Examining Puerto Rico's Current World Champions - Lomachenko-Pedraza Preview

Examining Puerto Rico's Current World Champions - Lomachenko-Pedraza Preview

By Hector Franco | Senior Writer and Editor

Published: December 07, 2018

This upcoming weekend at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York a lightweight unification bout will take place between WBA lightweight (135) champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and WBO lightweight champion Jose Pedraza. The Puerto Rican champion, Pedraza, is a massive underdog against Lomachenko who is currently ranked among the top fighters in the world pound for pound. The bout will be the first title unification bout that either man has participated in.

In Lomachenko’s previous match, he stepped up to the lightweight division to take on Venezuela’s Jorge Linares who held the WBA lightweight title at the time. The bout took place at Madison Square Garden in front of a sizeable crowd and provided fans with one of the best fights of the year. Lomachenko tasted the canvas for the first time in his professional career via a perfectly timed right hand by Linares, however, ultimately Lomachenko came out with a victory via a 10th round stoppage by a body shot.

Pedraza, a former IBF 130-pound titleholder, earlier this year signed a deal with promoter Top Rank following the path of many Puerto Rican pugilists in the past and present. In Pedraza’s previous bout, he won the WBO lightweight championship against veteran Ray Beltran in Arizona. The Puerto Rican was able to outbox Beltran for a vast majority of the rounds and scored a fight-clinching knockdown in the 11th round with a counter right uppercut. Pedraza’s only defeat came at the hands of Baltimore, Maryland’s Gervonta Davis in early 2017 where he was taken apart and lost via seventh round TKO.

While Lomachenko has the expectations of fans and pundits that he will dominate against Pedraza, the Puerto Rican carries the hopes of his island nation on his back.

Puerto Rico is an island drenched in boxing history with great fighters such as Carlos Ortiz, Wilfred Benitez, Wilfredo Gomez, Felix Trinidad and most recently Miguel Cotto representing the country. Puerto Rico at this time is the only country in the world that has had a world champion in all 17 of boxing’s weight classes.

Currently, the island nation has six world champions in different weight classes. We will look at each of the current champions and where they stand in their respective divisions.

Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Jose “Sniper” Pedraza (25-1, 12 KOs) Cidra, Puerto Rico

Age: 29

Current WBO Lightweight Champion

Former IBF Super Featherweight (130) Champion – Two Title Defenses

Notable Wins:

Ray Beltran WUD12

Andrey Klimov WUD12

Michael Farenas WUD12

Tevin Farmer WTKO8

Pedraza, at this time, is the second most accomplished current titleholder from Puerto Rico. As an amateur, he has medaled in multiple tournaments including a gold medal at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games in the lightweight division. As a professional, he has won titles in two divisions in the super featherweight and lightweight divisions.

When Pedraza won his first world title against Russia’s Andrey Klimov, it was on the undercard of WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder’s title defense against Eric Molina in his hometown in Alabama. Afterward, he was able to make two successful title defenses, one of which resulted in a controversial decision over Edner Cherry in October 2015.

Since signing with Top Rank at the beginning of 2018 and moving away from Premier Boxing Champion’s advisor Al Haymon, Pedraza has had a career renaissance. After only fighting once in 2016 and 2017 each, when Pedraza steps in the ring with Lomachenko, he will have fought for the fourth time this year.

Pedraza at this time is the only male Puerto Rican champion that has won titles in two divisions and thus far has faced the best opposition.

Alberto “El Explosivo” Machado (21-0, 17 KOs) Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico

Age: 28

Current WBA Super Featherweight Champion – Two Title Defenses

Notable Wins:

Jezreel Corrales WKO8

Rafael Mensah WUD12

Yuandale Evans WKO1

Alberto Machado is a fighter that wasn’t on the radar of Puerto Rican boxing fans when he made his professional debut in 2012. At that time most of the attention on the Island was put on Felix Verdejo. Machado is a 5’10 southpaw who was first seen as a crude fighter with a big punch. He was not given much of a shot when he first challenged Panama’s Jezreel Corrales for the WBA super featherweight (130) title in late 2017.

To the surprise of many, Machado was able to score an eighth-round knockout over Corrales even after suffering a knockdown in the fifth round. There is a saying that it is up to the fighter to make the championship not the championship to make the fighter. Since winning his first world title, Machado has steadily improved in each fight under the tutelage of hall of fame boxing trainer, Freddie Roach. In his previous bout, he scored an emphatic first-round knockout over Yuandale Evans putting him on the canvas a total of three times.

At 5’10, Machado is the tallest champion in his division, and with his vaunted punching power, he will be a tough night out for any fighter in his weight class. There is an opportunity for Machado to face some of the other champions in the division such as WBC champion Miguel Berchelt or Japan’s Masayuki Ito who defeated fellow Puerto Rican countryman Christopher Diaz earlier this year to win the WBO 130-pound title.

At Machado’s age, 28, and height it is likely we will see him move up in weight to the lightweight division.

Photo: World Boxing Super Series

Photo: World Boxing Super Series

Emmanuel “Manny” Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs) Vega Baja, Puerto Rico

Age: 26

Current IBF Bantamweight (118) Champion – 1 Title Defense

Notable Wins:

Paul Butler WUD12

Jason Moloney WSD12

Emmanuel Rodriguez is one of the favorite boxers on the island of Puerto Rico with many feeling that he may be the best of the current crop of champions. Rodriguez won a Gold Medal in 2010 at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in the flyweight division. He may be best known by the general boxing fan for traveling to the United Kingdom in May 2018 and winning the IBF bantamweight championship from UK native Paul Butler.

Rodriguez was able to score two knockdowns in the first round en route to a wide unanimous decision victory. Butler’s only previous loss was to current WBO bantamweight champion, Zolani Tete. In his last bout, Rodriguez took on Australia’s Jason Moloney as part of the World Boxing Super Series. The fight was extremely close and could have been scored for either fighter, but Rodriguez came away with a tight split decision victory.

Rodriguez is one of the best pure boxers from the island at this time; however, his next match as part of the World Boxing Super Series will be against Japanese pound for pound star, Naoya Inoue. Inoue in his two bantamweight bouts has scored two impressive first round knockouts. The Japanese fighter is considered one of heaviest punchers in the sport. Similar to Pedraza taking on Lomachenko, not many people are giving Rodriguez a chance to defeat Inoue.

Angel “Tito” Acosta (19-1, 19 KOs) San Juan, Puerto Rico

Age: 28

Current WBO Light Flyweight Champion – Two Title Defenses

Notable Wins:

Juan Alejo WKO10

Abraham Rodriguez WKO1

The smallest fighter in the current batch of Puerto Rican champions also packs the biggest punch. To go along with his vaunted punching power, Acosta won a Gold Medal in the light flyweight division at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2010. He has also been the subject of two independent documentaries, one of which was featured in the Tribeca Film Festival.

The power-punching Puerto Rican’s only defeat came in Japan when he lost a unanimous decision to Kosei Tanaka. Tanaka ended up vacating his WBO light flyweight title to move up to the flyweight division. In his following bout, Acosta defeated Juan Alejo at Madison Square Garden on the undercard of Miguel Cotto’s final fight against Sadam Ali. Acosta scored a 10th round knockout to win the vacant WBO light flyweight title.

More attention has been paid to Acosta since his last bout where he scored one of the best knockouts of 2018 when he stopped Abraham Rodriguez in the second round. Acosta is one of the few fighters in the lower weight classes who can end a fight at any moment. There are plenty of options for him at light flyweight including a big matchup against WBC champion Ken Shiro.

Photo: Tom Hogan/Golden Boy Promotions

Photo: Tom Hogan/Golden Boy Promotions

Jesus Rojas (26-2-2, 19 KOs) Caguas, Puerto Rico

Age: 31

Current WBA “Regular” Featherweight Champion

Notable Wins:

Claudio Marrero WKO7

Abraham Lopez WTKO8

Jesus Rojas fights in one of the toughest divisions in boxing at featherweight with fighters like Leo Santa Cruz, Gary Russell Jr., Carl Frampton, and Oscar Valdez. Rojas first fell on the radar of boxing fans when he defeated California native Abraham Lopez in Las Vegas the day before the Canelo Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. match. Rojas was able to score knockdowns in the second, fourth and eighth rounds to win the NABF featherweight title.

Afterward, Rojas won the interim WBA featherweight title against the Dominican Republic’s Claudio Marrero with a seventh-round knockout. The WBA later upgraded the title to “Regular” status.

In his previous bout, Rojas faced off against Joseph Diaz and lost a unanimous decision. Diaz did not make the featherweight weight limit, and per WBA rules the title was not on the line leaving Rojas to keep his title.

On paper it seems that Rojas may be the weakest of the current Puerto Rican champions, however, at featherweight, there are opportunities for him to face fighters that can bring him more prominence and attention.

Photo: Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Photo: Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano (35-1-1, 26 KOs) Carolina, Puerto Rico - Brooklyn, New York

Age: 30

Current WBO Female Super Lightweight Champion

Former WBO Female Super Bantamweight Champion

Former WBO Female Bantamweight Champion

Former WBO Featherweight Champion

Former IBF Female Super Featherweight Champion

Former WBO Female Lightweight Champion

Notable Wins:

Yamila Esther Reynoso WUD10

Dahiana Santana WTKO8

Yazmin Rivas WUD10

Undoubtedly, the best Puerto Rican fighter at this time is Amanda Serrano. Earlier this year Serrano made history in joining Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya as the only fighters who have won titles in six separate weight classes. She is considered by many to be the female Henry Armstrong moving up and down weight classes scoring dominant victories. As of now, Serrano has won titles at bantamweight (118), super bantamweight (122), featherweight (126), super featherweight (130), lightweight (135), and super lightweight (140). What makes Serrano’s run impressive is that she hasn’t gotten these titles by moving up one weight class at a time, but instead going up and down the scale as opportunities have arisen.

Serrano’s first title was at super featherweight then at lightweight only to move back to featherweight. Most recently she won titles in the bantamweight and super bantamweight divisions and then moved up to 140-pounds to win her sixth divisional title.

Serrano has also made a move to mixed martial arts signing with MMA Company Combate Americas where she has fought twice. She is currently looking at returning to boxing to try for a title in a seventh division at Super Flyweight (115).

Serrano is a unique fighter who never stops working. In 2017, she fought four times winning titles in two divisions. In 2018, she has fought in one boxing match and two MMA bouts to go along with the various jujitsu tournaments she participated in. Serrano is the embodiment of the modern fighter in this era who has no issue pushing her talents to the limits.

When Pedraza steps in the ring with Lomachenko the spotlight of the boxing world and the island of Puerto Rico will be on him. The weight of having a country on your back can either be overwhelming or enough motivation to push passed even the most elite of fighters. We will see where Pedraza stands this weekend.

“The titles will return to Puerto Rico with me. I know that it will not be an easy fight. I will be facing one of the best fighters in the world. He has tremendous skills, but I know that I also have great skills and the necessary focus to come out with the victory Puerto Rico deserves a moment of happiness. I’m going to do it for them, and my family.”
— Jose Pedraza

(Featured Photo: Top Rank Boxing)

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