It’s been a little over a month since Felix Verdejo (27-2, 17 KOs) suffered what looks like a career-debilitating loss to Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13 KOs). We hadn't heard much from Verdejo after the loss.
In an intimate interview with the YouTube sports channel “One on One,” hosted by Hector “de playmaker” Torres, Verdejo broke his silence.
Torres started out by taking us on a chronological journey from Verdejo's humble beginning to his most recent fight against Nakatani on Dec. 12, 2020, in Las Vegas.
Torres didn’t hold back any punches and drew blood immediately. His opening question was, “I’m going to ask you this question, and if this question is not what I expect to hear from you, then we will turn the cameras off and terminate the interview.”
Now that he had Verdejo’s undivided attention, Torres looked straight into Verdejo’s eyes and asked him, “Are you one hundred percent convinced that you have what it takes to become a world champion?”
The 27-year-old Verdejo without missing beat answered, “Yes, I am one hundred percent confident in my potential and capabilities of what I can do inside the ring.”
The interview continued, and Torres asked Verdejo about his beginnings in the sport of boxing. Verdejo took us from his first street fight to his Olympic match against Vasyl Lomanchenko in the 2012 Olympic games.
After a lengthy discussion of Verdejo's amateur career, Torres swung and landed another blow.
“After the Olympics, you signed a luxurious contract with Top Rank that reached almost 400,000 dollars. There were some perks that you were privy to, unlike any other boxer that ever came out of Puerto Rico. Let's be honest, not even Miguel Cotto or Felix Trinidad had those kinds of opportunities presented to them. You had the support of Top Rank, you were groomed for the public, you had access to social media, the spotlight was on you from the very beginning. Do you think that was too much pressure for you at such a young age,” asked Torres.
Verdejo unconvincingly answered, “No, I didn't have any undue pressures, but I didn't manage my newfound fame very well. I was living the dream. I had never experienced anything like this. I was young and I didn't know how to manage the sudden pressures of fame and money. It created stumbling blocks for me that I didn't know how to properly handle. If I knew then what I know now, I've would've handled myself better.”
More on the pressures that Verdejo was talking about: Torres also pointed out that bearing the name Felix has certainly added pressure, because fans tend to compare him to Felix Trinidad. Torres asked, “Do you think it was fair that we put that kind of pressure on you, that we demanded that you produce the same results as Tito Trinidad?”
Verdejo calmly responded, “I think people made their initial comparisons based on our personalities. People knew I didn't pack the mule kicking power that Tito possessed in his left hook. I'm willing to bet that many of the fighters that face Tito Trinidad were damaged physically or mentally after they fought him.” Torres responded, “That’s why I asked you if we as fans were fair. We're making comparisons because of the name and your personality. But at any moment, you didn't say to yourself, ‘Yes while I do admire Tito, I want people to recognize me as an individual fighter?’’’
“No, it wasn’t fair,” Verdejo stated, “Tito is Tito and I’m Felix Verdejo and I'm going to make my legacy. Tito made his legacy and I'm going to make mine. It may be more than his, it may be less, but it'll be mine.”
Torres shifted gears and addressed the apparent lack of discipline and Verdejo’s indiscretions during his rise through the pro ranks. Verdejo professionally answered the question and discussed in great detail the events that led up to the motorcycle accident that halted his career for more than a year and resulted in him losing an opportunity to fight for a world championship against Terry Flanagan. Torres asked Verdejo if the motorcycle accident robbed him of his best years in the ring. Verdejo without any hesitation said, “No, my best years are yet to come. Now is when I feel solid and ready to compete at 130-135 pounds.”
Torres then had Verdejo explain the circumstances surrounding the decision to fire his trainer Ricky Marquez in 2019. Verdejo explained that as he matured in the sport and was exposed to the business aspects of boxing, he became aware that his trainer was taking more than the standard percentage of most trainers, in his mind. The relationship with Ricky stretched beyond the gym, he said, and their relationship was that of a father and son. Therefore, there wasn’t any reason for Verdejo to suspect that he was being deceived. When Verdejo became aware of what was happening he felt that a bond of trust was broken between fighter and trainer. As a result, he felt he couldn’t continue his relationship with Marquez.
Trainer Ismael Salas has been training Verdejo since 2019. Salas’ unorthodox training techniques were foreign to Verdejo. Verdejo maintained that he is a better fighter under Salas. “I’ve never hit a heavy bag for an hour and twenty minutes straight and I've never run so many miles before. He's very detailed and notices the smallest of errors and corrects them immediately,” said Verdejo.
Torres finally addressed Verdejo's losses. “I was present the night of your first loss,” the host said. “You came out of the ring, made eye contact with me and you said, ‘I tried’. It’s something I would never forget, and it broke my heart. Tell me about that first loss.”
“I’m the type of person that doesn't get affected by much and took the loss well,” Verdejo said. “One month before the fight I dehydrated myself for the entire month. It had been more than a year since I fought and so I needed to take extreme measures to make the weight. I didn't think that this was going to affect me as much as it did during the fight.”
Without skipping a beat, Torres asked Verdejo to walk him through the Nakatani fight from the moment Verdejo knocked Nakatani down. It’s a fight that Torres feels was Verdejo’s best performance despite the loss.
Felix Verdejo said, “I was surprised that I hurt him. The reason why I was surprised is that my trainer trained Nakatani before. Salas told me to focus on going to the body because he has an innate ability to withstand punishment and he's not going to fall. So, when he fell in the first minutes of the opening round, I said to myself I'm going to finish him now. My mistake was that I got overzealous in trying to finish him rather than fighting intelligently.”
Torres asked him if he had seen something in Nakatani that he could expose or was it a lucky punch. “I noticed that Teofimo was successful landing jabs and straight rights against Nakatani,” the fighter said. “However, he was sitting on his punches. I knew that if I could land firmly that I had enough power to knock Nakatani down. During the second knockdown, I was sure I had him. I hit him with the same punch that we worked on during training camp. It surprised me that he was able to recover from that punch and launch a comeback. A boxer rarely recovers one hundred percent from two hard shots, so I was surprised.”
Torres went on. ”You had the fight won. You were well ahead on the cards. From my living room, I can see in your face that this was the moment you were waiting for. After this win, there was the opportunity for a world title shot. This win was going to increase your future purses and the opportunity to create a better life for your daughter. What happened?”
Felix Verdejo responded, “There aren’t any excuses, but I did get a cramp in my left thigh during the 7th round. From then on, I couldn’t move, people may have thought that I was tired or that I had lost my legs. But I can honestly say from the heart, that I was fine. I felt good, I still had great stamina. I just simply couldn’t move as effectively as I should’ve because of the cramp and it allowed him to be able to land at will. I told Salas that I had a cramp, they did all they could, but it was something we didn’t expect to happen.” (Click HERE, to watch the whole Verdejo-Nakatani fight.)
Torres then said, “You’re boxing the best you’ve ever boxed, but in both your losses there seems to be a disconnect between your legs and your brain. Do you think your legs are going to be the deciding factor on whether you win a title or not?”
“No, I don't think my legs are a problem,” Felix Verdejo said. “I was throwing hard shots round after round. As a result, I missed a lot of shots and I exerted a lot of energy, which affected my stamina a little bit. My corner was telling me, ‘you’re winning there is no need to throw so many hard shots,’ and they implored me to box more.”
“So it’s safe to assume,” the questioner said, “that Felix Verdejo cost himself the fight.”
“Yes, that is correct,” responded Verdejo.
To wrap up the interview, Torres turned to Felix Verdejo, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, “I’m going to ask you this one more time. But I want you to look me in the eye and answer this question. And I want you to answer this question for your fans and your daughter. Are you positive that you will become a world champion?”
Verdejo emphatically said, “I’m one hundred percent positive that I will become a world champion. I can assure you that I have the desire and the potential to do it. Without taking any credit away from anyone, but fighters inferior to me have become world champions. So why can’t I?”
My Take: Torres conducted an honest interview and asked Felix Verdejo questions that made him reflect on his athletic and personal life. While Torres was bold and asked Verdejo some tough questions, he failed to explicitly ask Verdejo what me and the boxing public want to know: does Verdejo have the heart to become a world champion?
Verdejo claims that in both his losses he suffered some physical limitation that he couldn’t overcome. Many fighters suffer injuries and experience situations that they didn’t expect during a fight. And many of them ignore or fight through these tough situations simply because they will not be denied a world title. I think that Felix Verdejo believes that his talent alone is the only thing he needs to capture a world title. As he said in the interview, “Fighters inferior to me have become world champions. So why can’t I?”
There is no doubt that Felix Verdejo has the talent to become a world champion in the lightweight division. However, boxing is a sport that the window to achieve greatness is small and only open for a limited time. Verdejo is 27 years old and each year that passes that window gets smaller and smaller. Additionally, the skills that he relies on also dwindle with age. If Felix Verdejo wants to capture a world championship, he’s going to have to search the depths of his heart and make a decision that he will win at all cost when his opponents won’t lay down or his talent can’t carry him any longer.