In 2012, following an Olympic run that saw him fall short to two-time Olympic Gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko in the quarterfinals, Felix “The Diamond” Verdejo was a highly touted prospect coming out of the iconic boxing cultured island of Puerto Rico. He is rumored to have received the highest sign-on bonus that had ever been given to a prospect from the island when he signed with Top Rank Promotions for $200K at the age of 19. But after a shocking defeat in March 2018, his career appears on the ropes, and many are questioning his ability to get it back on track, including his promoter Bob Arum. However, a few aspects that surround his loss, and recent missteps lead me to believe that the loss will help him live up to the great expectations that have surrounded him since 2012. With the loss serving as a slap in the face, and a recent life change, Felix Verdejo will not only live up to the hype, but may very well surpass it.
All seemed in order, as he began his career with a blazing record of 22-0 with 15 knockouts within his first 3 years as a professional. Top Rank had him lined up to fight for his first world title shot against the WBO lightweight world champion at the time, Terry Flanagan. Things seemed to be moving along as well as expected. Then came the dirt bike accident in August 2016. Suffering head trauma, multiple lacerations to his face, head, and left arm, Verdejo was forced to pull out of his title bout, and remain on the sidelines until February of 2017 winning what most considered an unimpressive performance against Oliver Flores of Nicaragua. Felix’s inability to impress against Flores opened the flood gates of criticism, and skepticism that would seemingly haunt, as well as mount an invisible pressure on Verdejo. The bad luck and pressure would continue as Verdejo would injure himself once again, this time at Big Bear during a training camp for a scheduled September 22 bout against Antonio Lozada. He reportedly slipped in the shower, and injured his right wrist, which would have him see the next 13 months out of the ring. Inactivity like this is never great for a fighter, as even the most seasoned veteran fighters fall victim to ring rust.
The Fight that Flawed the Diamond
On March 17, 2018, Felix Verdejo would make his long-awaited return at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden against his previously scheduled opponent Antonio Lozada. Lozada, an unknown, fighting his first fight outside of Mexico was supposed to be just another opponent. But with a record of 37-2 with 32 Knockouts, and a big chip on his shoulder, he was very much a live dog. The Theater at MSG was filled with a Puerto Rican infused crowd that was eagerly awaiting the return of its big named prospect with its typical rabid fervor that made Paulie Maglinaggi once referred to fighting Puerto Rico’s last great champ Miguel Cotto in Madison Square Garden “like fighting the devil in Hell”. However, Lozada seemed unfazed by the crowd. He entered the ring with a calm confidence, as if he knew he was up to something. Verdejo came out, but it was all but normal. I remember, after looking at Felix’s face, wondering what is wrong with him? As his face looked gaunt, still dehydrated as if he didn’t have an ounce of water from after the weigh-in to the fight. He wasn’t smiling as he normally does, as if something was on his mind, and felt he wasn’t fully or properly prepared. As the fight ensued, he looked and acted like himself, starting out with good movement, touching Lozada at will, without receiving any sort of punishment in return, but that too, would soon change.
By the second round, I noticed as he sat in his corner he looked as if he had already gone 12 rounds at a grueling pace. Again, I thought to myself something looks wrong. Yet still he was winning most of the rounds, But Lozada began coming on strong. Round after round saw Verdejo seemingly fixed on trying to take Lozada’s head off with his overhand right.
Though, at times connecting, he was missing more often than not. All the while Lozada continued stalking, and touching straight rights, and lefts to the head, to the body, occasionally seeming to hurt Verdejo. Then came the 10th and final round. Although possessing a lead in the bout, Verdejo looked exhausted, and out of answers to Lozada’s vice like pressure. Lozada, the ever-persistent heavy-handed puncher, continued to pressure, then it happened, he connected with a left uppercut, and shortly after a clean left hook that seemed to really hurt Verdejo. The entire dynamic of the fight had been changed, and you could feel it in the air in the theater. Lozada became the confident hunter, and Verdejo had become the weakened prey ripe for the kill. A hard-right hand put Verdejo on the canvas for the first time in his career. A now all but unconscious Verdejo struggled, but never wavered as he rose to his feet, but by the end of the 10th, the NYAC (New York State Athletic Commission) ringside physician had seen enough and to the immediate protest of Verdejo and his corner, halted the contest with just seconds remaining. The once rabid fans in the theater were in a complete state of shock. The young man’s career had fallen off track.
Re-Evaluating his career: Felix Verdejo’s 11th Round
Typically, in boxing, when a fighter loses, many fans, and critics often come out of the woodworks with many questions, and comments, this was no different. Many remarked that the diamond no longer shines or the diamond has flaws, even Julio Caesar Chavez exclaimed that Verdejo “was not the star that everyone painted him to be”. Many living room critics questioned is a change of trainer in order? Others, as Chavez claimed: he was never going to be that good in the first place, he couldn’t live up to the hype.
Does he need a new trainer? In short, no. Ricky Marquez is and has been Felix’s only trainer throughout his entire career. Something of like a father figure to him. Together they have achieved a good deal success in a very young career. Many often question whether Marquez has the plateaued as far as where he can bring Verdejo. Such might be the case if Marquez had stopped learning, and was closed to new ideas, however, he is continuing to learn, and has proved to be open to change. Case in point, Marquez and Verdejo have brought in two new additions to the team. The first, strength and conditioning expert Angel “Memo” Heredia, who gained notoriety within the boxing community for the job he did with a 40-year-old Juan Manuel Marquez in getting him ready to fight Manny Pacquiao in their 4th encounter in which Marquez knocked Pacquiao out cold. The second addition was the locally famed ex-trainer, and uncle of Miguel Cotto, Evangelista Cotto to assist with training Verdejo. Those changes have so far produced a stunning one punch 1st round KO. Albeit against a soft touch in Yardley Cruz, Verdejo showed the lightning fast reflexes, and crisp counter punching ability that had created so much buzz early on in his career. But a bigger test is certainly needed.
The other question: Is Felix Verdejo capable of being the next superstar to carry the “shining star” on his back and live up to hype? After being ringside at the Lozada fight I knew that Lozada had not beaten Felix Verdejo, Verdejo, and his camp had somehow beaten themselves. I don’t mean to discredit Lozada’s victory in any way, however it was very apparent that the Felix Verdejo that fought against Lozada was not the young prospect at his full potential. He was a compromised version of himself. Top Rank CEO and promoter Bob Arum was visibly disappointed in Verdejo and his team, as he exclaimed ” It’s nuts, the lack of discipline. It’s the lack of discipline. Arum remains hopeful that he can get back on track, and perhaps Felix Verdejo needed the wakeup call, but whatever the case, he seems intent on rededicating his life to the sport not only for himself, but now for his newborn daughter. To whom he has credited with giving him a sense of responsibility.
In modern boxing, as a result of the Mayweather era, people often justify worth of a fighter by whether or not they stay undefeated. On the contrary almost every boxing historian, analyst, and boxing enthusiast who have paid attention to boxing for more than just the last 20 years recognizes that a loss does not mean that much. As countless or all of the great fighters not named Marciano or Mayweather have at least 1 loss on their records. However, in Verdejos case, losing to a non-elite fighter that gives some merit to the critic’s arguments and questions for the moment. What does this mean for Verdejo? Will he fade into a talent that never manifests itself? Or will he be able to put a seemingly immature and possibly even arrogant chapter of his career behind him and once again, like they say in his camp “sacar el brillo del diamante”(make the diamond shine)? Well that remains up to him, but after looking at all the aspects of his situation, I wouldn’t bet against him.