Sunday, December 03, 2023  |



An HBO coming-out party for the ages

Fighters Network
Photo Credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank Promotions

Photo Credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank Promotions


There will be replacements; history has told us that. Names come, flourish, get hyped; the fighters are on an assembly line because the sport dictates the need and innate desires and economic necessity aid in the process.

So Manny Pacquiao sees the finish line in clearer focus now; his body is now in a mode of rebelling against him, breaking down at inopportune times. Floyd Mayweather can’t do it forever, be on this high plane perpetually – can he? – so, inevitably, replacements will have to be found. They will be. History has shown it and has also shown that often the obvious candidates aren’t the ones who grab the baton and run for the roses.

Two men who are on a list to be – if not THE – driver of the sled as this generation’s aces head to the hammock but possible electees to fill a couple seats to keep the sport running on four cylinders and hit NYC days ahead of their performances at the Madison Square Garden Theater.

And will 29-year-old Jamaican hitter Nicholas Walters get to the place where he’s spoken of as an all-time elite featherweight, as his promoter, Bob Arum suggested is a possibility at a Wednesday media workout at Mendez Gym on East 26th St? Only time will tellÔǪ

And will 22-year-old Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo get to a place where his popularity profile ranks him alongside another smiling head-cracker from that region, Felix “Tito” Trinidad, or no-nonsense 140-157 ace Miguel Cotto, who delighted a crowd in Brooklyn last weekend with a rub-out of his Aussie challenger, Daniel GealeÔǪwe will need a few years to begin to properly answer if he can reach those levels.

But at this stage, hope is in the air and it is joined by the promise of violence, and some solid tussles in NYC, which will run Saturday night on HBO, so at least this stage of deciphering the true worth of Walters and Verdejo will be an enjoyably entertaining proposition for us viewers. If not for their foes

Walters (25-0, 21 KOs) takes on Colombian bomber Miguel Marriaga (20-0 with 18 KOs); smart people are saying someone is hitting the deck and staying there before 12 rounds have elapsed. Marriaga touched on one of the pre-fight themes this week, that he’s already beaten Walters onceÔǪthat being in 2008. “Of course Walters doesn’t remember me beating him for a spot on the Olympic teamÔǪBECAUSE HE LOST! He’s not going to remember Saturday, June 13 for the same reason! I have the strength and the intelligence to beat him. I will use my strength and intelligence to beat him.”

Walters would have none of it.

“Marriaga may have beaten me in the amateurs but I do not remember it,” he said, with promoter Arum beaming by his side. “Besides those fights are four rounds. On Saturday, we will be fighting 12 rounds. He may be bringing his ‘A Game’ but I am bringing my ‘A-Plus Game.’ I have trained for a knockout victory. I am going to destroy him.”

Ivan Najera (16-0 with 8 KOs) will be tasked with derailing the Verdejo (17-0 with 13 KOs) train; the Puerto Rican kid has a star look about him. He knows that it’s wise to pose, pose, pose for photos and his winning grin seems genuine and omnipresent. Next time he will maybe learn to chat with all us annoying media sorts before working out, so we can get out quotes and hustle home and write, rather than waiting for him to shower up and then get quotes. Live, learnÔǪ

The Texan Najera, of Mexican descent, said, “I am ready for my moment – my date with destiny. I know this is supposed to be Verdejo’s big debut on HBO. But I am here to do what I always do – to spoil the party. I have sacrificed so much to be ready for Saturday night but I will be dining out on this victory for years to come. June 13 will be remembered as ‘Ivan Najera’s Coming Out Party!'” His mood was decent, considering it took him 24 hours to fly from Texas to NY because his US Airways plane broke down..and he flew to Phoenix, and missed a connector to NYÔǪso they had to wait for another plane. He’s trained by his dad, a self-taught trainer, and knows he’s the underdog, because he’s coming to town during the Puerto Rican Day Parade time. The 22-year-old is thinking Verdejo freezes under his pressure on Saturday night.

Verdejo seems to realize but not be overwhelmed by the immensity of expectations on him. “It is an honor to be fighting on Puerto Rican Day Parade Weekend in boxing’s most historic building, Madison Square Garden,” he said. “I have dreamed of doing this for so long. And then, on Sunday, I will be riding on a float in the parade. But first I need to prove myself worthy of these honors. Najera is my toughest test as a professional and I have worked very hard in training camp. I am prepared to go mano a mano on Saturday night. I will be fighting not just for myself but for the pride of Puerto Ricans everywhere!”

Saturday, the auditions will proceedthe show goes on; the players change but the game remains and remains in need of part to make the machine run. How integral and efficient are these parts? We will know more Saturday night.


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