Vergil Ortiz Jr. is a self-made guitarist and piano player who can play “Hotel California” in its entirety.
Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, Ortiz (12-0, 12 knockouts) steps into the ring in the welterweight co-main event of the Canelo Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs middleweight-title unification bout against a man nearly as old as the Eagles’ classic.
“I like rock music. I know Metallica and Journey,” Ortiz, 21, said. “It’s a good escape. I’m working hard to perfect all the notes. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes a little hard on myself, but once I get it down, it goes smooth.”
Riverside’s Mauricio Herrera, 38, might be the boxing equivalent of mastering a song. The veteran has been cast for the past five years as a gatekeeper charged with testing the mettle and skill of young fighters and title contenders.
A former title challenger who nearly defeated former two-division champion Danny Garcia five years ago, Herrera (24-8, seven KOs) is 6-7 since and he acknowledges the battles have caused him to ponder how long he’ll remain in the unforgiving sport.
“I’m not an old fighter. I still feel fresh. If it looks like I’m old, it’s only been a lack of motivation. Ever since the world title fight, I lost a lot of motivation. Sometimes it comes back. An undefeated kid like this motivates me to prove I’ve still got something.”
Ortiz has already revealed his promise by knocking out every foe he’s faced. With fast, powerful hands and impressive reach, he’s aiming to rise toward a title shot, viewing his Dallas neighbor and 140-pound champion Maurice Hooker as the ideal goal.
“[Promoter] Golden Boy has given me the big opportunity of a co-main on a Canelo event and I’m going to take advantage of it,” said Ortiz, elevated to the spot by an injury to super-middleweight David Lemieux. “I’m ready to showcase what I’ve got. They’ll see how explosive I am, how high the energy is, my high pace.”
Herrera, who’s also fought recent 154-pound champion Sadam Ali and welterweight title challenger Jose Benavidez, wants to respond with the benefit of experience and use Ortiz’s aggression against him.
“The guy’s going to be there for me to hit him. He’s going to come forward. He has a lot to prove so he’ll come after me,” Herrera said. “And this is the kind of fight I need, because others like this have turned out good for me. It suits my style.”
Ortiz, who trains in Riverside under Robert Garcia, expressed no sympathy for Herrera in the youngster’s pursuit to knock out the older man for the first time in his career.
“He makes a lot of world-class fighters look bad, but I want to win and I want to win looking good, Ortiz said. “Every fighter goes in trying to knock the guy out. I would love to get the stoppage win.”
Herrera recalls his prior damage, the cuts against Hank Lundy – “my whole face was an injury,” he cracked – along with an ambulance ride and the morning-after pain of losses.
“You have a bad night of fighting and it almost feels like a hangover,” he said. “You feel like, ‘I’m not doing this anymore,’ but then time goes on and you do it again. It’s the same with boxing. There was a time I thought I’d never fight again … my whole body was aching. I felt like I wanted to die. I couldn’t do it anymore. I asked myself how I got into this.
“The next day, I could open my eye and then I started to think, ‘I’m starting to heal. I can fight again.’ From then on, it was like, ‘This is how it’s going to be … .’”
And now comes Ortiz.