This weekend’s edition of HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” will feature a bout between two lightweights under the Top Rank Promotions banner, Felix Verdejo and Ivan Najera, for the former’s much-coveted WBO Latino title. But while they are both promoted by the same company and are both undefeated, it’s clear the young Puerto Rican is being groomed for stardom.
Najera, a Mexican-American who hails from San Antonio, Texas, is the decided B-side in this equation.
“Yeah, I think so,” agreed Najera, 16-0 (8). “It actually motivates me; I kinda see the comments that people post and stuff like that. It just motivates me to go into [Verdejo’s] backyard; all the Puerto Ricans are going to be there. That motivates me.”
Verdejo is playing at the Theater at Madison Square Garden but there’s no doubt he’s being groomed to headline the big room the way Miguel Cotto did in front of large throngs of his countrymen for the better part of the last decade. Right now they are in the building stages and for Verdejo’s HBO debut, they needed someone credible, with a good looking record who will somehow make Verdejo look devastating.
When asked why he thought he was tabbed for this assignment, the 22-year old Najera stated, “We’re both up and coming; the last couple of fights, I haven’t looked so great and I think that’s what made the final decision for them to take the fight. Being that I didn’t make weight, I didn’t look so good, performance-wise. So I think that was a big factor in why they chose to take the fight.”
So Najera admits that, in going the route versus the likes of Robbie Cannon, Luis Cervantes, Stan Martyniouk and Angel Hernandez, he looked rather vulnerable?
“Yessir,” he admits. When asked about his recent struggles, he explained, “Well, recently I’ve been having trouble with weight. I’d be cutting a couple of pounds the last couple of days and I’m struggling with that and that’s a big factor that makes me weak and not perform so good and I think that’s been happening with my last couple fights.
“This time we dedicated ourselves, 100-percent, looking better and eating better. So we’re a lot better in that aspect.”
This is a match-up, in which Verdejo is not just meant to win but look spectacular in doing so. Odds makers have him as a high as a 25-1 favorite. “We look at it as a guy we built up on UniMas, same thing as Verdejo. It’s two guys basically going all out trying to prove something,” said Brad Goodman, matchmaker for Top Rank.
The question is: Can Najera actually test Verdejo, ask him a few unanswered questions?
Goodman says of Najera, “I think he’s a bigger guy, physically strong. I think Felix has to be careful because he can punch. He has to use his boxing skills.
And Najera just might be the first guy in 18 fights (Verdejo has a mark of 17-0 with 13 stoppages coming in) who will actually try to win.
“I believe so. I think all his opponents just go in there and I don’t know if they just go in there for the money or just to say they’ve been in there with him – but I’m going in there to win. That’s my mindset,” says Najera, who does admit Verdejo is the most talented foe he has ever faced. “Oh yeah, of course, and I’ve faced a pretty tough, talented guy, Stan Martyniouk. He was a great amateur, as well. We did great against him so hopefully the fight turns out the same way.”
Give him this: Najera is a ballsy guy. He’s facing a Puerto Rican on the weekend of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Yet still, he didn’t hesitate to take the fight.
“I’ve seen him fight. I haven’t seen anybody actually put pressure the way I fight, coming forward and attacking and doing something,” he states with confidence. “So we’re going to see what his response is to that, given that none of his opponents has actually done that.”
3 KNOCKDOWN RULE
Mario Lopez and I are back on “The 3 Knockdown Rule” (which is now weekly…well, except for when Mario goes on vacation next week but, after THAT, we’ll be weekly; I promise!) and Mr. Lopez gives some inside info on where the Cotto-Canelo Alvarez fight may land, while I give a detailed analysis of “Revenge of the Nerds.”
Veteran trainer Don House will train WBO cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck in Las Vegas…So is Bob Arum really serious about Dubai?! Could this actually happen?…Is it time for Steve Kerr to start playing some zone defense versus the one-man wrecking crew that is LeBron James (as the basketball guru, Dave “The Sports God” Smith has suggested from the very beginning?…See everyone in New York…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.