BRILLIANT welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz Jnr, 18-0 (18), ventured into the eighth round for the first time in his professional career tonight (August 14) at The Star in Frisco, Texas, but didn’t plan on going any further than that, stopping the game Egidijus Kavaliauskas, 22-2-1 (18), later in that very round.

The stoppage, delivered right on the bell to end the eighth, came following a thrilling two-way brawl which saw both men hit the canvas – Ortiz once (though, strangely, not ruled a knockdown), Kavaliauskas five times – and Ortiz, the supposed superstar-in-waiting, overcome more than one moment of crisis. He produced, in the end, yet another knockout victory in a career full of them but learnt far more in the process of securing this one than he would have done in the previous 17 combined.

Credit, because of this, must go to Kavaliauskas, whose belief and ambition never wavered throughout the contest and whose bravery ensured he kept getting up when knocked down. Furthermore, thanks to the 33-year-old’s textbook skills, aggression, and smart counterpunching, Ortiz, 23, was forced to be patient and careful and show additional wrinkles to his game, no longer able to simply power past an opponent and consider defence an afterthought.

Quite the opposite, here, against Kavaliauskas, Ortiz was uncharacteristically circumspect, especially in the first round, and had to be wary of his Lithuanian opponent’s short hooks and uppercuts as well as his jab from middle range. This became evident as early as the second round, when Kavaliauskas nailed Ortiz in close with a right uppercut which wobbled the undefeated fighter and hurt him in a way completely new to Ortiz. Struggling to hold, struggling to rediscover his bearings, Ortiz decided to ill-advisedly return fire and, either off balance or hurt, or both, ended up tumbling to the canvas beneath the storm of Kavaliauskas’ meatier combinations. That was ruled a slip rather than a knockdown, which appeared an error, and Ortiz, relieved to be spared the indignity of being officially knocked down, then responded in style, taking the fight back to Kavaliauskas and even hurting him to the body in the dying moments of the round.

Regardless, Ortiz walked back to his stool on unsteady legs and had, rest assured, never been as close to losing, as a pro, as he seemed to be in the final minute of that particular round.

Going into the third, Kavaliauskas had every reason to be confident and his posture and body language now reflected this confidence. Prowling on the front foot, he pushed forward, looking physically imposing, and appeared to the stronger of the two, most noticeably when fighting on the inside.

Ortiz, by contrast, was a tad more hesitant than he had been in round one and was now choosing to instead measure Kavaliauskas with his jab as he moved around the ring on the back foot. He landed one noteworthy right hand through Kavaliauskas’ guard, which caught Kavaliauskas’ attention, but was then pinged back immediately by a right cross from Kavaliauskas.

Later in that same round, however, Ortiz did find his own confidence restored somewhat when he followed a wayward right hand with a jab-cum-hook which dumped Kavaliauskas to the floor for the first time in the bout. It was a jolting, jarring kind of shot, one Kavaliauskas neither expected nor saw coming, and was a testament both to the power Ortiz possesses and his reluctance to allow Kavaliauskas to secure a foothold in the fight.

Back on top, the mere threat of this power was enough to have Kavaliauskas again cautious in the fourth and fifth rounds, rounds in which both were a little wary of committing and getting caught. Ortiz, in fact, now did most of his best work behind his ramrod left jab, piercing it through the Kavaliauskas guard, and occasionally forced Kavaliauskas back with long right hands.

It was a disciplined approach to a task becoming tougher and more dangerous than he had initially hoped. It showed respect. It showed intelligence. It showed maturity.

In the sixth round, meanwhile, Kavaliauskas enjoyed additional cameos of success, this time thanks to a counter right hand which he felt hurt Ortiz. Duly following it up, he began to now chase after Ortiz, who waved him in for more, and returned to the look of rounds of old: that of aggressive counterpuncher. In return, Ortiz invested heavily in his jab, using it to good effect from range, before humbling Kavaliauskas again with a solid right hand, which moved him, in the final 10 seconds of the seventh.

The eighth, of course, marked new territory for Ortiz (his previous 17 fights having averaged a total of just 3.1 rounds). He was, on the face of it, fit and fresh enough heading into it, with no fear of falling apart, but Kavaliauskas would nevertheless have taken encouragement from knowing he had successfully dragged Ortiz into a part of the fight he had never before experienced. He might even have expected Ortiz to slow down, freeze up, or simply start to preserve his energy at this point. He might have hoped for an easier time of things.

But, alas, there was no such gift for Kavaliauskas, who, instead of taking over in the fight’s final third, suddenly found himself stabbed hard to the body by an Ortiz jab, after which he had no choice but to take a knee. According to his face, the pain of the shot was too much for Kavaliauskas  to bear and Ortiz, upon watching his foe soon rise from the knockdown, needed no further invitation to then seek the finish, targeting the Kavaliauskas body at the restart with a cruelness acceptable only within the confines of a boxing ring.

He went back to that weak spot, over and over again, and proceeded to floor Kavaliauskas not once more in that same round but three more times. The knockdowns were often completed by Ortiz head shots, usually hooks at the end of a combination, but, make no mistake, the real damage had been done by the body shots used to suck the final bits of energy and fight from his otherwise durable opponent.

All out of fight, and all out of ideas, the fourth and final knockdown of the round left Kavaliauskas sitting despondently on the canvas, shaking his head. It was, on reflection, a look of bitter resignation, if not complete surrender. It was the expression, moreover, of a man who has seen a lot in boxing but had never seen a finish like that coming, the speed of which was shocking to all, nor seen something quite as ferocious as Vergil Ortiz Jnr.