I got a tip it would be something special and I figured Felix Verdejo, the newest hope of a boxing mad nation, would break out a little trash talk, go against his persona, get nasty with for Ivan Najera.
But no, the 22-year-old Puerto Rican, who lives at home with mom and three brothers, broke out a few sentences of his English at a Thursday press conference at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, ahead of a Saturday night card promoted by Top Rank.
He was introduced by Bob Arum, who called him the one of, or maybe, THE TOP, Puerto Rican hitter in the sport. The kid, who owns an A grade smile, to go with maybe A plus grade upside, strode to the mic, and said, haltingly, “Good afternoon everybody. Thank for all for supporting me. I want to give, I'm going to give you, wait wait wait, I want to give you great fight…that's all my English for now.”
Enthusiastic clapping was the response, as fans and media appreciate the humility it takes for someone to accept learning a new language. C'mon, the guy can crack like a sledgehammer, he can speak whatever he wants, communicate in sign language only if he wants to…but no…he knows there's wisdom in learning English, to better communicate with the masses here.
In Spanish, the fighter, who enters with a 17-0 mark (13 KOs), he said he's looking forward to putting on a great fight, and wants to give the people their moneys' worth. He showed his smiling side when he said that him and Texan Ivan Najera will be pals after, that there is nothing personal to the Puerto Rico vs. Mexico rivalry.
Smiling-ness was the mood at this, the final presser for the Theater show.
Nicholas Walters, the Jamaican hitter introed by Arum as the pound for pound hardest hitter in boxing, delighted the crowd with a lengthy address in Spanish. (No surprise, he has lived in Panama for the last eight years.) His foe, Miguel Marriaga, almost seemed to appreciate the gesture. They smiled, showed no hints of animus, forced or otherwise, in their interaction before the clash for Walters' WBA feather crown. Marriaga, who most definitely can wing it, and is a live dog, wasn't put off by Walters' talk of chopping him down with a figurative axe. And when Verdejo and Najera posed for pics, Najera stuck his tongue out, clowned, didn't try to glare and stare and break down his foe with his eyes or intensity.
Other fun bits: when Seanie Monaghans' baby girl Molly was handed to Arum, she wailed to the heavens…then son Sammy shied away from meeting the Bobfather. Luckily dad has no issues with shyness in meeting his opponents and greeting them in fistic fashion.
Heavyweight George Arias stole some hearts when called to the mic. He was a bit put off, nervous, wasn't sure what to do. Any questions, he asked. He then introduced himself, told the folks he's a future champ, and flashed a winning grin. Kid looks like Big Papi and young Ali, and is the Bronx' hope for heavyweight glory in a couple years. Arum introed him by saying he always gets asked when Top Rank will sign a heavyweight prospect. Here ya go, he said…
It was a smallish turnout, explained to me by another heavyweight boxer who was in the room checking it out. “These are little guys, man,” the XL hitter told me. “That's why.”
True, but I'm pretty sure we're going to see some quality structured violence Saturday, no matter the mood at the presser. In the ring, the language of punching will prevail.