Nicholas Walters and Felix Verdejo fought mystery opponents Saturday night on HBO, in that both were undefeated yet unproven. Both put up resistance, winning a round or two each, ultimately succumbing on the scorecards to more experienced and classier opposition.
Verdejo was up first, and boy howdy did he get a dandy of a hummer from the HBO broadcast crew en route to his decision win over Ivan Najera. The lightweight is legitimately one of the best prospects in the sport, but he is a prospect and nothing more. Max Kellerman, Jim Lampley and Roy Jones compared him to all the Puerto Rican greats, as if they were determined that no segment of his penis must go uncovered with spittle for a split second. It was a nice performance, to be sure. Verdejo has skills galore, and composure. Before he even threw a punch, HBO was talking him up as a future middleweight great; instead, he couldn’t knock out Najera, who was, admittedly, gritty and competitive, but not someone who had beaten anyone. Verdejo dropped him with a left uppercut in the 5th and a counter left in the 7th, yet was apparently slowed by an injury to said left. Najera had his moments, especially in the 4th, but not enough power to make Verdejo respect him. That Najera was able to hit Verdejo so cleanly so often pointed to the possibility that Verdejo wasn’t God himself, and instead a fighter with a lot of potential star power, where “potential” is the key word.
Walters, who failed to make the featherweight limit by one pound, fought a more powerful opponent than Verdejo’s in Miguel Marriaga, whose KO record, usually blown up for untested Colombians, was of the less illusory variety. Marriaga also brought some speed to the ring. Walters, though, dug to the body with zest and neutralized some of that zip. He lost a couple rounds, did Walters, but mixed in enough big rights over the top to accompany his body attack and take the majority of the rounds. When Marriaga needed a knockout, he couldn’t muster it. The worst part about this fight — which had fans inexplicably booing, despite it being a power punching extravaganza — was that Walters couldn’t make weight. Walters-Vasyl Lomachenko is one of the best fights in the whole sport, and if Walters can’t make 126 lbs. anymore, maybe the match-up is less likely to happen.
On a weekend where mismatches (on paper) were the only thing on the menu, at least Walters and Verdejo got some competition, however little it translated to the scorecards. It would be ideal if we got fights that both looked competitive on paper and ended up that way. Soon.
(photo of Walters, right, vs. Marriaga, right, via @hboboxing)