Verdejo in Orlando
Orlando, Florida is best known for being the home of Disney World. What wasn’t always well-known – at least to this scribe – was that it boasted a large concentration of Puerto Ricans. That was made clear last year when Miguel Cotto played to a very sizable audience at the Amway Center where he blew out Delvin Rodriguez. On the undercard was Felix Verdejo, who was already laying down his foundation there.
“This is like a second home to Puerto Ricans here in the States after New York,” Verdejo pointed out through interpreter Jason Marquez.
Wherever he has gone this week, Verdejo, who represented the island in the 2012 Olympic Games, has drawn a crowd. “I’ve felt the warmth; I feel very welcome here and they show me love in the public workout we had today. It was great,” the 21-year-old told UCNLive.com on Thursday. Tonight, he faces veteran Sergio Villanueva on UniMas’ “Solo Boxeo” series at the Bahia Shrine Temple.
“We’ll be sold out,” said Carl Moretti, VP of boxing operations for Top Rank Promotions, which handles this career. “We did a media workout and the public actually came out. There had to be 250 people there taking pictures, autographs and stuff like that and it was on a Thursday in the middle of nowhere, really, and they showed up.”
The capacity for the Bahia Shrine Temple is right around 1,500. Throughout his first 14 bouts as a professional, Verdejo has been showcased on Cotto undercards and has been the featured performer in smaller shows in regions with sizable Puerto Rican populations such as Orlando and Pennsylvania. (imagine that, promoting a Puerto Rican boxer where there are actually, y’know…Puerto Ricans. The utterly forgettable “Team Puerto Rico” was a staple of the Chumash Casino in California). It’s clear that his home base will be the island and New York – where Verdejo is expected to be the heir apparent to Cotto – supplemented by Pennsylvania and Florida.
Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank Promotions says, “Yeah, pretty much but like Felix Trinidad, I wouldn’t exclude a place like Las Vegas either.”
While Verdejo is under the same promotional banner of Cotto, he really reminds of “Tito.” He has that long, lean puncher’s frame and an effervescent smile that radiates like a 1000-watt light bulb. While Cotto was stoic and understated, Verdejo is shy but personable in his own way. “He combines the best of what makes a superstar and he’s so reminiscent of Trinidad but he’ll be fluent in English and that will help him. That was the one drawback you had with Trinidad,” said Arum.
Who knows what his ceiling is right now? The focus is on developing Verdejo as a professional prizefighter and moving him along. “We’ll get one more fight hopefully by the end of the year. We expect another eight tough rounds on Saturday night and we’ll do the same thing hopefully in December and get more rounds. The key this last quarter of the year is to make up for the rounds that we didn’t get in the first quarter,” said Moretti.
Top Rank swears it won’t rush Verdejo. He’s simply too valuable. But Verdejo sees where Cotto is currently and envisions that future for himself.
“Of course, that’s any fighters dream and after Cotto, hopefully it can be me. It’s very exciting,” he says. There are great expectations of Verdejo as Puerto Ricans typically expect a lot from their boxers. The great ones are beloved and idolized. Eventually if they stand the test of time, they are immortalized. The business of boxing is better when Puerto Rico has a flagship fighter. Hey, no pressure on this kid, right?
Verdejo says simply, “It helps me train harder for Puerto Rico and my family.”
Top Rank features another show tonight from the Bally’s Event Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey featuring the company’s prospects, headlined by middleweight Glen Tapia, who faces Donatas Bondorovas. This will not be televised.
Moretti explained, “That card is more of a card to keep guys busy because Tapia, Jesse Hart and Julian Rodriguez are such great ticket sellers in that area and we can run a card just to keep guys busy and that’s exactly what that is.”
This week’s episode of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly:
Speaking of prospects, Oscar Valdez and Gilberto Ramirez will headline a November 15 show in San Antonio, televised by HBO Latino…Golden Boy Promotions announced the re-signing of Frankie “Pitbull” Gomez…Great slate of college football games this weekend. From the very early games till the prime time match-ups, some real meaningful stuff’s taking place as conference play heats up all across the country…Yeah, what does Michigan think of Rich Rodriguez right about now?…Miami will go into the beehive in Atlanta and beat the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets, right?…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at http://twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at http://instagram.com/steveucnlive.