More than anything, Edgar Berlanga believes he needs rounds in 2021.
The Brooklyn-based banger felt the same way in 2020, but that was easier said than done. Matchmakers for Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. incrementally increased his level of opposition in the second half of last year, yet Berlanga beat all three of those boxers by first-round knockout to extend his highly unusual streak.
The 23-year-old, 168-pound prospect has knocked out each of his 16 professional foes in the first round.
His most recent opponent, Ulises Sierra (15-2-2, 9 KOs), had not been beaten by knockout before he stepped into the ring to battle Berlanga on December 12 at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. San Diego’s Sierra spent plenty of rounds sparring against Canelo Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev, and at least was expected to bring Berlanga into the second round.
Berlanga blasted Sierra with three straight right hands, however, that sent Sierra to one knee just 1:15 into their scheduled eight-round encounter. Sierra got up, but Berlanga knocked him down twice more and scored another first-round technical knockout.
According to Nielsen Media Research, an audience of 2,289,000 watched Berlanga beat Sierra in the opener of ESPN’s tripleheader that night.
As much as it broadened Berlanga’s brand to record a 16th straight first-round knockout in front of such a huge audience, BoxingScene.com’s 2020 “Prospect of the Year” didn’t hesitate to tell ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna during his post-fight interview how badly he needs rounds in 2021.
When Osuna inquired as to how he’ll go about getting rounds this year, Berlanga replied, “By stepping up competition. You know, the better competition, the better opposition we fight, you know, I believe we’re gonna get those rounds in. We ended 2020 with a bang. You know, that’s what I wanted. And, you know, 2021 is a big year for us. And I’m looking forward to it.”
Berlanga later called out Gabe Rosado for his first fight of 2021.
Rosado is 34 years old and has a 25-13-1 record, including 14 knockouts and a no-contest. The respected veteran from Philadelphia hasn’t been knocked out in six years, though, and was very competitive in a close loss to former IBF and WBA middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs, a 12-rounder November 27 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
A minor injury to his right hand could cause Berlanga’s debut in 2021 to be delayed slightly. He has worn a soft cast since he defeated Sierra and expects an updated prognosis soon.
Whenever and whomever Berglanga boxes next, high-profile fight fans figure to watch. The strong start to his career has enabled Berlanga to befriend such stars as Fat Joe, Tracy Morgan and Snoop Dog.
As he becomes more known, the Puerto Rican icon Berlanga grew up idolizing will help him keep everything in perspective.
“You know, Tito Trinidad was my idol – he still is,” Berlanga said. “You know, just being with him, man, it really opened up my eyes [to] what boxing is about, you know, on the dedication, on the focus, on leaving the streets alone, leaving the people alone, the bad people. You know, you can’t keep ‘em next to you, but you can keep them from a distance. I’m in a dangerous sport and I’ve gotta remain focused a hundred percent.”
The runners-up for BoxingScene.com’s 2020 “Prospect of the Year” award are listed below, in alphabetical order.
Brandun Lee (21-0, 19 KOs): The heavy-handed Lee made quick work of each of his three opponents in 2020. The 21-year-old Lee recorded two third-round technical knockouts and a first-round knockout in those three bouts. Showtime televised the entertaining junior welterweight’s first two fights of last year as part of the network’s “ShoBox: The New Generation” series. The La Quinta, California, native hasn’t boxed beyond the fourth round and is eager to step up his level of opposition in 2021.
Jesus Ramos (14-0, 13 KOs): This 19-year-old junior welterweight concluded a promising 2020 by stopping Naim Nelson (14-5, 1 KO, 1 NC) following four one-sided rounds December 26 at Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall in Los Angeles. A hard-hitting, left-handed fighter from Casa Grande, Arizona, Ramos produced a 3-0 record last year. In the bout before he defeated Philadelphia’s Nelson, he beat Esteban Garcia by second-round knockout September 6 at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Garcia, of Brawley, California, was 14-0 (6 KOs) entering his fight against Ramos. FOX televised Ramos’ past two fights, which means more viewers in the United States saw him box last year than most prospects.
Elvis Rodriguez (10-0-1, 10 KOs): The Dominican knockout artist scored four quick knockouts over a three-month period from July 2 to October 9. Each of those fights either were televised by ESPN or streamed by ESPN+, thus the 24-year-old southpaw was provided plenty of exposure during the pandemic. Rodriguez, a junior welterweight who is trained by Freddie Roach, went 5-0 overall in 2020. He would’ve been even more active last year had multiple planned appearances not been scrapped on short notice.
Austin Williams (7-0, 6 KOs): This strong southpaw’s final performance of 2020 clearly was his most impressive. Houston’s Williams needed only 1:29 to score a first-round technical knockout of Isiah Jones in a scheduled six-rounder December 19 on the Canelo Alvarez-Callum Smith undercard at Alamodome in San Antonio. Detroit’s Jones (9-4, 3 KOs) hadn’t been knocked out in any of his first 12 professional fights. Williams, a 24-year-old middleweight, went 3-0 in 2020.
Daniyar Yeleussinov (10-0, 6 KOs): Kazakhstan’s Yeleussinov fought only once last year, but this heavily hyped prospect blew out former IBF/IBO/WBA junior welterweight champ Julius Indongo in his lone appearance. Yeleussinov, a 29-year-old southpaw who won a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, defeated the 37-year-old Indongo (23-3, 12 KOs) by second-round TKO on November 27 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Yeleussinov wants to fight another highly touted, emerging welterweight, Vergil Ortiz Jr. (16-0, 16 KOs), in what would be an intriguing, risky fight for both boxers at these respective stages of their careers. Ortiz was named BoxingScene.com’s “Prospect of the Year” for 2019.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.