Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Vergil Ortiz Jr needs to be active after move to 154lbs to avoid wasting time like Ryan Garcia

Vergil Ortiz Jr moving to 154lbs in January will hopefully be a healthy move for him. 

His most recent attempts to make 147lbs have made him unwell, and by extension slowed his career down – even though his health is the most important thing. The additional weight should be a welcome change for him, and hopefully lead to him again getting the most out of himself – particularly given how much it appeared to be taking out of him to be a welterweight.

Moving up had become the only option he had if he wanted to fight on. If he can start recovering a sense of momentum it’ll again be possible to judge whether he can compete at 154lbs – in the past he’s certainly appeared to have the talent – but after his health, his momentum and activity need to be his priorities. 

When he was fighting regularly he was a highly-valued prospect. He was an exciting fighter who knew how to win; he was aggressive; could punch with both hands, and entertained. The talk was that he and Jaron “Boots” Ennis were the future of the welterweight division, and he’d earned that. Moving up aged 25 is also positive – it’s easier for a fighter to build and carry their physicality into a bigger weight division at a younger age than it is, for example, a fighter reaching the end of his career and naturally becoming heavier with time.

His opponent, Fredrick Lawson, represents a suitable opponent for a re-entry fight for Ortiz, but Lawson has a big opportunity to fight one of the best-known younger fighters, and at a time when there are a lot of questions hanging over him. Their fight on January 6 can answer a lot of those questions either way; if Ortiz comes through, fighting as early as that in 2024, his team should be aiming to make it the first of four fights next year. Golden Boy Promotions having a broadcast agreement with DAZN should also help; he’s exactly the type of fighter DAZN will want to showcase if he resumes living up to the hype surrounding him.

There’s only a handful of fighters at Golden Boy capable of keeping them among the world’s most powerful promoters. Ryan Garcia and Jaime Munguia are the other two who really stand out – highlighting how important Ortiz is for them if he keeps winning and looking good, and how important it is that they keep him happy if he does. There’s also a duty of care for him from those around him – particularly his trainer Manny Robles, given that boxing has taught us that managers and promoters can’t be relied on to show that same sense of care.

Before then, Garcia will have returned at 140lbs against Oscar Duarte. Like Ortiz he’s young, and certainly has the type of frame he can grow into. 

Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Ortiz Jr needs to be active after move to 154lbs to avoid wasting time like Garcia
Photo: Cris Esqueda/Golden Boy

Garcia’s been inactive since losing for the first time, to Gervonta “Tank” Davis, in April, but at that age, by the time he returns in early December that will have been too long. He should have been taking advantage of being healthy and in his physical prime.

He remains unproven at the highest level and needs to work his way back there – ideally against opponents who are fighting to win. Adrien Broner has been mentioned, and like Garcia he has a big name that means theirs could make for a marketable fight. But Broner’s not active enough in the ring to threaten Garcia – to beat Garcia requires a sharp, busy puncher, because Garcia will be busy if his respect isn’t earned. Even though it hurt him he tried to be active against Davis. Can Broner punish that kind of aggression, or is his prime too far behind him? Broner wasn’t even a busy fighter in his prime, and he’s become less busy in recent years. Garcia-Broner might prove marketable, but it wouldn’t do much for Garcia’s attempts to progress as a fighter.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, Terence Crawford was stripped of the IBF welterweight title because he wasn’t going to fight Ennis. Ennis deserved a title shot, and while I understand that from Crawford’s perspective, at the stage of his career he’s at, he expects a certain amount of money and Ennis might not deliver that.

But from a sporting perspective Ennis’ title shot is overdue. We might want to see an undisputed champion but that shouldn’t get in the way of other fighters challenging for titles. 

At welterweight, “Boots” is the biggest threat to Crawford – and any other fighter at 147lbs, not that I’m convinced Crawford is interested in staying there. Ennis was being held back – Errol Spence had also kept his title for years without fighting him; the IBF acting so quickly after Crawford became their champion reeks of the sport’s politics  – so the time has come for Ennis to attempt to reign as champion.