Felix Verdejo adopted a mindset early which he has maintained through the pandemic, one which eerily came to fruition during training camp ahead of his next fight.
The lightweight contender from San Juan, Puerto Rico is among the few members at Salas Boxing Academy in Las Vegas to have not tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks. More so than simply avoiding the infectious disease itself, it’s a huge sigh of relief for Verdejo to move forward with his clash versus Osaka, Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani (18-1, 12KOs).
“I’m so grateful to be able to fight on December 12,” Verdejo told BoxingScene.com ahead of the fight, which airs live this Saturday on ESPN from The Bubble at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “I feel very fortunate. Since day one, I have always implemented all safety protocols. I wear my mask at all times. I rub my hands with alcohol to remain clean and sterile. I’m not gathering with a lot of people. I’ve remained isolated.”
Such measures permit for Verdejo (27-1, 17KOs) to get in a third fight in a pandemic-stricken 2020 where more boxers are fortunate to have fought just once on the year.
The 27-year old lightweight—who represented Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics—opened the year with a 10-round decision win over Manuel Rojas this past January in Verona, New York. The bout was his first with renowned cornerman Ismael Salas, training out his boxing academy in Las Vegas where Verdejo also prepared for an eventual 1st round knockout of unbeaten Will Madera this past July.
Now fighting for the second straight time in the MGM bubble, Verdejo felt good about once again training in the same city as his next bout. Unfortunately, it came with a facility scare beginning with coach Salas testing positive for COVID, disqualifying him from working the corner of unbeaten heavyweight Joe Joyce.
From there, opened the floodgates, with Julio Ceja, Thomas Dulorme and Julian ‘J-Rock’ Williams all testing positive in the days that followed. Ceja was forced to withdraw from a planned featherweight title eliminator with Eduardo Ramirez on the December 5 Fox Sports Pay-Per-View undercard.
Dulorme is now out of a generous payday that was to come with his scheduled December 19 clash versus unbeaten welterweight Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis (who now face Chris van Heerden), while Williams awaits a rescheduled date in the 1st quarter of 2021 for his junior middleweight fight with Dennis Hogan previously due to take place on December 26.
Of the three boxers who tested positive, only Ceja experienced COVID-related symptoms. However, all three will see the rest of 2020 pass by without another payday, while Verdejo is rewarded with a third fight on the year, one where a win could position him to a coveted lightweight title fight in 2021.
“There are others, not just in the gym but too many people around the world who let their guard down and are overconfident that they won’t get the virus,” notes Verdejo. “Since day one, I’ve avoided people and followed all protocols. I tell myself every day that everyone has coronavirus, so that I always protect myself against the virus.
“I don’t talk to that many people. There are too many particles in the air and I’ve done everything in my power to make sure I haven’t caught COVID. Thank God, it hasn’t yet happened. I will continue to follow all protocols to do my best to prevent it from ever happening.”
Headlining Saturday’s show, 2016 Olympic Silver medalist and unbeaten former featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson (14-0, 8KOs) faces Toka Kahn-Clary (28-2, 19KO) in a junior lightweight contest.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox