There was a time when Felix Verdejo wouldn’t speculate about nor discuss any fight other than the one in front of him.

The new and improved version is confident enough to think bigger picture, one big enough to crown him as Puerto Rico’s next superstar.

Next up for San Juan’s Verdejo (27-1, 17KOs) is a 10-round showdown versus Osaka, Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani (18-1, 12KOs), which takes place this weekend at The Bubble at MGM Grand in Las Vegas (Saturday, ESPN, 10:00 p.m. ET). A win for the 27-year old lightweight contender has him envisioning a shot at the division’s highest honor, a crack at World lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12KOs).

Depending on where things stand with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic by that point, Verdejo would love nothing more than to challenge Brooklyn’s Lopez at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“I’m very interested in fighting Teofimo Lopez on the (eve of the) Puerto Rican Day Parade,” Verdejo told of fighting for the lightweight crown on the most celebrated weekend in Boricua culture. “It’s the ultimate goal for every Puerto Rican fighter, to fight on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade.

“I’m looking forward to it and to once again fighting back home in Puerto Rico. I do believe it will eventually come once this virus is under control.”

A long road ahead exists for Verdejo, including overcoming a tall order—literally—this weekend. The near 6’0” Nakatani is best known for giving Lopez all sorts of fits in their 12-round title eliminator last July in Oxon Hill, Maryland. It will mark a step up in class for Verdejo amidst his current four-fight win streak since suffering a 10th round stoppage to Mexico’s Antonio Lozada in March 2018.

Prior to suffering the lone loss of his career, Verdejo emerged as a rising lightweight and the next Boricua boxing star.

Verdejo represented Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics and has enjoyed three appearances on MSG property on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade. His first introduction came on the June 2014 undercard of P.R.’s last great superstar, when Miguel Cotto dethroned World middleweight champion Sergio Martinez to become the island’s first-ever male boxer to win titles in four divisions.

From there came dominant shows in June 2015 and June 2016 at MSG Theater, though the same venue housing his aforementioned defeat to Lozada nearly three years ago. Verdejo returned to the main room at MSG 13 months later, dominating former secondary titlist Bryan Vasquez last April.

Saturday will mark Verdejo’s fifth fight since his worst night at the office, and his third fight of 2020. He is coming off of a 1st round knockout win over unbeaten Will Madera this past July, in the very bubble site where he will perform this weekend. This next event comes with a greater purpose, one with means to an end.

“God-willing, I will be fighting for the lightweight championship in 2021,” insists Verdejo. “I’m ready to face any lightweight champion next and will definitely be looking for that in the next year.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox