By Jake Donovan
ORLANDO, FL—With a house packed from wall-to-wall, Felix Verdejo carried the responsibility of delivering a performance to remember.
Mission accomplished for the unbeaten lightweight prospect, who was flawless in stopping Sergio Villanueva in the third round of their headliner at Bahia Shrine Temple in Orlando, Florida.
The star power that Verdejo already carries in the Central Florida region was evident at the gate. Event handlers were forced to turn away patrons, as the venue was sold out beyond capacity with lines of fans standing along the back walls all of the sake of capturing a glimpse of the young fighter many consider the future of the lightweight division.
Verdejo didn’t at all disappoint in the ring. Then again, he could have done just about anything he wanted and still draw raucous applause from the crowd. Fortunately for all in attendance, he decided to fight.
Unfortunately for Villanueva, the performance came with knockout intentions.
The first couple of rounds saw Verdejo show the same poise and patience that led to his representing Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics. Villanueva did his best to force a brawl, but it was clear from the outset that the bout would be contested on the house fighter’s terms.
Following a boxing display through the first six minutes, Verdejo decided to switch it up and fight from the southpaw stance. The tactic didn’t produce immediate results other than throwing off Villanueva’s rhythm.
In other words, the desired effect Verdejo sought.
Villanueva foolishly followed Verdejo into the ropes, thinking he was bringing the fight to the unbeaten lightweight. Instead, he literally walked into a clean counter right hand that left him separated from his senses. The shot sent Villanueva face first into the ropes and eventually to the canvas.
It was the last punch thrown in the fight. Villanueva bravely tried to make his way to his feet, but staggered around the ring. Referee Frank Santore didn’t bother to waste his time with a count, instead calling for an end to the night.
The official time was 1:57 of round three.
With the win, Verdejo moves to 15-0 (11KOs). The bout was his second in the Orlando region in exactly 52 weeks. His debut in the Central Florida region came on the undercard of Miguel Cotto’s debut performance in the area as well. Judging by the crowd on hand – all of whom erupted the moment the fight was stopped – it stands to reason he will continue to be marketed in the area, which boasts the second largest population of Puerto Ricans living in the United States.
Villanueva suffers his second consecutive loss, falling to 26-5-2 (13KOs).
The bout aired on UniMas and Univision.
Gamalier Rodriguez continues to enjoy a career resurgence. The streaking featherweight prospect tore through Martin Cardona Gonzales (17-3, 12KOs).
The bout was a blitzing from the opening bell, not that the beyond-capacity crowd was disappointed. The boisterous pro-Boricua audience cheered Rodriguez' every move, and he did his part to enhance the festive atmosphehere, including a knockdown late in round one courtesy of a looping right hand.
Rodriguez wasted no time going in for the kill, pummelling Cardona for as long as the referee would allow before the action was mercifully brought to a halt.
The official time was 0:49 of round two.
With the win, Rodriguez moves to 25-2-3 (17KOs). The victory is his 17th straight following an 8-2-3 start to his career. His biggest win to date came in this very same venue this past April, scoring what was deemed at the time as an upset over featherweight contender Orlando Cruz.
Local favorite Jovan Perez was given a stiff test in sweating out a majority decision over Berthin Rousseau (1-9-2, 1KO) in their four-round super lightweight bout. Scores were 38-38 even, and 39-37 and 40-36 in favor of Perez (2-0, 1KO), who made his pro debut in Orlando this past June.
Jantony Ortiz began his career with a pair of 1st round knockouts, all coming before his 20th birthday. The rookie super flyweight from Puerto Rico was extended the distance for the first time in his young career, unloading on a determined Gilbert Mendoza (4-4, 1KO) in scoring a four-round decision. Scores were 38-37 (twice) and 39-37 in favor of Ortiz (3-0, 2KOs), who has now fought in New York, Puerto Rico and Orlando in his first three fights as a pro.
Christopher Diaz celebrated his one year anniversary as a pro with his third consecutive knockout. The latest came in a four-round destruction of Francisco Camacho. Both fighters were game early on, but Diaz (7-0, 5KOs) - who turns just 20 years old later this month - fed off of the rabid crowd on hand, dialing up the pressure as the bout continued. Two knockdowns came in the deciding round, with Camacho (2-5-1, 1KO) counted out at 0:55 of round four.
Brazil's Esquiva Falcão made his East Coast debut, showing patience early on before breaking down West Virginia's Austin Marcum in two rounds. The bout began at a methodical pace before Falcão opened up in round two. A knockdown came midway through the round, with Falcão applying pressure on Marcum (6-5-1, 3KOs) before forcing the stoppage. The official time was 1:24 of round two. Falcão lost a heartbreaking and disputed decision to Japan's Ryota Murata - who also signed with Top Rank - to settle for a Silver medal for Brazil in the 2012 London Olympics. He remained in the amateur ranks for another year before turning pro this past February.
Nobody can ever accuse Neslan Machado of fighting in the typical Cuban boxing mold. The 18-year old featherweight - born in Cuba but now fighting out of Miami - was explosive, scoring an early knockdown en route to a 1st round knockout of Stephon McIntyre. The fight was over from the moment Machado (7-0, 6KOs) first laid hands on his overmatched opponent. McIntyre (2-3-2, 0KOs) never recovered from the knockdown, wobbling around the ring and eating an accumulation of punches before the fight was stopped at 1:03 of round one.
Anthony Mercardo was forced to go the distance for the first time in his career, and was forced to work every step of the way for a six-round decision over brave Esteban Villalba. Scores were 58-56 and 59-55 (twice) in favor the Mercado (8-0, 7KOs) who ate a lot of leather and had his nose busted, but was recognized as the house favorite by the three judges. The 19-year old Villalba falls to 4-12-2 (1KO).
Felix Verdejo KO3 Sergio Villaneuva - 8 rounds, lightweight
Gamalier Rodriguez TKO2 Martin Cardona - 8 rounds, featherweight
Jovan Perez UD4 Berthin Rousseau - 4 rounds, super lightweight
Jantony Ortiz UD4 Gilberto Mendoza - 4 rounds, super flyweight
Esquiva Falcao TKO2. Austin Marcum - 6 rounds, middleweight
Christopher Diaz KO4 Francisco Camacho - 6 rounds, featherweight
Neslan Machado KO1 Stephon McIntyre - 4 rounds, featherweight
Anthony Mercado UD4 Esteban Villalba - 6 rounds, super lightweight
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox