Verdejo’s Path to Glory
By: Brandon Bernica
Felix Verdejo stepped into the ring Saturday night with weight on his shoulders. After beginning his career with astounding knockouts and little resistance, he began to plateau in the eyes of many fans. He coasted to decision victories in his last two fights, both outings featuring more questions and less action than we’re used to seeing from the Puerto Rican prodigy. Fans and pundits curiously watched, hoping to verify whether Verdejo really is the island’s next boxing icon.
Photo Credit: Mikey Williams/Top Rank
He didn’t disappoint. In against a hard-charging Mexican named Juan Jose Martinez, his counterpunching and explosiveness perfectly foiled Martinez’s attack. By the 5th round, Verdejo’s overwhelming ability imposed itself on Martinez. His barrage of fists rained on Martinez’s slumped frame until the referee called the bout. It was the result most fans prayed for coming into the fight, yet the rounds leading up to the knockout left more questions than answers on the table.
Verdejo’s timing remains a major area of needed improvement. In certain exchanges, he waited a half-second too long to unload, stifling himself from firing fluid combinations. This contributed to a slowed pace, which diminished Verdejo’s margin of victory each round and limited fan-pleasing punch trading. Shuffling on the back foot throughout the night, Felix should have been comfortable. Instead, he failed to plant his feet and throw the punishing punches that punctuated many of his early-career wins. He even got tapped a couple times by an outgunned challenger.
But many would argue that these observations are simply over-analytical critiques overshadowed by a terrific performance. Verdejo unfurled a quick jab that, if used properly, can be a potent set-up tool for his offense in the future. Another impressive attribute from his win was the ability to adjust his arsenal to the opponent on the fly. When the overhand right began to land with consistency, he stuck with it. When he recognized his mobility advantage, he pivoted and threw uppercuts while Martinez was on the ropes. In flashes, we began to see the dynamic, assertive Verdejo reemerge. And while he dangerously teetered the edge of punching himself out at the end of the fight, he harnessed the ferocity and focus that might put his skillset over the top in the years to come.
With both positives and negatives from his victory presented, which side paints a better picture of the truth? Yes, Verdejo is an unfinished product, but that’s alright. He’s 23 years old with 22 fights, all against outclassed opposition. It’s clear that adapting to the pace of the pro game is still a necessity. Molding his style around his strengths is still a work in progress. But the last outcome Verdejo needs is to be rushed into championship fights without the proper refining. Growth comes when faced with adversity, and great fighters rise to meet those conditions. Make it a priority to match him with high-level foes that stress his weaknesses and force him to improve.
Verdejo’s development speaks to a larger trend in boxing: excessive scrutinizing of top-tier talent. We look at fighters who lack the same expectations with optimism, impressed by their good qualities. When we judge fighters who project highly, we break down every flaw instead of allowing them the same maturation process as everyone else. People forget that Verdejo exhibited a wealth of ability in the amateurs. His talent is unquestionable. He carries his country’s flag into a new era, adding heaps of pressure on top of him. Plus, two or three average outings are not a career but merely a sample size. Boxing’s game rewards consistency in regimen, team, and focus. Allow Verdejo time to discover what works before giving up on him.
For Verdejo, the game plan consists of one concept: tune out the noise. As the bandwagon lightens and opinions fly from every angle, it is easy to find value in the many who don’t know much about the sport, especially with the propagation of social media. Only he can rise to the occasion. If Verdejo slows himself down, analyzes his mistakes, and remains honest with himself, that’s all he needs. It appears he’s on the path to validating his early promise. If he resists feeding into the capricious nature of hype, these past flubs will fall into the dust of a successful career.