Over four years ago, Miguel Cotto stepped inside the squared circle for the final time, losing a unanimous decision to Sadam Ali at Madison Square Garden.
For over a decade, Cotto was the premier boxer from Puerto Rico. Not just at the box office but also in the ring as he put together a hall-of-fame career, becoming the first Puerto Rican to win titles in four weight classes. Cotto's stoic and reticent personality took some time for fans to warm up to, particularly when following arguably the most popular fighter in the island's history in Felix Trinidad. In many respects, Cotto was Larry Holmes to Trinidad's Muhammad Ali.
Since leaving the sport, Cotto's absence has left a sizable gap in the boxing landscape of Puerto Rico. The lone exception is seven-division women's boxing champion, Amanda Serrano. She is rated as one of the best in the world pound-for-pound and has essentially been a world champion since 2011, losing only one fight over the last ten-plus years.
This isn't to say that there haven't been any male world champions from Puerto Rico in the last five years. Fighters such as Alberto Machado, Emmanuel Rodriguez, and Angel Acosta have all held titles since Cotto's retirement with varying success. Most recently, Wilfredo Mendez lost his WBO strawweight title to Masataka Taniguchi in December 2021, leaving Puerto Rico with just one male world champion in WBO junior flyweight titleholder Jonathan Gonzalez.
Having just two world champions across women's and men's boxing is alarming for an island with such a rich history in boxing with over 60 world champions and 11 fighters in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. However, Puerto Rico has had one fighter that has gone somewhat underappreciated.
While for several years, the spotlight stayed on the now infamous Felix Verdejo, Cidra, Puerto Rico's Jose “Sniper” Pedraza (29-3, 14 KOs) has been the island's most consistent pugilist since Cotto's retirement. Pedraza was a successful amateur fighter for the island, winning a gold medal at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games, a gold medal at the 2008 2nd America's Olympic Qualifier in Guatemala, a silver medal at the AIBA World Championships in Italy, and a bronze medal at the 2007 Pan American Games from Brazil.
Pedraza has won titles at junior lightweight and lightweight as a professional, garnering victories over fighters such as Tevin Farmer, Ray Beltran, and Andrey Klimov. The Puerto Rican stylist has lost three times in his career but to elite competition. After coming off the longest layoff of his career and promotional issues with then promoter Premier Boxing Champions, Pedraza lost his IBF 130-pound title to Gervonta Davis in January 2017 in what many would still call Davis' best performance.
After taking a break for the rest of 2017, Pedraza made a career change signing with promoter Top Rank. Uncharacteristically for this era, he came back to fight four times in 2018. That year, Pedraza won the WBO lightweight title against Raymundo Beltran, scoring a knockdown in the 11th round and putting the victory's exclamation point.
He ended 2018 against Vasiliy Lomachenko in a competitive lightweight unification match, but ultimately Pedraza lost a unanimous decision to the Ukrainian technician. After the bout with Lomachenko, Pedraza bounced back with a ninth-round stoppage over Mexico's Antonio Lozada before moving up to the junior welterweight division.
In his first fight at 140-pounds, Pedraza fought against Jose Zepeda, losing a close 10-round decision. Rematches with Davis and Lomachenko are highly unlikely for the Puerto Rican, but a rematch is plausible with Zepeda. “I would love a rematch against Zepeda because when I moved up to 140, I had my first loss in this division to him,” said Pedraza. “It is something that could be made. I would like them to put us in title fights separately; we become champions, and then we fight to unify.”
During the pandemic era, Pedraza has stayed active, fighting twice in 2020, scoring two dominant victories over Mikkel LesPierre and Javier Molina. In 2021, Pedraza continued his streak of domineering performances stopping then-undefeated New Jersey native Julian Rodriguez after eight rounds. Following these three wins, Pedraza will be facing one of the toughest tests of his career, heading to Save Mart Arena in Fresno, California, to take on former unified junior welterweight champion Jose Ramirez.
The match was recently postponed from February 5th to March 4th due to Pedraza testing positive for COVID-19.
Ramirez, from Avenal, California, just one hour away from Fresno, is attempting to rebound after losing an undisputed championship battle against Josh Taylor. The common opponent between Pedraza and Ramirez is Zepeda, whom the former unified champion won a majority decision against in 2019 in a fight that could have gone either way. While a victory over Ramirez won't win Pedraza a world title, it will put him in line for another title opportunity. Many critics will hold him in higher esteem, as it would be the most significant victory of his career.
In the history of Puerto Rican boxing, only seven fighters have won titles in three weight classes. The list of fighters includes Wilfred Benitez, Wilfredo Gomez, Hector Camacho, Wilfredo Vazquez, Felix Trinidad, Miguel Cotto and Amanda Serrano. This group of fighters includes some of the greatest to have ever come out of the island.
Pedraza has never been the most loquacious fighter or one that scores highlight-reel knockouts, but his combination of craftsmanship, technique, and overall durability has gone under-appreciated. A victory over Ramirez will put him under a new spotlight and force those who have doubted him to acknowledge that he is one of the better fighters to come out of the island in the last decade.
“I want all the big names at 140 pounds,” Pedraza stated to Boxingscene. “With this performance, I sent a message to those big names. ‘The Sniper' is on the hunt. I want to make history for Puerto Rico.”