Verdejo stays undefeated with win at the Garden

Felix Verdejo made his debut at Madison Square Garden official Saturday night and the lightweight from San Juan Puerto Rico was impressive taking a ten round unanimous decision over Ivan Najera. It may not have been a Miguel Cotto-type of crowd at the Garden Theatre but Verdejo is one step closer to getting that type of Cotto popularity. (they are pictured together above)

Cotto, the first four-division champion from Puerto Rico had a second home for years in the Garden on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. But Cotto has since moved on from his original promoter, Top Rank and took a multi million dollar deal with Roc Nation. Last Saturday night he defended the WBC middleweight title across the river at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, his first fight under his new promoter.

Now it is the time for Verdejo, who has a similarity with Cotto and a fighter  Top Rank views as marketable. That marketing plan began Saturday night, also on the eve of the parade. Except the first fight for Verdejo in New York was a test and staged in the adjacent Garden Theatre, and not the arena.

It may take some more time for Verdejo to reach the popularity status of Cotto, evidenced by the 3,500 or so fans who turned out. Cotto, for 11 of his 12 fights in the Garden, where he defended one of his various titles at this time of year in the main arena, would put a smile on the faces of his promoter at Top Rank.

There was always a sell-out when Cotto was in town, something that Verdejo did not achieve, but give it some time because Verdejo is still a youngster in boxing standards at 22 years of age and with 18 undefeated fights as a professional.

But quickly, and the way he has propelled, Verdejo is resembling Cotto as the newest and exciting champion from Puerto Rico. Though his defense of the WBO Latin title is not as prestigious as one of the major championship belts in the sport, Verdejo is not that far from getting an opportunity to fight for a lucrative and major title.

And though Top Rank would not commit to having a similar chain of events for Verdejo, that being a major fight at the Garden on the night before the parade. there is every reason to believe they are headed in that direction.

Verdejo, 18-0, 13 KO’s, once again used a powerful left hook and of course a right to counter in round five that sent Najera to the canvas. Najera, 16-1, was on his way to his first defeat when he was knocked down again  in round seven, but he, as Verdejo would say, was the toughest opponent to date.

It was the toughest fight for Verdejo, because Najera would not stay down.  Verdejo, not like Cotto claimed that he hurt his left hand in the first round, something he admitted he has hurt in three previous fights.

Said Verdejo: “I am happy with the work we did tonight. I was trying to hit him to see if it I could end it but , we had to go the long distance, but we did a good job.”

And like Cotto, Verdejo thanked the Puerto Rican fans who came out to support him.  He had the right words and was happy to hear there were similarities to Felix Trinidad, the Hall of Famer, who for years was considered the most popular fighter from Puerto Rico, who also had memorable fights at the Garden that also sold out.

But that was another time. And the time for Miguel Cotto, and that marriage with the Garden is also in the past now that the eventual Hall of Famer has moved on.

Said Verdejo, “I brought happiness to my country and that’s what I wanted to do. I’m happy with the Puerto Rican fans, I’m proud to be Puerto Rican. I will continue to work hard to get new goals. Continue to support me, you will have Felix for a long time.

If Top Rank continues this development with Verdejo, just like Miguel Cotto, he will be around a long time and Madison Square Garden could also become his second home in mid June….

The main event saw Nicholas Walters win a unanimous 12-round decision over Miguel Marriaga of Arjona Colombia.. Walters was relieved of the championship because he failed to make weight so he title was not contested and remains vacant even though Walters got the win…

Undercard results from Madison Square Garden:  Michael Reed the promising Top Rank super lightweight continued his rise to stardom and remained undefeated at 15-0, 8 KO’s with an eight-round unanimous decision over Luis Gonzalez (11-2, 1, 6 KO’s) of Las Vegas.

Reed controlled the fight from the outcome and used an effective jab to his advantage that enabled judges at ringside to hand him the decision 80-72, 80-72, 80-73.

“Just knew I could use my speed and that’s what I do,” said Reed. The 22-year old resident of Waldorf, Maryland, anticipates returning to the ring soon and looking at 10-round fights.  He also showed an ability to adjust as his opponent mid way of the fight switched from southpaw to orthodox.

“That caused me to change my game plan,”Reed said. Down the line. Reed said he would have no issues with maintaining a weight at 140, moving down to 135, or moving up to 147…..

George Arias aiming to become the first heavyweight champion from the Dominican Republic stopped Eric Carson at 1:34 of round 2. The fight was waved off after Arias dropped Carson in the round.

Arias 4-0, 2 KO’s, now residing in the Bronx New York and promoted by Top Rank is a New York City Golden Gloves champion.

Comment Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com  Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso  Twitter@Ring786

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich has covered countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and BoxingInsider.com, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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