When it comes to in-ring action, Virgil Ortiz Jr.’s rise from prospect to contender has gone as well as any fighter’s over the past several years. Ortiz is a rare case of the exorbitant hype allotted to every successful amateur who signs with a major promoter carrying itself into the contentious phase of their career. Signed to great acclaim, he won prospect of the year, and is near-universally hailed as one of the sport’s brightest young stars, an exciting recent addition to the welterweight division.
But his easy way into the ring with Michael McInson, who is scheduled to perform this Saturday at the Dickey Arena in Fort Worth, TX, represents the most difficult moment of his career. When he was last scheduled to face Makinson, Ortiz was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, spending the week of the fight in the hospital recovering. As Ortiz recovers and heals his body, Makinson has been offered various opponents to save the March 19 card. He said yes to every name presented to him—three of which the public knew and many more behind closed doors. In the end, he fought and defeated Alex Martin in Still Hope, and would eventually fight Ortiz.
“I’m really sad that I can’t fight, especially since we know the week of the fight. “It wasn’t like I wanted to waste an entire training camp and months before that, that’s not who I am,” Ortiz said at a recent media conference table.
In a recent column, Dr. Keith Roach, a physician at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital, described what is now known as short-handed rhabdo as a “rare but dangerous condition.” Exercising at a higher intensity or longer duration than a person is used to, or in hot and humid conditions. The root cause of Ortiz’s case has never been made public, but it’s certainly easy to look at long, hard boxing training camps in conditions where inflammation can cause muscle damage to dangerous levels. This theory is supported by a study led by Harvard University’s Dr. Kadhiresan R. Murugapan in the 2018 issue of the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, which showed a link between rapid weight loss and pain.
Ortiz reckons the intensity of being in camp from October 2021 to March 2022, effectively moving the goalposts, has exhausted his body. Over the years, Ortiz’s dog training skills have been praised by fighters past and present. In the year In a 2020 video posted on YouTube by ESNEWS, Gervonta Davis told reporter Eli Seckbach that Ortiz trains seven days a week, who responded by looking at the camera in surprise and asking, “Are you sure?”
His promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who is certainly prone to hyperbole from time to time, recently praised Ortiz’s work ethic above that of anyone else in the sport.
“His work ethic is far better than anyone who wears these gloves. “Virgil is a person who likes to run, who likes to wake up in the morning, who likes his work,” he said.
Ortiz’s offense also came in the first training camp with new coach Manny Robles. After an amicable split with longtime trainer Robert Garcia, Ortiz had a brief flirtation in training with Eddie Reynoso, but he says logistics simply didn’t allow their partnership to work. So Ortiz added Ruben to his team alongside his father Virgil Sr. and Hector Beltran, who had coached him since his amateur days.
To hear Ortiz tell it, the addition of Robles is less of a transition and more of a vision — and a 50-mile trip down the road to Norwalk, Calif.
“(My dad) pushes me to my limits and more. Some people might see that as the opposite, but I see it as knowing what I can do and bringing that out of me. (Héctor Beltran) has been with us since 2012. He brings a lot of knowledge, a lot of perspective,” Ortiz said. “I’ve learned things from every coach I’ve been with. Every coach has his own perspective, different styles. One thing I learned from Manny is to be explosive with your fists. Don’t waste your time trying to respond and think about it. Because if you think about it, you can go in and make mistakes with it.
In McKinson, Ortiz will have an opponent designed to make his opponents think and then rethink their approach. McKinson’s unusual style of movement-heavy style based on hand speed and off-rhythm seems to have been mastered by Naseem Hamed. With just two takedowns in 22 wins, Makinson isn’t looking for an unexpected opener as he looks to slow down his opponent with quick pot shots or combinations before getting out of danger.
As a +800 underdog, bookies are generally skeptical about McKinson’s chances, but his form is one that could spell a miserable night for any opponent. He recently described himself as a “banana skin for Virgil Ortiz”, an unexpected person who would get in Ortiz’s way.
Only surprises outside the ring have managed to derail Ortiz’s train so far, but every time he’s pulled into the station, his journey has gone as planned.
Corey Erdman is a boxing analyst and writer based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.