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Welterweight Vergil Ortiz Jr., the heavy-hitting 2019 ESPN prospect of the year, will make his 2020 debut against battle-tested veteran Samuel Vargas on March 28, Golden Boy Promotions announced on Saturday.
The scheduled 12-round bout, which had been agreed to for the past couple of weeks but is now signed, will take place at The Forum in Inglewood, California, and headline a DAZN card.
"When people think of the future of the welterweight division, one name stands out, and that's Vergil Ortiz Jr.," Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya said. "Simply put, this kid is special. His talent, speed and power set him apart from any other fighter who is moving up the 147-pound rankings."
Ortiz (15-0, 15 KOs), who will turn 22 on March 25, stormed to 2019 prospect of the year honors with four knockouts last year, including three in a row against elevated levels of opposition. He stopped former world title challengers Mauricio Herrera in the third round and Antonio Orozco in the sixth round, and finished the year with a fifth-round knockout of Brad Solomon on Dec. 13. None of the three had ever previously been knocked out.
"I'm excited to be returning against Samuel Vargas," Ortiz said. "He's a tough fighter with a lot of experience, so I know that my talent and skills are going to be put to a tough test. I'm also happy to be fighting in Los Angeles at such a historic venue where many legends in the sport have fought. I love this city, and I love the people here, so I'm going to work very hard to perform to the best of my abilities on March 28."
The extremely experienced Vargas (31-5-2, 14 KOs), 30, a Colombia native based in Toronto, will be next to see whether he can handle the young gun. Vargas' losses have generally come only against top opponents such as Errol Spence Jr., Amir Khan, Danny Garcia and Luis Collazo.
"Throughout my career, I have always taken the challenges that other fighters in the division don't want, and that's exactly what I'm doing again," Vargas said. "Vergil Ortiz Jr. is one of the brightest young stars in boxing, but he hasn't had to go through a war yet. I've shown that I'm willing to go through hell in that ring, so if Ortiz is everything he's hyped up to be, he better be on point March 28 because I know I will."
In the co-feature, junior welterweight brawler Pablo Cesar Cano (33-7-1, 23 KOs), 30, of Mexico, will defend his regional belt against Michael Perez (25-3-2, 11 KOs), 30, of Newark, New Jersey, in a 12-round bout. Perez will be coming off a 15-month layoff.
Also on the card:
Unified welterweight world titleholder Errol Spence Jr., who was involved in a horrific, one-car accident in October, said Saturday night that he is healthy, has begun training again and will be back in the ring in May or June.
In his first interview since the crash, Spence spoke about the accident and his boxing future during the Premier Boxing Champions on Fox telecast at Toyota Arena in Ontario, California. Spence was there rooting on his friend Jermell Charlo, who knocked out Tony Harrison in the 11th round of the main event to reclaim his junior middleweight world title.
"Everybody knows I've been in a horrible car accident, but I'm feeling good," Spence said. "I spent a lot of time with my family, my friends and my little girl and just enjoying the time with them while I've been off from boxing."
Spence crashed his Ferrari at a high speed in Dallas at around 3 a.m. on Oct. 10. Spence, 29, of the Dallas suburb DeSoto, Texas, was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the car, which eventually flipped over several times.
Spence, who was transported to the hospital and initially in intensive care, was charged with misdemeanor driving while intoxicated.
"I don't remember too much, but I can't really talk about the case," Spence said. "I've been advised by my lawyer because there's still a pending case going on, so out of respect, I choose not to talk about it."
Spence did not suffer any broken bones or fractures but did suffer facial lacerations and broken teeth.
"My whole body was sore," he said. "I guess a miracle from God, and he really protected me during that accident because, I mean, anybody else probably would have been killed. So it was just a blessing from God that I was able to make it out safe and be able to return to boxing next year."
When the accident happened, Spence (26-0, 21 KOs) was just 2½ weeks removed from scoring the biggest win of his career on Sept. 28, when he won a split decision against Shawn Porter to unify two 147-pound world titles in a pay-per-view headliner at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The fight was an action-packed contender for fight of the year.
Despite the rumor mill swirling that Spence would be out for all of 2020, if he could ever return to the ring at all, he said those comments were untrue.
"I'm fighting around May, June, so I'll be back real soon," Spence said. "I already started training last week, and I'm feeling good. I hit the mitts and everything and ran, too. I'm feeling good, so I can continue training.
"I've been working with my coach [Derrick James], running and training. I was back last week. I wasn't sore or anything. I just felt like I took a long time to rest, so I feel real good. It's been a miracle and blessing from God that I haven't had anything seriously wrong that would keep me out for a year or two or ended my career. I'm just glad to be here for my kids, my family, my fans and everybody who supported me and the media, and stuff like that. It's a blessing just to be here."
Spence added that he has no medical issues that would keep him from training all-out or fighting in the next few months.
"My body actually feels good," Spence said. "Now I think I'm rejuvenated, and I'm ready to get back in the gym and train hard and hopefully fight one of the top fighters. I don't want a tune-up fight. I want to fight [titleholder Manny] Pacquiao or [former titlist Danny] Garcia if he wins his fight [against Ivan Redkach on Jan. 25]. I want to fight Danny Garcia. I was supposed to fight him in January, but I had my accident. That's the guys I'm looking to fight.
"No restrictions at all. I've been cleared. They did all types of scans on me. They think it's a miracle. I can't explain it. All I got to do is thank God that I'm here. I'm healthy, I can touch my kids and kiss them, and I'm here with my mother and my father and I can give the fans what they've been wanting. They've been wanting me to come back, and I'll definitely put on a great show when I do come back. The second time around, I'm not gonna take anything for granted."
After Spence defeated Porter, Garcia got in the ring, and he and Spence began to talk up a fight that was being planned as a pay-per-view headliner on Jan. 25.
Spence said he plans to pick up where he left off following the win against Porter.
"I'm the top dog of the division," Spence said. "I am the king of the welterweight division. Those guys wish I wasn't back so fast, but I am back and I want to fight the top names in the division -- whether it's Manny Pacquiao, [titleholder] Terence Crawford or Danny Garcia, I do want the top names, and I do want to be the undisputed welterweight champion of the world."
Fast-rising featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson will take on former world title challenger Franklin Manzanilla when Stevenson makes his hometown professional debut at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on July 13.
Manzanilla, announced as Stevenson's opponent for the 10-round bout on Tuesday, replaces original opponent Hairon Socarras (22-0-3, 13 KOs), who dropped out of the fight over various unspecified issues, according to Top Rank.
Stevenson-Manzanilla will headline the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 10:30 p.m. with preliminaries streaming on ESPN+ beginning at 7 p.m. ET). "It doesn't matter who I fight. I am ready to put on a show for my hometown," Stevenson said. "Newark is going to be out in full force, and I know a victory on July 13 will move me closer to a world-title shot, which is my ultimate goal."
Stevenson (11-0, 6 KOs), a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, who turns 22 on Friday, has fought three times in New York but not yet as a professional in nearby Newark, where he grew up. He is coming off his biggest win as a pro, a lopsided 10-round decision against former junior lightweight world title challenger Christopher Diaz on April 20 on the Terence Crawford-Amir Khan undercard at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Manzanilla (18-5, 17 KOs), 30, of Colombia, will be fighting in the United States for the second time in a row. In his last fight, on Feb. 9, he challenged junior featherweight world titleholder Rey Vargas and lost a unanimous decision -- 117-108 on all three scorecards -- in Indio, California, in a fight in which he knocked Vargas down in the second round.
"I fought for a world title against Rey Vargas in my last fight, and I let that opportunity slip away," Manzanilla said. "Against Shakur, I don't want that to happen to me again. It will be an honor to be in the ring with an Olympian on such a big stage. I am inspired to give the fans a great show and crash the party."
In the co-feature, bantamweight prospect Joshua Greer Jr. (20-1-1, 12 KOs), 25, of Chicago, will face Nikolai Potapov (20-1-1, 11 KOs), 29, a Russia native fighting out of New York, in a title eliminator for the No. 2 ranking in the IBF.
Top Rank also announced that the ESPN+ portion of the card will include:
• Vijender Singh (10-0, 7 KOs), 33, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist from India and his country's only boxing medalist, will face Mike Snider (13-5-3, 8 KOs), 38, of Flemington, West Virginia, in an eight-round super middleweight bout. Singh will be fighting for the first time since December 2017.
• Lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno (12-0, 10 KOs), 20, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, will square off with Adriano Ramirez (10-3, 6 KOs), 35, of the Dominican Republic, in an eight-round bout.
• Junior middleweight Vito Mielnicki Jr., son of promoter Vito Mielnicki, will become the first New Jersey boxer to turn pro at the age of 17 when he faces Mississippi's Tamarcus Smith (2-2, 2 KOs), 24, in a four-rounder. Mielnicki was given a special exemption to turn pro at 17 from the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.
• Junior welterweight Julian Rodriguez (16-0, 10 KOs), 24, of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, will return from a nearly two-year layoff to fight Hevinson Herrera (24-17-1, 18 KOs), 34, of Colombia, in a six-rounder.
• Junior welterweight Josue Vargas (13-1, 8 KOs), 21, who is from Puerto Rico and fights out of Bronx, New York, will go for his eighth win in a row when he faces Manuel Lopez (14-3-1, 7 KOs), 28, of Denver, in an eight-round fight.
• Junior welterweight John Bauza (12-0, 5 KOs), 21, of North Bergen, New Jersey, will face Angel Sarinana (10-8-2, 4 KOs), 26, of Mexico, in an eight-rounder.