Vergil Ortiz—an undefeated, power punching welterweight who after picking up four knockouts in 2019 is Sports Illustrated’s Prospect of the Year—will tell you: His toughest fights come in the gym.
Part of the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy—and trained by noted trainer Robert Garcia—Ortiz’s sparring sessions can be slobber knockers. Mikey Garcia, Jose Ramirez and Lucas Matthysse are a few of the names that Ortiz has battled with, offering the 21-year old Ortiz invaluable experience against elite opponents.
“Those sparring sessions,” Ortiz told SI.com recently, “I bet people would pay to see them.”
That sparring, along with the tutelage of Garcia, has helped Ortiz become a thrilling prospect. Ortiz started 2019 by overwhelming Jesus Valdez, battering the veteran until the referee stepped in to stop the fight in the third round. Three months later, Ortiz faced his toughest opponent in Mauricio Herrera, a durable, battle tested fighter who owned wins over Ruslan Provodnikov, Hank Lundy and Jesus Soto Karass, close losses to Danny Garcia, Mike Alvarado and Pablo Cesar Cano and had never been knocked out. Ortiz made short work of Herrera, hunting him around the ring in the first two rounds before delivering a vicious straight right hand that knocked Herrera out.
Ortiz’s rise continued in August, against Antonio Orozco, a once-beaten vet whose only loss came by decision to unified junior welterweight champion Jose Ramirez. Ortiz, fighting in his hometown of Grand Prairie, Texas, was again the aggressor, dropping Orozco three times in the sixth round, the last of which ended the fight. Ortiz finished a banner year in December, wiping out the mobile Brad Solomon on his way to a fifth round knockout.
Despite his age, Ortiz fights like a veteran. He keeps a high guard, making him difficult to hit. He is disciplined in going to the head and body. He’s patient, rarely rushing in to stop opponents, avoiding mistakes.
Ortiz is in line for bigger fights in 2020, with a world title opportunity perhaps looming in 2021. The welterweight division is one of the best in boxing, with Errol Spence, Terence Crawford and Manny Pacquiao leading it. But make no mistake: Vergil Ortiz is coming.
Runner Up: Daniel Dubois, heavyweight
TRAINER OF THE YEAR: Eddy Reynoso
Last October, Anthony Joshua reclined on a massage table at his training center and brought up a fighter he admired. “Canelo,” Joshua said. “He just keeps getting better.” The man guiding Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s rise has been Eddy Reynoso, who along with his father, Chepo, took on Canelo in the early 2000’s and have molded him into a three division world champion.
Last May, Alvarez took on Daniel Jacobs in a middleweight unification fight. The usually accurate punching Jacobs was befuddled by Alvarez’s head movement and defense, landing just 20% of his total punches, per CompuBox, and just seven power punches per round.
In November, Alvarez leaped up to 175-pounds to face Sergey Kovalev. Despite giving up several inches to a natural light heavyweight, Alvarez chose to be the aggressor, batting away Kovalev’s attempt to jab his way to a win, patiently waiting for openings before stopping Kovalev in the 11 round.
With Reynoso in his corner, Alvarez established himself in 2019 as arguably boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighter.
Alvarez wasn’t Reynoso’s only successful charge. In 2018, Reynoso began working with Ryan Garcia, a popular but raw prospect. Garcia made significant strides last year, winning two fights, the last a shocking first round knockout over Romero Duno, a tough lightweight challenger who was regarded as Garcia’s toughest test to date. Last month, Reynoso worked the corner for Julio Cesar Martinez when Martinez stopped Cristofer Rosales to win a flyweight title.
Runner Up: Derrick James
Round of the Year: Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz I, Round 3
Andy Ruiz entered a fight against Anthony Joshua last June a heavy underdog. He left with three pieces of the heavyweight title—and the most memorable round of 2019.
After a slow first two rounds, the action picked up in the third. A middle of the ring exchange ended with Joshua landing a crushing left hook that deposited Ruiz on the canvas for the first time in his career. A raucous, pro-Joshua crowd rose anticipating the knockout, but Ruiz rallied, exchanging punches with Joshua, landing a left hook on Joshua’s temple that wobbled the unbeaten champ, sending him crashing to the mat. A minute later, a hail of punches sent Joshua down a second time.
It was a fight changing round, one that propelled Ruiz to the biggest upset of 2019.
Runner-Up: Spence-Porter, Round 11
Fight of the Year: Gennadiy Golovkin- Sergiy Derevyanchenko
After months spent chasing Canelo Alvarez, in October Golovkin, 37, settled on the next best thing: A chance to win back a piece of the middleweight title. In his way, Derevyanchenko, a 33-year old tactician who lost a razor close decision to Daniel Jacobs just a year earlier.
Early, it looked like Golovkin was in for a quick night, when a first round combination sent Derevyanchenko down. A cut that opened up above Derevyanchenko’s right eye in the second round made the Ukraine-born Derevyanchenko’s task seem impossible.
But Derevyanchenko ralled in the third round, answering every hard Golovkin shot with a flurry while digging into Golovkin’s body relentlessly. For nearly 36 minutes the two middleweights warred, sparking memories of the legendary fights between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward from Derevyanchenko’s promoter, Lou DiBella—who promoted Ward during that time.
Ultimately, Golovkin came away with a narrow decision. But on that night, there were no losers.
Runner-Up: Naoya Inoue UD Nonito Donaire
Knockout of the Year: Deontay Wilder KO1 Dominic Breazeale
The bad blood between Wilder and Breazeale reached a boiling point last May, when Breazeale challenged Wilder for his heavyweight title. There was history between the two, with Breazeale getting into a scuffle with Wilder’s younger brother years earlier. Wilder took the trash talk to another level, reminding Breazeale “I still want a body on my record.”
Wilder landed the first big shot, knocking Breazeale backwards with a wild right hand early in the first round. With Breazeale in the corner, Wilder looked for the finisher. Breazeale, though, continued to punch, clipping Wilder with two right hands on the top of the head, briefly backing him up.
Moments later, it ended. After being separated by the referee, Wilder sauntered to Breazeale, his hands at his midsection. In a blink, Wilder fired a combination, his right hand connecting cleanly, dropping Breazeale to the mat. Breazeale lay motionless for a few seconds, before struggling to get to his feet. He couldn’t beat the count, giving Wilder another spectacular knockout win.
Runner Up: Devin Haney KO7 Antonio Moran