The idea of once again hearing the cheers in the crowd is appealing to Jose Pedraza, though not as much as extending his winning streak.

Emerging victorious over currently unbeaten Julian Rodriguez (21-0, 14KOs) remains job one for Puerto Rico’s Pedraza (28-3, 15KOs). Their junior welterweight bout will air live on ESPN from The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, with the show marking the first boxing event in Nevada to take place without social distancing restrictions since the pandemic.

“I’m happy that fans are back in attendance. Honestly, though, I’m just here to fight,” Pedraza insisted to “It was a little weird fighting without fans last year but my job is to fight and to win. That doesn’t change.”

Pedraza fought twice in the MGM Grand bubble last summer, posting points wins over Mikkel LesPierre and Javier Molina to emerge as a contender in the jam-packed 140-pound division. The former junior lightweight and lightweight titlist claimed both wins behind closed doors, with Saturday’s fight marking his first with a crowd since September 2019, oddly in a points loss to former title challenger and current top contender Jose Zepeda (34-2, 26KOs).

Saturday’s fight date was once budgeted to take place in New York, with Top Rank hoping to revive its tradition of staging a boxing event at a Madison Square Garden property on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Pedraza has only participated in one such event, fighting on the undercard of Miguel Cotto’s historic middleweight title winning effort over Sergio Martinez in June 2014.

The inability of the New York government to assure fans could be in attendance for the event at the time of scheduling put a damper on such plans. That said, no self-respecting Boricua needs a parade to proudly represent the culture, a mindset that Pedraza carries with him into the ring every time.  

“No matter where I fight, I always fight for my family and for all of my people in Puerto Rico,” insists Pedraza, who represented the island in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “This fight doesn’t need to be in New York and near the parade to make me feel proud of my heritage and remind me of what I’m always fighting for.

“I’m always proud to represent my island no matter where the fight takes place.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox