As the baton was passed from Felix Trinidad to Cotto, it is expected that Verdejo will be the next great fighter from the boxing-mad island of Puerto Rico. With Cotto in the twilight of his accomplished career, simply put, Verdejo is the future.
Since turning professional in late 2012 after representing his country in the last Olympic Games, Verdejo (for these very reasons) has been strategically placed on big cards in locations such as Orlando (when Cotto headlined there last October) and Macao, China (when Manny Pacquiao faced Brandon Rios a month later). He’s made his share of appearances on UniMas like any other blue-chip prospect but it’s clear he’s being groomed for much bigger things.
“I’m very happy, thankful to God for this opportunity and I’m very happy with my promoter Top Rank for giving me a chance to be on such a great card,” said Verdejo through Jason Marquez on Tuesday afternoon. “I’m very happy at the point I’m at right now and the fights I’ve been getting and very happy with the way Top Rank has been growing my career.”
Verdejo is a friendly and engaging individual, who is also extremely modest and respectful. He’s still at the stage where he’s thanking his promoters instead of trying to sue them. But it’s that smile and the boyish good looks - alongside a lethal left-hook - that have Rican’s conjuring up images of “Tito” Trinidad. There is a certain charisma to “Diamante” that is undeniable. Boxing, which will inevitably have to deal with the departures of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, needs a few Verdejos to carry the business into the future. There might be a temptation to rush the process.
“We have to remember he just turned 20 years old, so at the end of the day, if we remember he’s 20 years old - this is a marathon and not a sprint - then it’s not hard to hold him back,” said Carl Moretti of Top Rank Promotions, which handles his career. “But you just want him to progress. We had a tough start to the year with the early knockouts and a pull-out in his last fight with the late replacement. But we’re hoping to get rounds on Saturday night and then he’ll fight again in August and we’ll step up the opponent depending on how many rounds and how he looks. We’ll go from there.”
Verdejo, a lean 5’9”, is just now growing into his body and developing his “man strength.” You can easily project him being a welterweight in a few years. This will be his fourth bout in 2014 and he continues to polish his professional skill set. When asked of the biggest technical improvement he’s made thus far, Verdejo states, “I’ve gotten better on my side-to-side movement and also in not getting too anxious in the fights, staying relaxed.”
There are still many questions in the air about Verdejo: Can he take a shot to the whiskers? Can he go late rounds? How will he handle stardom? He is clearly being tabbed as the heir apparent for Cotto and counted on as the next franchise fighter for Top Rank. You could already argue that he is an attraction. Recently, Puerto Ricans have had more suspects than prospects (remember the forgettable “Team Puerto Rico”?) but Verdejo just might be the real thing.
This much is clear: he’s already a popular entity. Last weekend, he was mobbed at the Bronx Cultural Festival where he conducted an open workout. Top Rank’s Gardy Lopez, says, “People went crazy over him.” Lopez, who accompanied Verdejo to this event, says the fighter was not only mobbed by the public but received great exposure from the Puerto Rican media outlets on the scene.
|Photo © Gardy Lopez|
“When he spoke to the people on stage, I was there with him and it was like a sea of people on the street,” recalled Lopez, who is Puerto Rican and resides there. Verdejo was taken aback by the reception he received. “I’m very happy with the way the Puerto Rican fans showed up for me at the Bronx. It was incredible.”
And he is very aware of his countrymen’s expectations. “Definitely,” states Verdejo. “They’re anxious for a new star, the person that carries our flag in boxing. Yeah, they show me that they want me to be that guy.”
But for now, Verdejo is still that understudy, that guy serving an apprenticeship to the headline performers as he learns his craft. But the time could be coming soon when his name is much higher on the bout sheet in bold letters. When asked where he sees Verdejo in one year, Moretti says, “I see him on a show at the Madison Square Garden in the Theater or in the upstairs arena in a televised bout.”
“Time will tell; I’ll just keep doing my job,” said Verdejo, who has a mark of 12-0 (9). “When it’s my turn, it’s my turn. It’ll be an incredible opportunity.”
My latest contribution to SportsOnEarth.com details the ramifications of Richard Schaefer’s resignation from Golden Boy Promotions on Floyd Mayweather:
Speaking of which, here is the statement from Oscar De la Hoya on the future of Golden Boy, post-Schaefer:
“Golden Boy Promotions is moving ahead on all fronts. We look forward to continuing and expanding our key position in the boxing world and to providing the public with the very best the sport has to offer.”
The latest episode of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly:
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