Jayson Velez: ‘I’m faster, stronger’ than Evgeny Gradovich
Puerto Rican featherweight Jayson Velez is looking to ride the momentum established by countryman Miguel Cotto into his Nov. 29 shot at Russian IBF titleholder Evgeny Gradovich at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
Co-promoted by Cotto and Golden Boy Promotions, Velez (22-0, 16 knockouts) will challenge Gradovich (19-0, 9 KOs) as the co-feature to WBO lightweight beltholder Terence Crawford’s defense against Raymundo Beltran that is being promoted by Top Rank Promotions and televised by HBO.
Velez is inspired by Cotto, whose 10th-round stoppage dethroned Sergio Martinez for THE RING’s middleweight championship at New York’s Madison Square Garden in June. In victory, Cotto became the first Puerto Rican fighter to win a fourth title in as many weight classes in a time when his country had no native-born beltholders.
“Miguel is a great person. Obviously, he’s a great fighter,” said Velez, 26, who will be appearing in one of the 50 American states for the fifth time against Gradovich, with two appearances at the Garden being on cards headlined by Cotto.
“I’m not feeling pressured. I’m happy and I’m excited and I’m motivated because I always work hard. That night is going to be a great night and a great fight for the fans and it’s going to be another brawl and I’ll take the challenge and I’ll fight well.”
Velez made his state-side debut in his ninth fight in June 2009, a third round stoppage of Jesus Bayron on the undercard of Cotto’s split decision over Joshua Clottey in defense of his WBO welterweight belt at the Garden.
In December 2012, Velez dropped Salvador Sanchez twice en route to a third round knockout in support of Cotto’s unanimous decision loss to Austin Trout in a junior middleweight bout at the Garden.
Velez was primed for a shot at then-WBC 126-pound beltholder Daniel Ponce de Leon before an ankle injury forced him out of the fight in Feburary 2013.
“I was going to fight Daniel Ponce de Leon and it was going to be on March 2 of last year. But I got an injury to my ankle, so I had to retire from that fight,” said Velez. “It was bad. I wanted the opportunity, of course, but that was in the past. So now, I have my shot again and I’ll take advantage this time.”
Gradovich, 28, was last in action for a unanimous decision over Alexander Miskirtchian in May that followed his ninth round stoppage of former titleholder Billy Dib in November. Gradovich won his belt by split decision over Dib in March 2013 and made his first defense with a unanimous decision over Mauricio Javier Munoz in July 2013.
“This is a good fight for Jayson. The kid’s been asking for some kind of opportunity to land a title fight and we finally were able to put it together…so he’s been waiting for a little while and I think that it’s a great opportunity for him. Gradovich doesn’t have very much in movement. He’s going to come forward and he’s a tough, tough kid and he’s in the fight all of the time,” said Abel Sanchez, Velez’s trainer.
“I would hope that we could box him a little bit. We’re going to try to box him and Jayson has what I would call sneaky power. He doesn’t have big, big power but I think that he has more power than Gradovich does. But the one thing about Gradovich is that he’s a machine and he never stops coming. We’ve got to find a way to slow him down and to try to take him into the later rounds and to maybe bust him up a little bit.”
Velez shared more of his thoughts on the bout in the following Q&A:
RingTV.com: How does it feel to be the co-main event on such an exciting night?
Jayson Velez: Actually, this is my second time. I was actually the co-main event when Cotto fought Austin Trout on Showtime. I was the co-main event then and now, I’m going to be the co-main event on HBO. So that’s a great opportunity for me because Showtime and HBO are the two big networks in television broadcasting right now. So it’s a great opportunity.
RingTV.com: How disappointed were you that you were injured prior to your title shot with Ponce de Leon?
JV: I fought Salvador Sanchez and then I was going to fight Daniel Ponce de Leon and it was going to be on March 2 of last year. But I got an injury to my ankle, so I had to retire from that fight. It was bad. I wanted the opportunity, of course, but that was in the past. So now, I have my shot again and I’ll take advantage this time.”
RingTV.com: How helpful, in hindsight, was the experience of having fought your American debut against Jesus Bayron at Madison Square Garden on the Cotto-Clottey card?
JV: Looking back, I won by knockout in the third round, I think. So that was helpful because that was on the card with Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey. I fought against another Puerto Rican and it was my first time in Madison Square Garden and my first time in America.
RingTV.com: What is your relationship with Cotto?
JV: Cotto is my main promoter but my co-promoter is Golden Boy. Miguel is a great person. Obviously, he’s a great fighter but we all know that. He’s a great person and he has helped me so much in my career since the beginning. I started with him and I’ll finish with him in my career. He’s a great person who has helped me so much. He didn’t have to do it but he did it and I appreciate that.
RingTV.com: Do you feel that there is pressure and motivation to join Cotto as a Puerto Rican beltholder and do you feel that all of the eyes of your country are upon you?
JV: Yeah, yeah, that’s true but I’m not feeling pressured. I’m happy and I’m excited and I’m motivated because I always work hard. That night is going to be a great night and a great fight for the fans and it’s going to be another brawl and I’ll take the challenge and I’ll fight well.
RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on Gradovich as an opponent?
JV: He’s a great fighter. He’s a champion. He’s an experienced fighter. He throws a lot of punches and he’s strong and has a good chin. It’s going to be a tough fight but I think that I’m better and I’ll prove it that night.
I think that I’m better because I’m quicker and I’m stronger and I’m a better boxer and I throw harder punches. He has fought better fighters than me but I don’t care. I have the desire and I’ve trained hard. It’s my fight to win, so I’ll get it. It’s my opportunity and I’m going to take it and I’ll do it good.
RingTV.com: What is your prediction on the fight?
JV: You know, I have power and maybe I can knock him out but I don’t see me knocking him out because he’s a good fighter and he has a good chin. So I expect a helluva fight. I expect a hard fight. I see me winning by a unanimous decision, you know, because like I’ve told you, I’m faster and I’m stronger.
I have more abilities and better footwork. I think that I’m going to win a unanimous decision. I can knock him out but I’m not sure that I’m going to do it. I can do it but I think that I’m going to win by a unanimous decision. That’s my prediction for now. If I can knock him out, that would be better but I am not just thinking about the knockout.