortiz Jr. was already a key part of Golden Boy's plans for the future, but in a single tweet, Ortiz was thrust into the spotlight as the promotion's favored young prospect.

Ortiz (15-0, 15 KOs) will be the featured headliner as he takes on Samuel Vargas in the main event at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California. But he is a rarity in the social media era -- someone who rarely opens Twitter or Instagram to promote himself.

"I know I need to -- but I don't. That's just not who I am," Ortiz said. "I don't know, I just really don't want to be fake towards my followers and force stuff to come out. So I'll just let stuff come out when it comes out."

It seems counterintuitive for a fighter who is considered a future star not to be more active on social media, something that has become a norm for any athlete in 2020, but the young man from Grand Prairie, Texas, prefers to let his heavy hands do the talking. Fifteen knockouts in 15 fights certainly speaks loudly.

"If I'm going to post, it's going to be something that I feel ... like it's something I would actually post, not because people are telling me to post."

Ortiz has 16,000 followers on Twitter and 82,300 on Instagram, which pales in comparison to many other boxers and especially Garcia, whose 6.7 million Instagram followers have been a perpetual topic of conversation.

During the current kerfuffle between De La Hoya and Garcia in the public eye, some have positioned it as a battle between Ortiz and Garcia, who are both under the Golden Boy Promotions banner. Truth is, the company wants -- and needs -- both to succeed.

"I'm really excited. When the pandemic took over everything, and everything was closed, I was just stuck at home. I felt kind of lost in a way, not sure when I was going to come back to the ring and make my return. I mean, I haven't even fought in 2020, yet. That's crazy to me." Vergil Ortiz Jr.

"I do think people have the wrong idea," Ortiz said. "But it's a sport -- everyone wants to be the best. There can only be one guy at the top. Although I don't think we'll fight each other in the future, one day we'll probably be competing for the No. 1 pound-for-pound spot. So if it's a competition, it's a friendly one."

Does Garcia get a stronger push than Ortiz from Golden Boy? Is he a higher priority to them? While the telegenic Garcia seems to be plastered all over a variety of media outlets, Ortiz, for the most part, has been considerably less visible to the general public.

"We try to give all our fighters as much attention as possible -- it just depends on when they fight," said Eric Gomez, the president of GBP. "When it's their turn to fight, we promote them heavily. Certain fighters have their own PR people, they have their own people that go out and get interviews for them, they do their own stuff. But for us, we treat everyone pretty much the same."

Golden Boy's shifting priorities in this particular moment seem to be a different story. When asked if Ortiz is the promotion's fighter with the highest ceiling, Gomez discussed the fighters most ready to win a belt.

"I think he's the one closest to a world title," Gomez said. "Ryan is in the same boat -- he's close to a world title. And then we have a few other kids, like [Hector] Tanajara ... [Alexis] Rocha, that's another great prospect. They just need a few more fights before they fight for a world title."

Even if everything gets smoothed over in terms of the public squabbling between Garcia and Golden Boy, young stars with drastically different personalities make for natural foils in the public eye.

And while Ortiz isn't enamored with pursuing social media stardom like Garcia has, he's not completely unaware or unappreciative of the burgeoning support he's been getting in the lead-up to this fight. For some fight fans, especially traditionalists, the way Ortiz quietly goes about his work seems to really resonate.

"I feel a lot more people backing me and supporting me a lot more. It feels great," Ortiz said. "I feel like more and more people are starting to get ... I don't want to say on the hype train, but the bandwagon. It feels great -- I have a lot of support."

If 2019 was any indication, Ortiz will be ready for the upper echelon at 147 sooner rather than later. In his past three outings, Ortiz faced Mauricio Herrera (KO3), Antonio Orozco (KO6) and Brad Solomon (KO5) and scored three impressive stoppage victories over fighters who had never been knocked out previously.

While many focus on Ortiz's prodigious power -- rightfully so -- he also has speed and quickness. He is anything but a plodding, one-dimensional puncher. Ortiz works daily with trainer Robert Garcia at Garcia's Boxing Academy in Riverside, California, and he is continuously sharpening his skills in the gym alongside world-class prizefighters Jose Ramirez and Mikey Garcia.

Currently, the world titles at 147 belong to Errol Spence (WBC and IBF), Manny Pacquiao (WBA) and Terence Crawford (WBO). At the moment, Ortiz is rated second by the WBO and he's eighth in the WBC. In due time, he'll be fighting for a major title.

"I think I'm ready now, to be honest," Ortiz said in a rare moment of self-promotion. "There's no doubt in my mind, I can give these top welterweights the fights of their lives. I feel I've got the IQ, I have the speed, and I have the strength to do it."

Gomez said that Ortiz is just a fight or two away from that destination. But as his stature grows in the sport, will we see a more outspoken, brash Ortiz when it comes to a serious difference in earning potential?

At the moment, it seems unlikely. Chasing clout doesn't seem to be in his DNA, nor does getting into contrived internet beefs for the sake of raising his Q rating. When he sees other boxers going back and forth on Twitter, he is rather amused by it all.

"I've seen it sometimes, and I'm just like, 'Man, whatever.' It is kind of funny to me, like, 'Look at these guys,"' Ortiz told me with a chuckle.

"I've thought about it myself -- it's just that it has to come naturally," Ortiz said. "I don't want to feel like I'm forcing it. Definitely, someone has to start it first because I'm not the type to provoke anything. But if you provoke me, I'm going to bite back."

While boxing is his job, Ortiz is not necessarily obsessed with the sport, and he doesn't get a particular rush from the pain that he inflicts.

"I don't like hurting people, I'm not going to lie," Ortiz said. "I know that goes against my KO ratio. It's only a sport. I still have feelings. I'm a human being. I have empathy. I'm just that kind of person."

So yeah, don't count Ortiz among the likely suspects to upload any videos of him bludgeoning overmatched sparring partners anytime soon. And while boxing is what he does, rather than how he defines his identity as a person, don't think for a second that Ortiz doesn't take his boxing career seriously, or that he has his attention anywhere other than the task at hand.

"I'm really excited," Ortiz said. "When the pandemic took over everything, and everything was closed, I was just stuck at home. I felt kind of lost in a way, not sure when I was going to come back to the ring and make my return. I mean, I haven't even fought in 2020, yet. That's crazy to me.

"I just wanted so badly just to get back in the ring, again. I'm really happy."