Haunted by past illnesses, Ortiz regardless determined to make 2024 his year

LAS VEGAS: Vergil Ortiz's eyes watered as he pondered the question. "Were you ever depressed?"

He's battled illness to return to the ring Saturday against Fredrick Lawson atop a Golden Boy Promotions show at the Virgin Hotels off-strip property in Las Vegas — Oscar de la Hoya's new hometown.

Ortiz once passed out before a fight, and, when he recovered his senses, wept uncontrollably.

He's battled COVID-19 and developed rhabdomyolysis which is a rare muscle injury in which one's muscles break down. His doctor once told him if he carried on training, while ill, then he'd die.

There were times at his lowest ebb when he thought he may never fight again.

And so, when ProBox TV asked him this week if he suffered depression, thinking he — in his mid-20's, a young man whom identified as a fighter — may have to do something else with his life, he looked down, and thought for a long time.

"I could have been," Ortiz said. "But … I don't know, looking back. I'm not a doctor. I can't … I can't diagnose myself. But I was really sad."

Various fighters have led a movement to speak openly about mental health, from heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, to Ortiz's Golden Boy stablemate Ryan Garcia.

Ortiz may be another.

"It was such a hard time in my life," he told us. "The hardest time in my life."

He continued: "I always try my best to stay positive … as hard as it was. I tried to stay in the gym. Then, there were flashes of myself when I was health."

Eventually, Ortiz got better.

"I've got a really good fight week feeling," he said. "I feel this is the best I've ever felt in a fight week. So, now, I'm feeling extra positive, and I feel like I'm going to do really good Saturday."

Ortiz is determined to go 20-0 (20 KOs) on Saturday

Against Lawson, Ortiz has a chance to preserve his perfect pro boxing record by advancing to 20-0 (20 KOs).

Though this is the one of the farthest he's gone in a fight week without withdrawing from the show in the last two years, Ortiz does not yet feel like he's fully back.

"I won't be back until I win in devastating fashion," he told us. "Mentally, I won't be there until I win."

Against Lawson, Ortiz competes beyond even the super welterweight division as he fights at a catchweight of 156-pounds — nine pounds higher than his former division at welterweight.

In that weight class, he appeared to have a natural rival in Alexis 'Lex' Rocha.

Having spoken to Ortiz, Rocha, and Golden Boy execs in the past, it was clear that their plan was to maneuver Rocha to one of the world welterweight championship belts, and Ortiz to another. Then, if they were champions at the same time, the Los Angeles-based fight firm had a huge in-house show — Ortiz vs. Rocha — at a suitable venue like the Arena in Southern California, or the American Airlines Center in Dallas; both high-quality 20,000 capacity venues.

Super welterweight is a new division, featuring killers like Tim Tszyu and even Jermell Charlo, alongside Brian Mendoza, Sebastian Mendoza, and Jesus Ramos.

"I don't want to name my [new] rivals," said Ortiz. "I just dont want to give them the satisfaction. I'm not here to make anyone feel good about themselves, except myself."

With Ortiz headlining the first major US boxing show of the year, 2024 could well be a new beginning for Ortiz to restart.

"I want to fight three times this year, to four, going back to the days of when I was coming up, like in 2019 when I got Prospect of the Year.

"I fought four times that year," he said.

Should it all go to plan, 2024 could see him win Comeback of the Year, too.