Trainer says Velez will emerge as top 126-pounder vs. Gradovich
Puerto Rican challenger Jayson Velez will signal “the emergence of the next dominant featherweight” in victory over Russian IBF titleholder Evgeny Gradovich on Saturday, his trainer, Abel Sanchez, predicted on Sunday.
“We understand that we’re facing one heckuva fighter. We understand that we’re fighting a guy that has a lot of heart,” said Sanchez. The veteran second will be in Velez’s corner in the co-feature to WBO lightweight beltholder Terence Crawford’s defense against Raymundo Beltran at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
“We understand that we’re fighting a guy who is a punching machine. So we know all of that but that’s the way that championship fights are supposed to be. You’re supposed to fight the best of the best. I think that Jayson’s firepower and Jayson’s punching power will be key to this fight and I don’t think that Gradovich will be able to take Jayson’s punching power.”
Co-promoted by Miguel Cotto and Golden Boy Promotions, Velez (22-0, 16 knockouts) will be in his third fight under Sanchez against Gradovich (19-0, 9 KOs), THE RING’s No. 4-rated 126-pounder.
In his first two fights under Sanchez, Velez scored a unanimous decision over Dat Nguyen in October of last year, as well as a second-round stoppage of Miguel Soto in April. Prior to joining Sanchez, Velez dropped Salvador Sanchez twice en route to a third-round knockout in December 2012.
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 have had Jayson Velez for about a year now, off and on, in training camp. I got him with a bunch of holes and a bunch of deficiencies but for this occasion, this is the first time that I have had him for a sustained nine weeks, fortunately,” said Sanchez.
“We’ve had the proper amount of time to prepare the way that you’re supposed to prepare. So I think that we’re going to see the emergence of the next dominant featherweight No. 1 or No. 2. There are a couple of guys up there but I believe that you are going to soon be calling Jayson Velez one of the best featherweights among those top one or two.”
That’s saying a great deal given that Jhonny Gonzalez, Nicholas Walters and Abner Mares are THE RING’s Nos. 1-, 2- and 3-rated 126-pounders ahead of Vasyl Lomachenko and Nonito Donaire as Nos. 5 and 6. Gonzalez, Walters and Lomachenko hold the WBC, WBA and WBO belts, respectively.
Velez made his stateside debut in his ninth fight in June 2009, a third-round stoppage of Jesus Bayron in support of Cotto’s split decision over Joshua Clottey in defense of his WBO welterweight belt at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Trained by Robert Garcia, 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.
Velez will be victorious against Gradovich in “a physical fight,” said Sanchez.
“I say that it will be a decision over the course of a 12-round fight and I can see Gradovich getting knocked down a couple of times and maybe Jayson also because he’s got my style of fighting, which is to come forward and throw punches and to work on defense, of course,” said Sanchez.
“We’re there to please the fans and to make sure that we put on a good show but I don’t think that Gradovich is going to lay down for Jayson. We know that Gradovich can go 12 because Gradovich can go 15 or 20 rounds. We’re looking for a physical fight from Gradovich and we’ll be prepared for that.”