By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Felix Verdejo smiled wide when the question was translated for him Wednesday.
Yes, the undefeated Verdejo is well aware of what’s being said and written about him.
That he’s never going to live up to the potential the talented contender displayed during the strong start to his professional career. That he can’t remain focused or stay healthy long enough to become the next in a long line of iconic Puerto Rican boxers who’ve won world titles and achieved stardom.
The 24-year-old Verdejo (23-0, 15 KOs) is determined to begin changing that negative narrative Saturday night. That’s when the lightweight contender will fight for the first time in 13 months in a 10-rounder against Mexico’s Antonio Lozada Jr. (38-2, 32 KOs).
Verdejo’s fight won’t be part of ESPN’s telecast, which will feature junior welterweights Amir Imam and Jose Ramirez in the 12-round main event (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT). Appearing in a non-televised bout should provide plenty of motivation for a fighter once considered a can’t-miss star.
“I’m wanna retake what’s mine,” Verdejo said through a translator. “I have to work very hard to show everyone that I’m back. Some people have doubted me. Some people have stayed with me throughout. That motivates me a lot because it gives me an opportunity to shut some mouths up and show what I can do. All because of my preparation, I’m gonna look good on Saturday.”
Injuries and training issues have hurt the 2012 Olympian’s development in recent years.
Verdejo was supposed to battle Lozada on September 22 in Tucson, Arizona, until Verdejo sustained a wrist injury in training camp. He hasn’t fought since he beat Nicaragua’s Oliver Flores (27-3-2, 17 KOs) by unanimous decision in a 10-rounder in February 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Verdejo’s defeat of Flores marked his return from injuries sustained during a motorcycle accident in August 2016. That obstacle cost Verdejo, then the WBO’s No. 1 contender at 135 pounds, a mandatory shot at England’s Terry Flanagan (33-0, 13 KOs), who then owned the WBO lightweight title.
Promoter Bob Arum has mentioned matching Verdejo against newly crowned WBO lightweight champion Ray Beltran on the Vasyl Lomachenko-Jorge Linares undercard May 12 at Madison Square Garden. For now, Verdejo is concerned only with winning impressively Saturday night.
“First things, first,” Verdejo said. “I’m looking forward to Saturday. But after Saturday, I’m looking to work my way to a world title opportunity. I’m ready to fight the best fighters in the world and to prove that I’m an elite fighter, too.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.