Days after the country celebrated Independence Day with fireworks and BBQs, DAZN returns with a welterweight title fight live from the AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX. WBA regular champion Eimantas Stanionis (14-0, 9 KOs) defends his title against Vergil Ortiz Jr. (19-0, 19 KOs) in a 50/50 fight. The anticipation level for this fight is high, and fans of the sweet science can’t wait until Saturday night to see who comes out victorious between these two young bulls.
They say three times a charm, and we certainly hope so for this fight. These two pugilists were initially scheduled to fight on March 18 as Golden Boy Promotions won the purse bid and the right to broadcast the fight through DAZN. As we got into January, Stanionis underwent an emergency surgery (appendicitis) in Lithuania, which postponed the fight until April 29. As the fight drew closer, Ortiz Jr. came down with a medical condition called rhabdomyolysis which postponed the fight for the second time making Saturday the third fight date in six months.
For Ortiz Jr., when you look back at his career, his body has been the roadblock between him and either a title fight or a big name within that weight class. In 2019, Ortiz was a hot prospect/contender in the junior welterweight division, where he had been contending since turning Pro, but his body could no longer make it under the 140 pound limit. Ortiz Jr. came in at 142 lbs that night against Jesus Barrayan (23-5-1, 12 KOs), and although he scored a fifth-round stoppage, it would be the last time he competed at junior welterweight. Ortiz Jr. then moved up to welterweight, and right before his big shot at a title, his body reacts again, and he is diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis.
You read all of this, and it sounds like someone that has run into a string of bad luck but looking at it positively, is it more like the old saying goes, ‘Everything happens for a reason’? Ortiz Jr. told FansidedMMA, “I would say so. Before everything happened, I didn’t really implement recovery into my everyday lifestyle. Now we do it, and I feel great”. Ortiz Jr. continued, “Sometimes it feels like something is working against me. 140 was okay. I felt I could’ve got a title for sure. I wanted the (Maurice) Hooker fight when I was still at 140, but I beat him at 147. At 147, I feel like I can beat these guys. It’s a real bad timing thing, I guess. It is frustrating sometimes.”
It certainly can be frustrating for any athlete close enough to an opportunity that they can smell it, but something keeps getting in the way. Ortiz Jr. admitted that he has to tell himself that he can’t worry about what he can’t control and to stay positive in every situation. Although that is easier said than done, it helps that he has someone near and dear to his heart with him every step of the way, his father, Vergil Ortiz Sr.
Fathers being in the corner of their sons has been heavily discussed on social media over the past few weeks. It started with the public back and forth between Teofimo Lopez and his dad, and it continued with Boxing Hall of Famer Timothy Bradley Jr. saying on “It just needs to be banned. I think boxing needs to ban father-son [partnerships]. Ban it. Your father cannot be your trainer. Your father, he can be in your corner, whatever, but he cannot be your trainer. I think it should be banned, honestly, man. You just said it right there, man. The relationship between a father and son is horrible.”
Although Ortiz Jr. didn’t react to Bradley’s comments directly, his point of view is that he and his father need each other, and he credits him for being the one that got him here to this point in his career. “My dad has been there since the beginning and is the one that put me in boxing. He sent me to California to turn Pro and thought, ‘I should let him go and do his thing.’ I started fading away from where I was, and then he would fix me after my fights when I would go back (to Texas). I would then be tuned up again to fight, and afterward, it was kind of the same thing again. Then I thought, maybe we weren’t supposed to split. He’s the reason why I am here. We have a strong bond, a good relationship, and we need each other.”
The team of Ortiz Jr. and Sr. will have an arduous task ahead of them, and his name is Stanionis. The 28-year-old WBA champion from Lithuania is a big welterweight and is coming into Saturday night looking to prove the bookmakers wrong who have him as a comfortable underdog. Regardless, Ortiz Jr. is not taking him lightly, and to get ready for this challenge, he brought him a familiar face with whom he shared the ring once before; Egidijus ‘Mean Machine’ Kavaliauskas (23-2-1, 18 KOs).
‘Mean Machine’ like Stanionis is from Lithuania and is one of the hardest punchers in the division. In 2019, he faced WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs), and although they didn’t rule it a knockdown, there was a moment in the fight where Kavaliauskas landed a punch that forced Crawford to touch the canvas with his glove which should have been ruled a knockdown. It wasn’t, but it proved that Kavaliauskas's power was real, and it once again showed up in 2021 when he fought Ortiz Jr. During that fight, there were a few times Ortiz Jr. was buzzed, and after the fight, he admitted that ‘Mean Machine’ hits hard.
It only made sense to bring him in for sparring as Ortiz Jr. prepares to face another hard-hitting Lithuanian. Although it wasn’t an official fight, I was curious to know if the power was still felt two years after their bout during their recent sparring session.
Ortiz Jr. told FanSidedMMA, “Hell yea (Laughs)! When he pulled up, he was wearing his shirt, and when he took it off, he had this compression shirt on. I was like, ‘F*ck, this guy is f*ckin big’(laughs). He wasn’t fat; he was just shredded. I thought to myself, ‘I fought against this dude?’ I swear to God, I told my dad when he threw the first punch, and it landed on my arms, I was like ‘f*ck’ (laughs). There’s sparring mode and fighting mode. I went into full-on fighting mode after that. It’s not something you can just turn on by yourself. It’s like the situation calls for it. I was literally in fight mode. I felt like it was fight day right there, but that dude does hit hard.”
Ortiz Jr. feels fully prepared for Saturday night, and although it comes 11 months after his last appaearence, he thinks the fans are just as excited to see the matchup. Ortiz Jr. says he pays attention to what people say on social media posts and Twitter. He also sees people saying that he will lose against Stanionis but that doesn’t bother him as Ortiz Jr. prefers being in a 50/50 fight. Overall, he feels people are genuinely excited about the matchup and will be tuned in come Saturday night.
Speaking of Saturday night, as we get closer, Ortiz Jr. wants to set the expectation level so that the fans know what they are about to witness. “Fans should expect a firefight and a second Fourth of July. There’s going to be another set of fireworks, and just expect me to be back. This is my time to shine and where I prove to everyone that I belong at the top”.
The Ortiz Jr. story is still in its first few chapters, but plenty of promise makes the rest of it much anticipated. Will Ortiz Jr. begin his welterweight reign on Saturday night, or will the fans chant the name of Stanionis when it’s all said and done? One thing is for sure, this fight will live up to the hype, and whoever is victorious will be part of the welterweight division’s future.