By: Sean Crose
“I have like four or five guitars,” super lightweight Vergil Ortiz tells me. “I got into music when I played Guitar Hero.” It’s not often that a contemporary fighter – perhaps with the exception of woodwind practitioner Keith Thurman – is known for a love of instruments. An interesting thing about Ortiz, however, is that he’s quite open to talking about an area of interest outside of the ring. “I like to play guitar or piano,” he explains. It was being exposed to the piano, in fact, that led to Ortiz discovering an interesting truth about himself. “I realized I kind of have an ear for music.”
Ortiz sees music as an outlet, a chance to be himself, after six full days of training a week. After four to six miles of daily roadwork and other grueling weekly routines (“Every other day we spar”) Ortiz appreciates his spare time. “I like to play my guitar or piano,” he says. Still, the 9-0 Texan knows that his primary focus has to be his ring career. When I ask if he has a wife, girlfriend or children, Ortiz makes it clear that there will be time for such fulfillment in the future. “I’m just focused on boxing right now,” he tells me. “That’ll all come later.”
A native of Grand Prairie, “a pretty big small town” outside of Dallas, the undefeated Ortiz is developing the reputation for having Texas sized power. None of the 20 year old’s fights have gone the distance. All of Ortiz’ opponents, without exception, have succumbed to the fury of the man’s gloved fits. Not that Ortiz is always looking to call it an early night each and every time. “They just come when they come,” he says of the KOs. “If I could go the distance, that would be great.” In order for such a thing to happen, however, Ortiz will have to find the opponent who can withstand his power.
“My dad took me to the gym after school,” Ortiz says of his start in boxing. “They put me in to spar with no training.” The older Ortiz was himself a boxer, though “he never went pro.” The younger Ortiz, who has “two brothers and three sisters,” is carrying the family legacy into the professional ranks, however. And yes, boxing is still a family affair. “My dad’s been my coach, “says Ortiz. Legacy is an important thing to the fighter. “My ultimate goal is to be remembered in boxing,” he claims.
Asked who throughout history he’d have liked to fight, Ortiz gives the honors to the late Arturo Gatti. “For me he was the toughest of the tough,” he says. Other fighters the man admires are Sergio Martinez, the late Salvador Sanchez, and the Golden Boy himself, Oscar De la Hoya. One Vasyl Lomachenko also earns a great deal of the man’s respect. “There’s a reason why he’s undefeated,” Ortiz says of the Ukrainian, stating that right now, the man called Loma “is the best fighter” out there. Like Lomachenko, Ortiz started as an amateur standout.
“It was good,” he says of his apprentice years. “I won seven national titles…most of my losses came when I was little.” It was during one particular tournament that Ortiz caught the eye of a company owned by one of his favorite fighters, Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy. In truth, the promotional outfit was also interested in another fighter, but when the two rising stars faced off, it was Ortiz who emerged victorious. “I knocked that guy out in about thirty seconds,” he says. Since signing with the famed company, Ortiz has found himself in places like Vegas and even AT&T Stadium, near his home.
“It was pretty cool,” he says of that particular experience, adding that friends and family were on hand live at the stadium to see him knock out Ernesto Hernandez. In fact, Ortiz is finding himself becoming a known commodity. “I get it a lot,” he says of public recognition, “especially in my hometown.” Good things happen when one has strong backing. “I fought on ESPN five times already,” he claims. As for the immediate future, the burgeoning KO artist plans on being back in the ring soon.
Should he continue on his current path, Ortiz may well be able to add quite a bit more to that guitar collection of his.