Masayoshi Nakatani's comeback against Felix Verdejo was even more impressive than viewers might've realized Saturday night.
The Japanese lightweight contender didn’t just overcome the first two knockdowns of his career during his ninth-round knockout of Verdejo.
BoxingScene.com has learned that Nakatani suffered a fractured right orbital bone in their scheduled 10-round fight at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
X-rays taken at a Las Vegas hospital confirmed what Nakatani feared to be true, that he sustained an injury similar to what he endured in his 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat to Teofimo Lopez in July 2019. Nakatani, 31, will confer with a specialist this week upon returning to Japan to determine if surgery is necessary.
Regardless, the damage Nakatani suffered Saturday night will delay his return to the ring in 2021. The resilient Nakatani (19-1, 13 KOs) hopes his dramatic comeback against Puerto Rico’s Verdejo eventually leads to a rematch with Brooklyn’s Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs), who since has beaten one of the best boxers in the sport, Vasiliy Lomachenko, and won four lightweight world titles.
It initially seemed Saturday night that the 27-year-old Verdejo (27-2, 17 KOs) would be the contender to gain momentum toward a shot at Lopez’s championships. He knocked Nakatani to his gloves and knees with a right hand barely a minute into an entertaining encounter ESPN aired, but Nakatani survived that trouble.
Verdejo knocked Nakatani to one knee with another right hand 1:13 into the fourth round, yet Nakatani withstood that flash knockdown, too.
Nakatani trailed on all three scorecards – 78-72, 78-72 and 77-74 – entering the ninth round. He got the knockout he needed to win by sending Verdejo to the canvas twice in that fascinating ninth round.
A jarring jab by the tall, rangy Nakatani knocked Verdejo into the ropes and then to the canvas with 1:37 to go in the ninth round. Verdejo answered referee Celestino Ruiz’s count, but Nakatani quickly floored him again, this time face first, with a right hand to the side of Verdejo’s head.
Ruiz immediately stopped their fight following that second knockdown, at 1:45 of the ninth round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.