PUERTO RICAN sensation Felix Verdejo is already being looked at by some as the country’s next superstar. The 2012 Olympian and all-round amateur standout is currently 18-0 (13) as a pro, and the 22-year-old has very big things expected of him by Top Rank, with whom he signed in October 2012. On June 13 Verdejo boxed at Madison Square Garden, live on HBO for the very first time. Despite injuring his left hand early on in his fight with unbeaten Mexican Ivan Najera, “El Diamante” [“The Diamond”] scored two knockdowns on the way to an impressive 10-round decision victory.
Now looking at fighting again before the end of the year – his hand permitting – Verdejo says, via his translator and trainer, Ricky Marquez, that he is staying humble in the face of being one of boxing’s hottest young prospects.
How did it feel boxing on HBO for the first time?
Fighting on HBO, at Madison Square Garden, was a really remarkable experience for me. I was very happy with the opportunity and I would love to be back [on HBO] before the end of the year. He [Najera] was very tough, he just kept coming and coming. I know I will face tougher and tougher opposition from here on in. I look forward to it. I would say I was pretty happy with my performance in the fight, especially considering my hand injury. I would probably give myself either a C-plus or maybe a B-minus. I know there are still a couple of areas where I have to improve. Being patient [in a fight] is very important.
Already, many good judges are calling you the next Puerto Rican star. How does this make you feel and does this add pressure?
First of all, it is an honour for me to be considered by some people as our next boxing star. I just want to give happiness to my people and that is motivation in itself, to work harder each day because I don’t want to disappoint anyone. [As far as pressure goes], I don’t really think so. I know I have a job to do, with many people relying on me. I have faith in God, who is guiding me. I will just keep working hard in the gym and I will let my hands do their job in every fight.
Who are your boxing heroes?
My two boxing heroes, without question are Felix Trinidad and Juan Manuel Marquez. “Tito” Trinidad was just great and it’s an honour to be compared to him. He had so many great fights; big fights.
How soon do you feel you will be challenging for a major world title?
Myself, I hope I will have my opportunity next year, maybe a year from now. But this is something I let my trainer and manager, Ricky Marquez, handle. Whenever he thinks I am ready, we will go for it. We are a good team; I do my part and Ricky does his.
You have boxed at super-featherweight and lightweight. Do you plan on moving up to lightweight for good anytime soon?
Not in the immediate future, but maybe in a year from now my body will not be able to make 130lbs, so maybe then [I will move up to lightweight full-time].
Who would you like to fight in the coming months, any big names in particular?
I don’t call out any names. Whoever it is that is at the top when I get there, that is who I will fight. Whoever the champion is when I’m ready, that’s who I want.
Do you feel you have reached your peak yet?
Time will tell. I just enjoy what I’m doing and I know I will keep working hard so as to develop as a fighter as much as I can. Only time will tell when [I am at my peak].
Who has given you your toughest fight so far in your career, amateur or pro?
I would definitely say Vasyl Lomachenko, who I boxed in the [quarter-finals of the] 2012 Olympics [Lomachenko winning via a 14-9 score]. He is a very good technical boxer. My promoter, Bob Arum, said he [Lomachenko] told him I gave him one of his toughest ever fights.