By: William Holmes
The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City has long been a venue used by promoters for boxing stars on the cusp of super stardom, and this Saturday night is no different. Puerto Rican sensation Felix Verdejo will make his HBO debut against Ivan Najera in the lightweight division and will be opening up the televised broadcast.
Official Weights from New York:
Nicholas Walters: 127 lbs. vs Miguel Marriaga: 125.2 lbs.
Felix Verdejo: 133.0 lbs. vs Ivan Najera: 131.4 lbs.
The main event will feature current WBA featherweight titlist and Jamaican superstar Nicholas Walters taking on a familiar foe from his amateur days Miguel Marriaga in a bout that’s almost guaranteed to be action packed with two hard hitting knockout artists.
All four boxers on Saturday’s card have an undefeated record and it’s likely that at least one of them will become a superstar in the sport of boxing in the near future. The following is a preview of both televised bouts.
Felix Verdejo (17-0) vs. Ivan Najera (16-0); Lightweight Division
Many people have called Felix Verdejo the next Tito Trinidad or Miguel Cotto of boxing. He’s quickly developing a large Puerto Rican fan base and most boxing observers have been keeping a close eye on him as he rises to the top.
Ivan Najera will be the most difficult test of Verdejo’s career in the most important fight of his career. They are both twenty two years old but Verdejo will have about a four inch height advantage and close to a four inch reach advantage.
Verdejo also has the power advantage as he has stopped thirteen of his opponents including four of his past five fights while Najera has only stopped half of his opponents and his past seven fights have went the distance.
Verdejo competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics but lost to Vasyl Lomachenko in the quarterfinals. Verdejo has the clear amateur experience edge over Najera.
Najera has spent his entire career fighting in Texas and has never left the state for a fight. He has been very active recently and fought three times in 2014 and four times in 2013. His notable victories include Stan Martyniouk and Angel Hernandez. His resume at this point in his career isn’t exactly strong.
Verdejo has already shown a willingness to travel to fight as he has fought in places such as Puerto Rico, Philadelphia, Florida, New York City, and Las Vegas. His notable victories include Marco Antonio Lopez, Sergio Villanueva, Oscar Bravo, and Lauro Alcantar.
This is the toughest test of Verdejo’s career, but Verdejo has the edge in experience and all the physicals. If Verdejo wants to continue building his Puerto Rican fan base and get another opportunity to fight on HBO he needs to win impressively, which he will likely do.
Miguel Marriaga (20-0) vs. Nicholas Walters (25-0); WBA Super World Featherweight Title
Nicholas Walters and Miguel Marriaga both had stellar amateur careers and are no strangers to each other. In fact, the last time Walters lost a match was when he faced Marriaga in the amateurs in 2008. However, most know that amateur boxing is vastly different than professional boxing and just because you lost to someone in the amateurs doesn’t mean you’ll lose to them in the pros, but it seems unlikely that Walters has completely erased that loss from his memory.
Both boxers are in their physical prime as Marriaga is twenty eight and Walters is twenty nine. They are the same height and stand at 5’7”, but Walters has a clear reach advantage with a freakishly long 73” reach in the featherweight division.
Walters is already making a name for himself as a knockout artist as he stopped twenty one of his opponents including his past five fights. However, Marriaga also has a high knockout ratio as he has stopped eighteen of his opponents including four of his past five fights.
Marriaga has spent most of his career fighting in Mexico and Colombia and has his United States debut on ESPN2 against Christopher Martin. His notable victories include Christopher Martin and Carlos Fernando Perez Martinez. But most of his victories were against less than optimal opponents and he has never faced a boxer of Walter’s caliber as a professional.
When you look at Marriaga’s resume one thing stands out. None of his first eight opponents as a professional had more than one win and they include boxers with such putrid records as 1-38-3 and 1-32-2. It’s obvious that he has faced softball opposition before coming to fight in the United States.
Walters’ coming out party was against Nonito Donaire. He knocked Donaire once in the third and xith round before the fight was stopped and he sent Donaire back down to the super bantamweight division. He has also defeated the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Alberto Garza, Daulis Prescott, and Irving Berry. His resume also doesn’t have anybody with a winning percentage of less than 10% like Marriaga’s does.
This fight is a good test for Walters to see if he has the mental fortitude to get past a boxer that he lost to as an amateur. At first glance Marriaga appears to have the power and pedigree to defeat Walters or at least give him a good fight, but this is a twelve round match and will be much longer than when they fought in the amateurs.
Walters might start off more tentative than usual due to the fact he has experience with Marriaga, but he should have his opponent figured out to beat him by the end of the night.
Press Conf Quotes:
NICHOLAS WALTERS: “Marriaga may have beaten me in the amateurs but I do not remember it. Besides those fights are four rounds. On Saturday we will be fighting 12 rounds. He may be bringing his ‘A Game’ but I am bringing my ‘A-Plus Game.’ I have trained for a knockout victory. I am going to destroy him.
“I am overwhelmed to be fighting at Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of Boxing, because so many of boxing’s great champions have fought here. It is hallowed ground. It is my honor and I want to give my best performance there. To be great…to be known as the best…you have to beat the best and I am ready to take on all champions in my division and beyond.”
MIGUEL MARRIAGA: “Of course Walters doesn’t remember me beating him for a spot on the Olympic team…BECAUSE HE LOST! He’s not going to remember Saturday, June 13 for the same reason!
“I have the strength and the intelligence to beat him. I will use my strength and intelligence to beat him.
“After I beat Walters again on Saturday I look forward to unifying the titles in my next fight.”
FELIX VERDEJO: “It is an honor to be fighting on Puerto Rican Day Parade Weekend in boxing’s most historic building, Madison Square Garden. I have dreamed of doing this for so long. And then on Sunday I will be riding on a float in the parade. But first I need to prove myself worthy of these honors. Najera is my toughest test as a professional and I have worked very hard in training camp. I am prepared to go mano a mano on Saturday night. I will be fighting not just for myself but for the pride of Puerto Ricans everywhere!”
IVÁN NAJERA: “I am ready for my moment – my date with destiny. I know this is supposed to be Verdejo’s big debut on HBO. But I am here to do what I always do – to spoil the party. I have sacrificed so much to be ready for Saturday night but I will be dining out on this victory for years to come. June 13 will be remembered as Iván Najera’s Coming Out Party!”
Photos: Will Hart/HBO