The biggest question for every young undefeated fighter is: How will they react when their chin gets tested?
Vergil Ortiz Jr. passed that test with flying colors Saturday against Egidijus Kavaliauskas. He survived a second-round scare to roar back with five knockdowns and an eighth-round TKO finish.
The 23-year-old Ortiz kept his perfect professional and knockout record intact with an exceptional performance that answered a lot of questions about whether Ortiz was ready to take the next step in his career.
And who is that next step?
“I don’t care if it’s (Terence) Crawford, (Errol) Spence (Jr.) or (Manny) Pacquiao,” Ortiz (18-0, 18 KOs) said. “I’m here to fight anyone.”
The WBO No. 1 contender has been actively hunting a fight with current champion Crawford, but he first needed to get past one of Crawford’s previous opponents to move closer to that opportunity.
Not only did he do it, he also finished the job earlier than Crawford did with a buzzer-beater knockout at 2:59 of the eighth. Crawford needed nine rounds to stop the fighter known as “Mean Machine.”
Like Crawford, Ortiz dealt with adversity against Kavaliauskas.
Crawford was stunned and knocked down in the third round by “Mean Machine” in their 2019 bout, but the referee missed the call. Crawford composed himself and staged a comeback. A similar situation played out for Ortiz as he was hurt badly in the second round and went down after missing a punch. Kavaliauskas had Ortiz in trouble again in the third but Ortiz pulled it together and dropped his Lithuanian opponent with a hard right hand.
Ortiz then settled into a rhythm behind a stiff jab and went on to control the middle rounds. Kavaliauskas attempted to use pressure, but he found himself stuck on the outside getting picked off.
Ortiz also began committing to the body to wear down Kavaliauskas. As fatigue began to set in, Ortiz found it easier to hit his target. By the eighth round, the meat was tenderized and Ortiz recognized that the body punching was having a clear effect. The first of four knockdowns came courtesy of a jab to the body. Although Kavaliauskas made it to his feet, Ortiz only needed to apply pressure to finish him off.
Racing against the clock, Ortiz unleashed a furious barrage of punches that deposited Kavaliauskas twice more before the final assault.
Promotional politics will almost certainly get in the way of Ortiz challenging Crawford for the WBO title next. But it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for the top of the 147-pound division to ignore him.
And when Ortiz’s time comes, he’ll certainly be ready.