By Rich Mancuso
Felix Verdejo may never live up to expectations of Miguel Cotto. That consensus is what the boxing world believes but there are those in the sport who say that comparing the two fighters is not fair. Cotto, of course is the first four-division champion from Puerto Rico and Verdejo is still relatively young and reaching towards his goals.
The goals of course are to become a world champion and Verdejo has the proper promotion, Top Rank that can help him get there, Verdejo is keeping with a schedule of fighting four times in the calendar year and last Saturday night at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden he successfully defended the WBO Latino championship lightweight title stopping Juan Jose Martinez at 2:40 of the fifth round.
But when will Verdejo take it to the next level? Top Rank has been milking their undefeated 22-0, 15 KO prospect the past few years. He is among the top ten lightweights with most of the major boxing sanctioning bodies in the sport, and there is that marketability of finishing off an opponent.
“A few more fights and we hope to put him at that next level,” said Bob Arum the promoter of Top Rank. “Felix has that ability to be that superstar and in time the right fights will come.” Arum, though was not committing when or where that will be. Prior to his commanding win over Martinez, Verdejo has had problems finishing off opponents.
And one thing boxing fans want,and have come to know about Verdejo, is the knockout and finishing business. There is this attitude about Verdejo having to stop an opponent and when he takes the fight to the distance the prevailing opinion is that something is wrong.
So Verdejo, on the eve of the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade took care of business. It was the right hook and left that disposed his opponent. And it was vintage Verdejo that fans expect to see.
“I knew my career was on the line,” said Verdejo after his win at the Garden. “That’s why I worked so hard in camp and that’s why this win is so important.”
But let’s face it. Had Verdejo not finished off Martinez, was his career on the line? Not exactly, and that is where the comparison to Cotto or any of the other great champions from Puerto Rico stops. Verdejo has his own style, and Cotto had his. The lone exception is that Cotto was highly touted and went from one weight class to another before settling in as a top rated welterweight and eventually fighting at 154.
Arum has plans to put Verdejo in a major fight before the end of this year. If not, as early as next year and of course it is up to Verdejo to keep his end of the bargain. The 23-year old from San Juan, is a former 2012 Puerto Rico Olympian who lost in the quarterfinals and has knocked out 68 percent of his opponents since his debut as a professional in June of 2012.
Cotto, at the same age was knocking out opponents at a similar percentage. And to many who compare and observe, there are those similar styles of jabbing to the body and the quick hands that have been a cornerstone for more than one champion.
He had control of the fight against Martinez from the opening bell. The win, and the way he did it ended speculation about Verdejo not having that ability to finish off opponents. His last two fights at the Garden, including a unanimous 12-round decision last June, also on the eve of the parade, left many doubts where Verdejo would stand among the top contenders in the division.
Verdejo would not say when the next fight would take place. For now, fighting at lightweight is his comfort zone. And if the wins keep coming. Arum does believe that superstar label will come, though boxing fans in Puerto Rico won’t give their full approval until he gets one of the major championships in a division that is very competitive.
“ I feel great we looked spectacular,” Verdejo said after his resounding win. He threw effective body punches and countered well.
“The way we practiced in the gym,” he said, “ and thank God we did it in the ring and we came out great.”
The other aspect of Verdejo and comparisons to Cotto are the personalities, though Cotto was more subtle while Verdejo to many is much more accessible to doing the interview and has that smile that is catching on. He is also learning to speak English as Cotto did very well.
“He has that persona,” says Arum “and is building to stardom.”
Pay-Per-View fights that made Cotto a bonanza of money, and also the highest grossing fighter who fought at the Garden, are still awaiting Verdejo. Again, getting that impressive stoppage on an HBO telecast helped Verdejo to going up the next level.
The fact is, Felix Verdejo has time on his side. And the fans are also aware, but they want another superstar champion from Puerto Rico with that persona.