Verdejo and Pedraza Make Their Return at The Garden
By Hector Franco | Senior Writer and Editor
Published: March 16, 2018
Tomorrow night on the untelevised undercard of Jose Ramirez’s (21-0, 16 KOs) vacant WBC 140-pound title shot against Brooklyn’s Amir Imam (21-1, 18 KOs), fans will witness the return of two of Puerto Rico’s fallen stars in Felix Verdejo (23-0, 15 KOs) and Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12 KOs). They will be featured on the card at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
At one point in time, Verdejo was seen as not only the heir apparent to Miguel Cotto but the second coming of Puerto Rico’s most beloved fighter, Felix Trinidad. Unlike Trinidad, Verdejo has run into a few more obstacles at the beginning of his career that have stunted his progression. Things for Verdejo began to go downhill after his HBO debut against Ivan “Bam Bam” Najera in June 2015. In that bout, the loquacious Puerto Rican hurt his hand forcing him to have surgery and miss time inside the ring. The timing could not have been worse for the young Puerto Rican, as he was being groomed for a future title shot.
Verdejo’s subsequent bouts after the injury were less than stellar. The young Puerto Rican failed to impress against lower level competition, going the distance against William Silva and Jose Luis Rodriguez. Even against Juan Jose Martinez whom Verdejo stopped in the fifth round, he did not look like anything special. With the amount of hype and support surrounding Verdejo, it seemed like his interest in boxing was floundering. One would not have guessed that Verdejo’s luck would have taken a turn for the worse.
In August 2016, Verdejo was in a motorcycle accident in his native Puerto Rico. A title shot against then WBO lightweight champion Terry Flanagan was put on the backburner. Verdejo returned to the ring in February 2017 and won a unanimous decision against Oliver Flores. He has not stepped in the ring since that time. There were talks about promoter Top Rank advising Verdejo to leave the comforts of Puerto Rico and head to Big Bear, California to be trained by famed trainer Abel Sanchez. Sanchez runs a no non-sense camp and may not have been a good fit for the Puerto Rican.
Verdejo now makes his return with little fanfare on the undercard of another 2012 Olympian. The Puerto Rican will take on Tijuana, Mexico’s Antonio Lozado Jr. (38-2, 32 KOs). Verdejo has been out of the ring for over a year and knows the importance of not only winning but also looking impressive.
Many have jumped off the Verdejo bandwagon and will not likely be persuaded to jump back on no matter what the young fighter accomplishes. However, at 24 years of age, there is still plenty of time for him to earn his position as Puerto Rico’s number one fighter. Boxing is a sport like many that relies heavily on your previous performance. A spectacular knockout from Verdejo could go a long way for the Puerto Rican.
Verdejo will not be the only Puerto Rican that will be making his return to the ring on Saturday night. Former 130-pound champion Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12 KOs) recently signed with Top Rank being one of the first fighters to leave acclaimed advisor Al Haymon. Pedraza who hails from Cidra, Puerto Rico has had to deal with his own battles of inactivity since he won his title from Andrey Klimov in the summer of 2015.
The last time fans saw Pedraza in the squared circle he was arguably set-up and bludgeoned against Baltimore’s Gervonta Davis (19-0, 18 KOs) at the Barclays Center in January 2017. That night Pedraza lost more than just his championship. The man known as “The Sniper” was a world champion that was treated like the opponent.
Pedraza will make his Top Rank, and lightweight debut come Saturday when he faces Jose Luis Rodriguez. A victory for Pedraza could lead to more significant opportunities for the Puerto Rican. The recent announcement of the lightweight championship bout between Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares highlighted that not only promoters (Golden Boy and Top Rank) were willing to work together, but networks as well (ESPN and HBO).
For the last few years, Puerto Rico has been lacking in world champions. With Miguel Cotto’s retirement and five-division women’s boxing champion Amanda Serrano making the transition over to Mixed Martial Arts, there is a gap left in Puerto Rican boxing. Verdejo and Pedraza have the chance to reclaim what they felt was rightfully theirs. One day this could lead to a bout between the two men in an all Puerto-Rican showdown.
Both men are at the rebuilding stages of their career and hope to put the past behind them leading them to a more prominent future in the sport.
(Feature Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank)