Masayoshi Nakatani provided the latest example of a fight never being over until it’s truly over.
The long and lean lightweight scored one of the year’s most surprising results, recovering from two knockdowns to score two of his own in a stunning 9th round knockout of Felix Verdejo. Nakatani floored Verdejo twice in round nine, the latter producing a stoppage at 1:45 of round nine Saturday evening live on ESPN from The Bubble at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Both fighters vowed to deliver a statement-making knockout prior to the fight, though perhaps for different reasons. Nakatani remains best known for causing all sorts of fits for Teofimo Lopez in their title eliminator last July, one fight before Lopez would win his first major title.
Verdejo has designs on challenging Lopez—now the World lightweight champion—and was intent on showing he could handle any style along the way. The resurgent Puerto Rican lightweight came out throwing every punch with mean intentions, all of which most certainly caught Nakatani’s attention. The first knockdown of the fight came just outside the first minute of the contest, with Verdejo using a jab to set up a long right hand which forced Nakatani to pitch forward to the canvas.
To his credit, Nakatani shook off the blow and fought well for the remainder of the round. Verdejo picked his spots once sensing his opponent recovered all the way before going back in the attack in round two. Nakatani—very tall for the lightweight division at 5’11 ½”—failed to use his height and reach advantages, as Verdejo was able to jab his way inside, working his left hook behind it.
Verdejo landed a flush right hand to open round three. Nakatani managed to remain upright but had few answers for Verdejo’s power surge. That much would prove true midway through round four, when Verdejo connected with a pull counter right at close range. Nakatani walked right into the shot, forcing his knees to buckle as referee Celestino Ruiz ruled it a knockdown.
The middle rounds saw Verdejo abandon his jab to a degree, relying on his power edge to carry him through at least that portion of the fight.
Nakatani made him pay in round seven, connecting with a right hand over the top which briefly caught his opponent’s attention. Verdejo remembered to return to the jab, boxing smartly for the balance of the round.
Verdejo fought at a measured pace in round eight, riding out a mid-round surge to rock Nakatani late in the frame with a right hand.
Nakatani returned the favor, catching Verdejo with a straight right less than 30 seconds in round nine. Verdejo was visibly stunned, attempting to clinch as Nakatani sought to go on the attack. It wouldn’t quite take, as Nakatani landed a corker of a right hand which put Verdejo down face-first onto the canvas.
Verdejo beat the count of referee Celestino Ruiz but was back on the deck seconds later courtesy of another offensive explosion from Nakatani. This time the fight was waved off without a count, ending a wild affair that will likely garner year-end award consideration.
Nakatani—who hadn’t fought since his aforementioned defeat to Lopez—improves to 19-1 (13KOs) with the massive victory.
Verdejo falls to 27-2 (17KOs), snapping a four-fight win streak. The 2012 Puerto Rican Olympian was coming off of a 1st round knockout over unbeaten Will Madera in this venue this past July, and was on his way to a spectacular win on Saturday before things fell apart. The loss is his first since a 10th round knockout at the hands of Mexico’s Antonio Lozada in March 2018.
The bout served as the chief support to unbeaten former featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson (14-0, 8KOs) vs. Providence’s Toka Kahn Clary (28-2, 19KOs) in a battle of junior lightweight southpaws.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox