Felix Verdejo impressively beats Ivan Najera, despite injured left hand
NEW YORK – They all carry the “Next” tag. Anyone showing a little promise gets the treatment. Felix Verdejo has been hearing the whispers and comparisons to another “Felix” since around the time he first put on boxing gloves in Puerto Rico. Gradually, he’s building towards fulfilling that ideal as “the next Felix Trinidad.”
The 22-year-old lightweight with the sharp left hook and killer instinct was supposed to be challenged by Mexican Ivan Najera (16-1, 8 knockouts) on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” in The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
Verdejo (18-0, 13 KOs) showed why the parallel to Trinidad could be valid on the co-feature of the Nicholas Walters-Miguel Marriaga main event. Verdejo throttled Najera, especially with a left uppercut that accounted for a fifth-round knockdown and a counter left hook on the chin that resulted in a seventh-round knockdown, in capturing a 10-round lightweight decision, and in the process not only stirred the excitement of the fans that filled The Theater but wowed the boxing cognoscenti seated ringside, too.
There was no doubt on the scorecards. Judges Matt Ruggero and Don Trella each had it 100-88 for Verdejo, as did RingTV.com. Judge Steve Weisfeld scored it 99-89 for Verdejo.
What added to Verdejo’s dominance was the fact that he entered the fight with a hairline fracture in his left hand that had not fully recovered, according to Top Rank President Todd duBoef.
“Felix came into this fight with a bad hand, and it’s been nagging,” duBoef said. “There was a little piece that hadn’t settled in in the middle of his hand. It just kept getting inflamed and we didn’t want to pull out, because it was too special an opportunity for Verdejo. We went and next week he has a doctor’s appointment.”
You can’t really take your eyes off of Verdejo. A blink, a brief head turn, and there’s a chance you’ll miss another salvo that makes an opponent teeter. He certainly had the 5-foot-5 Najera, who was giving up four inches in height and 4.5 inches in reach (71.5-to-67), not to mention a quickness, speed and skill disadvantage, seemingly in trouble from start to finish.
“Verdejo is very reminiscent of Trinidad,” duBoef said. “You don’t yet [know] on the power, because Trinidad had outrageous left hook power. But I would say his legs are better than Trinidad’s. Verdejo’s stance and his footwork are better. Trinidad got in front of you and he was great. This kid can go backwards, can go forwards, can go right and left, which is a little different than Trinidad. He may not have all of that offensive arsenal Trinidad had, but Verdejo has some incredible assets that are better than that.”
Verdejo landed 194 of 487 punches (40 percent), to Najera’s 101 of 333 (30 percent). Verdejo’s power punching was the difference. He connected on 51 percent (138 of 271), where Najera landed 90 of 232 (39 percent). Verdejo landed 26 percent of his jabs (56 of 216) to a scant 11 percent from Najera (11 of 101).
After the fight, Verdejo said he was going down to 130 pounds.
Also on the undercard, unbeaten light heavyweight Sean Monaghan (25-0, 16 KOs) is looking for a title shot sometime in the fall. Beating on shopworn, fading former contender Fulgencio Zuniga (27-11-1, 24 KOs), who has been in against the likes of Tavoris Cloud, James DeGale and Lucian Bute, in a scheduled 10-rounder may have helped.
Monaghan, 33, and Zuniga had a brisk exchange in the first round, but after that, the younger legs began to hold sway against the 37-year-old. After the fourth round, when Zuniga took some punishing body shots against the ropes, the Colombian lurched to his corner, seemingly out on his feet.
In the ninth, Monaghan nailed Zuniga with a left to the body, and then came back with a left hook to the head that forced Zuniga to take a knee. That was it. Referee Danny Schiavone stood over Zuniga and called it over at 2:10 of the round.
“That guy is a hard guy to win pretty against,” Monaghan said. “That guy is a rough, tough guy. He throws awkward, hard shots. He had power in every shot. I like to rumble myself, so I did a little of both, boxed when I had to and I could tell every time I hit him in the body, he didn’t like it. I should have went there earlier. At this point, all I care about is winning and that the fans had a good time. I’m over critiquing my performance. Trying to box more technical is not in my nature. I want a title shot.”
After the fight, Top Rank’s Carl Moretti spoke to the reps of Juergen Braehmer. It’s in the talking stages, but Top Rank and Monaghan would be willing to make the fight, and make it in Germany, where Braehmer primarily fights.
Junior welterweight southpaw Mike Reed (15-0, 8 KOs) went eight rounds for the second time in his young career, winning a unanimous decision over Luis Joel Gonzalez (11-2-1 6 KOs), another lefty. The 22-year-old Reed worked up and down very well, played the role of stalker throughout the fight and won easily by scores of 80-73, 80-72 and 80-72.
“I think I did a pretty good job,” Reed said. “I wanted to do a lot of work to the body and break him down. The first three, four rounds he came out as a southpaw and I adjusted. He made me work. This is my second time going eight rounds. I want to be done with eight-rounders. He was giving me the jab to the body, and as a fighter, you don’t like that. I wanted to take that away by going to his body.”
Lightweight Jason Sosa (16-1-3, 12 KOs) tore apart the game, but severely overmatched Santiago Bustos (7-7-1, 3 KOs) at 2:27 in the fifth of a scheduled eight rounds. Schiavone waved it over after Sosa knocked Bustos down twice. It’s the longest Sosa has gone in over a year. He needed the work.
“I’ve been knocking everyone out, I did really want to get some rounds in,” Sosa said. “This went past the fourth round, and for over a year I haven’t gone longer than three. I wanted to use my jab and stay sharp defensively.”
The undefeated Christopher Diaz (11-0, 6 KOs) received a little bit of a challenge from Marcello Gallardo (5-3-2, 2 KOs) in a scheduled six-round featherweight fight. It’s the third time in the last four fights that Diaz, 20, had gone the distance. Diaz won by unanimous scores of 59-56, 58-55 and 58-55. “It was a tough fight and I came prepared, and he came to fight and I wanted to put on a great show for these people here,” Diaz said.
Heavyweight George Arias (4-0, 3 KOs) remained undefeated by devouring Eric Cason (2-4, 2 KOs) at 1:34 of the second round in a scheduled four-rounder. Cason, who has now lost four straight, put up little resistance. But referee Schiavone knew enough to step forward and save Cason – and the fans – from any more punishment. Carrying a star’s persona, Arias, though a little undersized by today’s heavyweight standards, generously listed at 6 feet tall, has good footwork and applies pressure well.
“I wouldn’t give myself that much of a high grade, because I could have [ended the fight] sooner,” admitted Arias, who’s from the The Bronx, N.Y. “I felt a little bit awkward, trying to find my rhythm. I was in front of my home crowd and I had to show them everything that I was about. The anxiety was betraying me a little bit. In the second round, my coach (Leon Washington Jr.) woke me up and my head came back to me.”
Said Washington Jr., the son of legendary trainer Leon Washington, who worked with Davey Moore: “Experience-wise, we need a little more, but timing-wise, George is where he’s supposed to be. He needs more rounds. He has the talent. He definitely needs more rounds. When he gets more rounds, he’ll start peaking, and peaking, and peaking. When he finally does peak, it’s over for the boxing game.”