The first Felix Verdejo

By Cain Bradley on November 12, 2016
The first Felix Verdejo
The ingredients for a star are all there with Felix Verdejo (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

A few things become apparent very quickly when watching Verdejo. The first is his phenomenal speed which is evident in all facets of the game…

It must be hard being a heralded Puerto Rican prospect! When your name is mentioned it often comes after the word, next. That is as you are compared to Wilfredo Gomez or Felix Trinidad. Or as a way to prepare in case you are not quite that good you get mentioned with Hector Camacho and Miguel Cotto. Not bad company! The names will always hang over the career of Felix Verdejo whether positively or negatively. Such popularity can be a burden to some but Felix says he enjoys giving happiness to his people and it motivates him to strive for greatness. He also already does lots of charitable work for cancer organizations. His face lights up whenever the name of idol Felix Trinidad comes up next to his. The warming, infectious smile is one of the times you see the ability he has to be a transcendent star. Thankfully the other time is when he is in the ring.

A few things become apparent very quickly when watching Verdejo. The first is his phenomenal speed which is evident in all facets of the game. His hands are a blur. They look to be the fastest in the division. Part of that speed comes from the fluidity in his combinations. He throws every punch as you would see them taught perfectly with great balance which enables him to throw impressive combinations. He can switch from head to body and to different punch types seamlessly. Not only that but his feet are similarly fast. He can move around the ring like a fly. You can see this to its greatest effect when he is cutting off the ring which he does really well. He also displays that in combinations as he uses angle switches to make his punches even harder to evade. He looks to have power in both hands although it has to be considered that most of the fighters he has hurt have been hurt by other fighters. His punching power also seems to have diminished after an injury he suffered against Najera. It was a fracture of his left hand that took an unusually long time to recover from as he had to delay his return. He has not seemed quite as explosive since. It could be his power was initially overrated, his explosiveness is what we see now rather than what it seemed. His ability to finish a fight when against a hurt opponent, usually with a highlight reel finish is impressive. The easy comparison is Felix Trinidad. He has a brilliant left hook which he implements beautifully but it does not have quite the same power as that of Tito. He also has a much better ability to move backwards and a better defense. He uses a tight guard which keeps him protected. He does not tend to employ any other type of defense. This can be dangerous as he often stands in range of his opponent and a speedy opponent will punish him. He also needs to improve on his countering as he does not take advantage of the gaps he creates. His attack is quite one-dimensional but is very classy and he looks hard to beat.

Verdejo has one of the best stories of how he got into boxing. He was actually playing baseball, one of few sports more popular than boxing in Puerto Rico. Another child was throwing rocks at Felix so he went to his father to complain. The other boy was a boxer and his father said, “If you have a problem with him, put the boxing gloves on and spar a little bit.” Felix agreed and the Dad was impressed with his performance, encouraging him to come down the club. His trainer Ricky Marquez talks of how close Felix Verdejo became with Jean Rivera following that day. He also became close with Felix Rivera, the Dad who is still involved in his corner to this day. Never before had the trainers seen a boxer with such talent. His dad had boxed a little but had no real success. The son was a completely different story. By 2010, he was the Pan American Youth champion. At only 18, he won the American Olympic qualification tournament. His nineteenth birthday came before the Olympics where he looked a live outsider. He had two strong wins to qualify for the quarter final. He would run into Vasyl Lomachenko, one of the greatest amateur boxers of all time. He boxed a good bout, only losing to the Ukrainian by five points better than anyone except Yasniel Toledo managed in the tournament. With a record of 106-17, he turned professional.

Bob Arum has been losing the battle that exists between promoters for the last ten years. It has really been Oscar De La Hoya and Al Haymon who pick up the stars. Manny Pacquaio becoming a star for Arum was huge but he was on a downslide. Coming out of the 2012 Olympics, Arum devoted expenses to try and sign the best prospects. The four major signings were Jose Ramirez, Oscar Valdez, Felix Verdejo and Vasyl Lomachenko. The aforementioned Lomachenko had many conversations with Arum prior to his signing. Arum recalls, when he asked Lomachenko his toughest amateur opponent, the response was the nineteen-year-old Felix Verdejo. It was eight wins in 2013 adding to his debut victory in December 2012. After being named BoxingScene prospect of the year that year he would follow it up by being prospect of 2014. It was another seven victories with six coming via stoppage. He became WBO Latino champion when defeating Marco Antonio Lopez. He has successfully defended it five times since. With each of his bouts the popularity of the Puerto Rican’s popularity has gone up. He sells out events in New York and in Puerto Rican circles seems to be their boxing hope.

Felix is meant to return in March 2017. He has two options in which world title to chase. A bout with WBO champion Terry Flanagan was mentioned before as he is ranked number one. If he wants a tune-up before that fight then he has also been linked with Jose Felix Jr. of Mexico in a final defense of his WBO Latino belt. Flanagan is a tough bout for anyone in the division. This seems reliant on Arum spending the cash to bring Flanagan over. The other option is the IBF belt held by Robert Easter Jr. Verdejo is ranked fourth but only behind Richard Commey. If Verdejo is as good as people seem to believe then this should be a victory. He has the most potential of anyone in this division, especially if his power can carry through to world-class opponents. Otherwise he has question marks. His chin? His injuries? His matchmaking has been awful to the point where he has not been tested against different types of opponents including southpaws! It does look like it will take something special to beat him but at the highest level little things such as having no previous experience against a southpaw could cost him enough rounds that he loses a fight. He is decently sized lightweight at 5’9 and you have to imagine that he will end up at welterweight. He is a similar size to Amir Khan who has even got up to light middleweight. Khan makes an interesting comparison. Crazy hand speed with decent size. He has a much better defense than Khan and surely a better chin. Khan is probably the floor for the potential of Verdejo. A world champion who loses to the best opponents. The ingredients for a star are all there with Verdejo. Whether or not he can put the recipe together to confirm his potential is another! Boxers like Naoya Inoue, Jezreel Corrales and JoJo Diaz are also superstar prospects of similar level but the upside of Verdejo even as a marketable star is hard to avoid. If he can have the career of idol Felix Trinidad, then we will all agree it was a huge success.

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