Mancuso: Verdejo Looks To Start Own Garden Tradition

Bob Arum was back at Madison Square Garden Thursday afternoon and without Miguel Cotto. And why was that so significant to not have Cotto by his side?  Cotto has moved on with another promotion and Arum is now pushing Felix Verdejo as the premiere fighter from Puerto Rico fighting in New York City.

But Verdejo is no rookie when it comes to fighting at the Garden, fighting five times in the Theatre and not the main arena, winning all five bouts he has been there. Cotto sold out the Garden during his tenure with Arum and Top Rank and it became a traditional event for the four-time champion from Puerto Rico to fight at the Garden on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Now that spotlight turns to Verdejo,  though the undefeated (21-0, 14 KO’s) Latino Lightweight champion by no means should be compared to Cotto. That does not mean that Verdejo can’t rival Cotto with popularity in New York, especially with the Puerto Rican community, and there is still ample time for Arum and Top Rank to do that.

And this is the second straight year that puts Verdejo in the spotlight on the eve of the parade.

So now it is up to Verdejo to prove he has that marketability and appeal to be like Cotto, perhaps not in the ring with a similar style but with a major fan base who flocked to see Cotto over the years in the main arena at the Garden on a Saturday night before the parade.

Prior to Verdejo’s last win at the Garden in February, against William Silva, Arum was asked if Verdejo would be part of a promotion on the evening before the parade, and similar to the way it was done many years with Cotto. Indeed, that was in the works and Verdejo will co headline an HBO championship televised card of boxing at the Theatre, Saturday June 11.

And it will be a week of events for Verdejo in New York, just like it was always with Cotto, before he faces Juan Jose Martinez in defense of his Latino Lightweight crown. Verdejo will appear before youth groups in Latino communities and have a open workout at an annual street fair in the Bronx if the schedules permit.

So there is that definite comparison as to how Arum is promoting Verdejo in New York City. And there should be with a vast majority of Latino boxing fans in the surrounding five boroughs of New York Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut.  Though the fans do expect to see a knockout from Verdejo who has not been able to finish the job in his last two fights.

And the knockout from Cotto is what always electrified the Garden fans.

To that part of having to finish off an opponent with a stoppage, Verdejo said through an interpreter regarding Martinez,“It’s a tough opponent. People don’t realize not all the fights are going to be won by knockout. It goes the distance and you just train hard for every fight. Every opponent is different. “

Silva was not easy to stop in that last fight at the Garden. Verdejo said, “The guy was running, so what can I do about that?  I don’t worry what people say in the stands. I just do my job in the ring.”

In the end though, it is about Verdejo and making his fans content. He says this Garden June date has nothing to do with Cotto. It is about him and, “representing my people every year. I like to do this as a tradition”

And that is the goal that Arum has. To make this an annual date for Felix Verdejo at Madison Square Garden, and with four fights on the calendar year for the lightweight, the scheduling for this event the evening before the parade is workable.

In the end though, Verdejo is a fighter and with that goal of getting one of the major belts in his weight class.  Arum says it may take some more time and it could lead to an eventual pay-per-view opportunity and lucrative pay dates, assuming of course that Verdejo keeps his end of the bargain by continuing to compile wins.

“All I want is an opponent that will work me and get me better for every fight, “ he said when asked about strategy regarding Martinez, 25-2, 17 KO’s. “I’m always prepared. That’s a good thing being active every year is a good thing.”

LOMACHENKO BRINGS YOUNG CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD TO NEW YORK:  Vasyl Lomachenko will headline the Garden boxing card and he is quickly climbing the ladder to success. The 24-year old and two-time Ukranian Olympic Gold medalist will be in his seventh professional fight and has a tough test opposing three-time champion Roman “Rocky” Martinez.

And the New York City debut for Lomachenko will be a treat for fans. He captured the WBO featherweight title last June in his third professional bout against the previously unbeaten Gary Russell Jr.  That says a lot about  Lomachenko because in boxing getting a prestigious title in such a brief span is a rarity,

But Lomachenko has been preparing for this opportunity, and where he is from the regiment of becoming a champion begins at a young age.  The fight with Martinez is a major challenge, moving to junior lightweight and seeking to take the WBO world title.

Arum is billing this promotion also as the first time two Olympic Gold medalists are fighting on the same card with two-time medalist and three-time World Amatuer Champion Zou Shiming from the Peoples Republic of China making his USA debut in a 10-round flyweight bout and trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach.

But Lomachenko, who is not intimidated by the big spotlight of fighting in New York City, and in the Garden, wants the fans to know that getting a world title in such a brief span as a professional is not a fluke, well deserved and adapting so quickly came with hard work.

“Because after the amateurs,” he said through his interpreter, “More practice. I was fighting at that level (professional). “He said the fans want to see a good fight and they will remember what they see in the ring against Martinez.

He added, “It’s a chance to set a new record by becoming a two-division world champion in the shortest period, my seventh professional fight.” The record currently stands at eight fights and when asked when he will be considered  top pound-for-pound fighter,  Lomachenko is honest with his response:

“I don’t think so yet,” he says. “I have to win at least five good opponents, fighters to be on that list.”  His goal, and without an ego, is to get there and attempt to unify the division even if that takes another ten fights or more.

However, there is an awareness that Martinez (29-2-3, 17 KO’s) from Vega Baja Puerto Rico, will be the toughest task to date. The two match up well and in boxing the well known theory of Style Make Fights certainly applies to this one.  Martinez won his first world title on March 14, 2009 via knockout over Nicky Cook in the fourth round in Manchester England.

His title up for grabs came last April 11 when he defeated Orlando Salido in a 12-round decision, and a second fight between Martinez and Salido, he retained the title by a draw and boxing experts say both fights were good enough to be considered fights of the year.

About Lomachenko, he said, “ I can say that he is a boxer with a lot of accomplishments as an amateur and even though he became champion in just a few professional fights, it isn’t the same in amateur as in professional boxing and we are working hard to take the victory on June 11.”

But to Lomachenko, he has already proved that there is no difference from the amatuer ranks to the professional level. To him, it is boxing and that is something he knows how to do very well.

Comment Rich Mancuso: [email protected]  Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering 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, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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