In the past, Miguel Cotto has been a regular in the big room at Madison Square Garden on the weekend of the Puerto Rican Day parade. But this year’s headliner from the “Shining Star of the Caribbean,” lightweight contender Felix Verdejo, was confined to co-main status in the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night’s HBO “Boxing After Dark” card.
The main event featured Ukrainian WBO featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (5-1, 3 KOs) moving up to challenge WBO junior lightweight champion Roman (Rocky) Martinez (29-2-2, 17 KOs) of Puerto Rico for the 130-pound belt.
That secondary status was an indication of how far Verdejo (21-0, 14 KOs) has to go before he approaches the status of Puerto Rican heroes Cotto and Felix (Tito) Trinidad. Coming off two lackluster 10-round decisions over Jose Luis Rodriguez and William Silva, Verdejo understood the importance of an impressive performance against Mexican Juan Jose Martinez (25-2, 17 KOs) on the eve of the parade.
“They have not been my best nights,” Verdejo said before the final news conference. “I plan to get back on track. I have to keep learning from my mistakes and correct them. I feel strong, and I’m just ready.”
Verdejo acknowledged he has been working with a sports psychologist to help him learn how to deal better with criticism, including the suggestion that he might have grown more interested in night life than gym work. He said he did a better job of focusing on boxing while preparing for Montoya and said he plans to use the negative reaction to his recent bouts as motivation.
“We were secluded,” Verdejo said of his training camp. “I was feeling clean and training hard. Physically and mentally, I’m in very good condition. Hopefully, everything will show . . . We’re taking this fight very seriously. There is a lot riding on this fight for the future of my career.”
Mexico’s Martinez said he was prepared to get Verdejo’s best under the circumstances, but he expressed confidence in his ability to make it another rough night for the rising Puerto Rican. “He’s very good, but I don’t think he’s a star yet,” Martinez said. “In time, he will be a big star, but he has a long ways to go.
“The weakness Verdejo has is fighting on the inside. His strategy is to just box. From the beginning, I’m going to go for him and just fight.”
Although he figured to be in a hostile atmosphere against a Puerto Rican, Martinez said he was prepared and confident of winning. In that sense, the pressure really was on Verdejo to impress a home crowd that was placing its faith in him not only last night but for the future.
“I’m very happy and very honored to follow in the footsteps of Tito and Cotto and continue their legacy,” Verdejo said. “I’m proud to be Puerto Rican and to represent my country. There’s pressure, but I’m motivated to put on a good show.”
Notes & quotes: The card also marked the U.S. debut of 35-year-old Chinese flyweight Zou Shiming (7-1, 2 KOs), a two-time Olympic gold medalist.