Teofimo Lopez had his fair share of critics following a hard-fought win over Masayoshi Nakatani last summer, though Felix Verdejo was among the crowd who found value in the lesson-learning win.
Of course, that won’t prevent the Puerto Rican lightweight contender from doing everything in his power to one-up Lopez, who has since established himself as the class of the division.
“I would love to send that (kind of) message on December 12,” Verdejo told BoxingScene.com ahead of his own challenge of Nakatani. “But I will be the fighter that I always am. My boxing skills and being smart in the ring will get the job done.”
The two collide this Saturday in a 10-round lightweight battle, live on ESPN from The Bubble at MGM Grand in Las Vegas (10:00 p.m. ET main card). Headlining the 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.
Nakatani (18-1, 12KOs) has not fought since his 12-round unanimous decision defeat to Lopez in their lightweight title eliminator last July at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. The near 6’0” lightweight from Osaka, Japan was credited with presenting all sorts of stylistic issues for Lopez, who survived the stiff challenge to go on and slaughter Richard Commey for a piece of the lightweight crown.
“It was a great experience for Teofimo,” notes Verdejo. “He did what he had to do to get the win. It was a tough fight but he did what he had to do to get the win. Now, it’s my turn to do everything I have to do to get the win (on Saturday).
“We did the hard work in the gym, studied his style and worked out all of our strategies. We are ready to put on a show on December 12 and leave with a big win.”
Lopez has since earned the division’s lineal championship and pound-for-pound accolades following a 12-round unanimous decision win over Vasiliy Lomachenko in this very venue this past October. Verdejo had been vocal about wanting to challenge Verdejo, against whom he was eliminated from competition in the 2012 London Olympics.
Instead, his sights are now set on Lopez and with the perfect showcase to truly catch his attention.
Verdejo enters on the heels of a 1st round knockout of unbeaten Will Madera this past July in the same building where he will face Nakatani this weekend. The result had less to do with the opponent, he insists, than his continued development under new head trainer Ismael Salas. It’s something he plans to prove this weekend, not necessarily seeking a knockout but certainly jumping at the chance should it arise.
“Of course. If I have the opportunity to knock him out, no question I will take advantage,” vows Verdejo. “Knocking out a tough fighter like Nakatani would send a clear message to Teofimo that he has to be ready to face me in the future.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox