By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Felix Verdejo was supposed to be boxing’s next Miguel Cotto, a Puerto Rican icon who headlined huge shows at Madison Square Garden.
Instead, Verdejo got stopped by an unknown opponent in a non-televised fight Saturday night in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Mexico’s Antonio Lozada Jr. dropped Verdejo in the 10th round and beat the previously undefeated lightweight contender by technical knockout in what had been a highly competitive fight on the Amir Imam-Jose Ramirez undercard.
The bigger, stronger Lozada knocked down Verdejo with a left hand in the 10th round of what already had been a grueling fight for Verdejo. He got up and tried his best to survive, but a New York State Athletic Commission physician walked up to the ring apron and ordered referee Eddie Claudio to stop the bout because he thought Verdejo was taking too much punishment while trying to survive Lozada’s onslaught.
The fight was stopped at 2:37 of the 10th and final round, with Verdejo still standing, trying to keep away from Lozada (39-2, 33 KOs). There were just 23 seconds left in the fight when it was stopped.
Verdejo (23-1, 15 KOs), who was battered and bleeding from his mouth, protested the stoppage. Claudio pointed to the ringside physician when Verdejo complained about the first defeat of a career beset by injuries and training issues.
“I felt like I was hurting him with every punch that I landed, even the jab,” said Lozada, who didn’t appear hurt at any point in the fight. “In the last round, I just kept on throwing, landing and hurt him. I knew I had the chance to knock him out. I went for everything in the last round. … Most people thought I couldn’t win this fight, and I shocked a lot of people.”
Lozada pressured Verdejo throughout the bout. Fighting off his back foot for most of the 10 rounds, Verdejo connected with numerous overhand rights, but nothing that deterred Lozada from coming forward.
Verdejo’s faster hands served him well at times. His athleticism also enabled him to keep away from Lozada, particularly when Lozada landed hard shots.
The 2012 Olympian seemed to tire early in the 10th round, though, and was hurt by a Lozada right hand. He tried to hold and move away from Lozada, but Lozada landed a left that sent Verdejo to the canvas with 1:40 to go in the 10th round.
Verdejo, who ended a 13-month layoff Saturday night, was ahead on the scorecards of judges James Kinney (87-84) and Robert Perez (86-85) when the fight was stopped. Judge Woleska Roldan had Lozada in front through nine rounds (86-85).
Verdejo fought for the first time since he beat Nicaragua’s Oliver Flores (27-3-2, 17 KOs) by unanimous decision in a 10-rounder in February 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Verdejo, 24, and Lozada, 27, were supposed to fight September 22 in Tucson, Arizona. Their fight was postponed because Verdejo suffered a hand injury during training camp.
Before the 10th round began, it seemed as if Verdejo would survive Lozada’s challenge and win a decision. The right hand Lozada landed early in the 10th changed the course of the fight, however, and Verdejo’s career.
Verdejo had a strong eighth round, when he landed several right hands and left hooks. Just as he had done all fight, though, Lozada kept pressing the action.
Verdejo let his hands go early in the seventh round, but nothing he landed stopped Lozada from pressuring him.
Verdejo blasted Lozada with a right hand that snapped back his head just after the halfway point of the sixth round. Before landing that shot, Verdejo spent much of the sixth keeping away from Lozada, who hurt him in the previous round.
Lozada buzzed Verdejo with an overhand right that landed to the middle of his face late in the fifth round. The punch backed Verdejo into the ropes, and made him move away from Lozada for the rest of the round.
Verdejo drilled Lozada with two solid overhand rights within the final 40 seconds of the fourth round. Lozada pressured Verdejo early in the fourth round and kept him on his back foot.
Verdejo drilled Lozada with a left hook about 45 seconds into the third round. Verdejo connected with a right uppercut that stunned Lozada late in the second round.
Verdejo started the fight strong, but Lozada landed multiple overhand rights during the second half of the first round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.