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20-for-20: Ortiz keeps perfect KO mark, back in title contention

The spirited crowd that filled The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas didn’t agree with the stoppage by referee Tony Weeks, but unbeaten junior middleweight Vergil Ortiz Jr. sure didn’t seem to mind it.

“It was going to get ugly,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz (20-0, 2o knockouts) undoubtedly would have crumpled Fredrick Lawson (30-4, 22 KOs) to the canvas had Weeks not intervened 2:33 into the first round of their 156-pound catchweight bout atop a card promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. The stoppage drew boos from a gallery that included 140-pound champions Teofimo Lopez (WBO) and Rolando Romero (WBA).

“I don’t think it was a bad stoppage,” Ortiz said. “As a fan, you’re going to think so because you want to see the knockout. Fans watch boxing to see knockouts, to see the ugly stuff. As a fighter who knew that it was literally coming in the next few punches … he saved him from a bad knockout.”

The win ended a 17-month layoff for Ortiz, a 25-year-old from the Dallas area who doubles as one of boxing’s top young talents.

He overwhelmed Lawson with his pressure and power, cornering the 34-yard Ghanaian and prompting Weeks to intervene.

“If he’s not fighting back, it’s not a fight anymore. It’s a beatdown,” Ortiz said.

And it was.

Ortiz is positioned to challenge for a title in the 154-pound division the way he would have inevitably in the welterweight division had an illness called rhabdomyolysis not afflicted him. The condition — potentially leading to kidney issues, seizures, nausea and vomiting, arrhythmias and even occasionally death — weakened Ortiz and twice forced the cancellation of a WBA interim welterweight fight with Eimantas Stanionis.

But Ortiz powered through it, then powered through Lawson — announcing with his performance a return to title contention.

He called afterward for WBO champion Tim Tszyu, a fellow power-punching battering ram from Australia who’s called for marquee fights against top competition in Las Vegas.

Tszyu is also a top draw in the Land Down Under. Ortiz insisted he’s willing to travel to fight him.

“Whatever Team Vergil wants, we’ll make happen,” said Ortiz’s promoter, Golden Boy chairman Oscar De La Hoya. “We’re behind him 1,000 percent. … He’s one of those old-school-thinking fighters. To be the best, you’ve got to fight the best.”

Barroso makes statement

Romero wasn’t kidding.

Ismael Barroso can really punch.

The 40-year-old Venezuelan claimed the WBA’s interim 140-pound title in the co-feature against British contender Ohara Davies, whom he dropped twice in the first round to secure a TKO victory. Barroso lost a controversial fight in May at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to Romero, the 28-year-old Las Vegan who sat ringside and congratulated him afterward atop the apron.

Said Barroso (25-4-2, 23 KOs) through a translator about a prospective fight for Romero’s title: “I’m ready for the rematch if it happens. … The public wants it.”

In their WBA title fight, Barroso dropped Romero in the second round and was leading 78-73, 77-74, 76-74 on the scorecards when Weeks prematurely stopped the fight when Romero buzzed Barroso in the ninth round.

Romero praised the power the 31-year-old Davies (25-3, 18 KOs) absorbed, forcing referee Celestino Ruiz to halt the bout at the 1:53 mark.

Also on the undercard, junior welterweight Arnold Barboza Jr. (29-0, 11 KOs) was sharp, accurate and effective in his Golden Boy debut, stopping Xolisani Ndongeni (31-4, 18 KOs) on his stool after eight rounds for a TKO victory.

Promoted formerly by Top Rank, the 32-year-old from Los Angeles pieced together combinations and overwhelmed the 33-year-old South African with poised pressure.

The 140-pound division is the deepest in boxing. Other champions include pound-for-pound standout Devin Haney (WBC) and power-puncher Subriel Matias (IBF). Superstar Ryan Garcia also campaigns at 140 pounds. Former champions Josh Taylor, Jose Ramirez and Regis Prograis loom as contenders — as do Jack Catterall, Richardson Hitchens and Sandor Martin.

“As a promoter now, I can put on my hat and think about all the great matches,” De La Hoya said. “We strongly feel that this division is an exciting one. It’s a hot one. Everyone who fought here at 140, they want to see them again.”

In the opener, Mexican welterweight Raul Curiel (14-0, 12 KOs) bludgeoned San Diego native Elias Diaz (12-2, seven KOs) to force a stoppage 1:06 into the eighth round.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com Follow @BySamGordon on X.

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