The Hauser Report:  Felix Verdejo Shines and Other Fights

The recent deluge of fights on television has taken on the feel of an all-you-can-eat buffet. That means boxing fans are going to start making choices and become more selective in their viewing.

June 12 and 13 saw three telecasts of note. One on HBO, one on Showtime, and one on Spike. Let’s take a look at what viewers saw.

HBO featured four undefeated fighters in two match-ups from The Theater at Madison Square Garden: Felix Verdejo (17-0, 13 KOs) vs Ivan Najera (16-0, 8 KOs) and Nicholas Walters (25-0, 21 KOs) vs. Miguel Marriaga (20-0, 18 KOs).

Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler once noted, “There’s a difference between a learning-curve record and a padded record.”

Verdejo has the former. He’s a 22-year-old lightweight from San Juan, who Top Rank hopes will be its next Puerto Rican ring icon.

Felix has a sparkling personality, a flashy fighting style, and he’s good. He’s also f-a-s-t.

Najera was tough and game. He tried to turn the fight into a brawl. But Verdejo’s punches were too sharp and his defense too good.

Ivan got dropped by a left uppercut in round five and a left hook in round seven (lightning strikes that seemed to come out of nowhere). Each time, he got up fighting but his cause was hopeless.

Verdejo took the tenth round off and still won it on two of the judges’ scorecards en route to a 100-88, 100-88, 99-89 triumph. After the fight, he told his fans, “Continue to support me, and you will have Felix for a long time.”

That sounds like a good deal. Let’s see if his promise is fulfilled.

Nicholas Walters turned heads last October with a sixth-round knockout of Nonito Donaire, and was considered by some to be the best featherweight in the world. Miguel Marriaga was a largely unknown opponent from Colombia.

Walters-Marriaga disappointed.

For starters, Walters weighed in initially at 127.4 pounds, couldn’t get lower than 127, and was forced to vacate his 126-pound title.

Add to that the fact that a lot of the energy in the arena dissipated after Verdejo-Najera, giving Walters-Marriaga the feel of a walk-out bout.

Worse, Walters-Marriaga was a boring fight. Miguel fought cautiously, and Nicholas was content to outbox him. There were moments of heated engagement but certainly not enough. When it was done, Walters had outlanded Marriaga by a 279-to-165 margin and bested him 119-108, 118-109, 117-110 on the judges’ scorecards.

In the course of an hour, Walters went from must-see viewing to it all depends on what else is on TV tonight.

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WBC heavyweight beltholder Deontay Wilder (now 34-0, with 33 KOs) stepped up in his last fight and answered some questions about his ring skills with a unanimous-decision triumph over Bermane Stiverne. But Wilder’s performance against Eric Molina in Showtime’s main event on Saturday night left a lot to be desired.

Soft touches aren’t unheard of in heavyweight title matches. But few fighters less qualified than Molina have fought for a heavyweight belt. Team Wilder hyped the fact that it was bringing a “championship” fight to Deontay’s home state of Alabama. But Molina had as much chance of winning as Charleston Southern does when it journeys to Tuscaloosa to face the Crimson Tide on the gridiron. Yes, Eric had a 23-2 record. But he’d never beaten a quality opponent and had been knocked out twice in the first round.

Wilder was an 35-to-1 favorite. The conventional wisdom was that Molina (who weighed in at a blubbery 239 pounds) wouldn’t make it past the first round. Wilder knocked him down once in round four, twice in round five, and delivered a finishing right hand in round nine. But he looked sloppy and failed to impress.

In the opening bout, Jose Pedraza (now 20-0, 12 KOs) outclassed Andrey Klimov (19-12, 9 KOs) in a super-featherweight match-up by scores of 120-108, 120-108, 119-109.

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Spike’s June 12 telecast offered viewers one interesting fight and one awful one. Let’s start on the plus side.

Artur Beterbiev is a 30-year-old Russian now living in Canada, who’s making waves at 175 pounds. After a 300-fight amateur career, he turned pro in 2013 and scored eight knockouts in eight fights before facing Alexander Johnson on Friday night.

Johnson was a 50-to-1 underdog. Nothing on his record suggested that he would be competitive with Beterbiev, and he wasn’t. Artur put him on the canvas twice in round five; the first time with a short stiff jab that came from an awkward angle, and the second with a right uppercut. He also turned southpaw from time to time, which added to Alexander’s troubles.

Johnson fought largely to survive, which he did until round seven when a straight right to the temple ended matters.

Beterbiev is entertaining to watch and very good.

Beterbiev-Johnson was followed by Erislandy Lara (20-2-2, 12 KOs) vs Delvin Rodriguez (28-7-4, 16 KOs), which was a dreadful match-up.

Lara is a quality junior-middleweight. Rodriguez had won four of his last eleven fights dating back to 2008, which explained why Erislandy was a 40-to-1 favorite.

Lara-Rodriguez was a drab one-sided beating with no entertainment value. Lara had a 233-to-63 edge in punches landed and won 120-107 times 3 on the judges’ scorecards.

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While other fighters were in the spotlight this past weekend, local fan favorite Seanie Monaghan scored his twenty-fifth victory in twenty-five fights with a ninth-round stoppage of Fulgencio Zuniga in an undercard bout at Madison Square Garden.

Monaghan didn’t turn pro until age twenty-eight. Five years later, he’s ranked in the top-ten at 175 pounds by each of the four major sanctioning bodies. His best assets are a Spartan work ethic, iron resolve, and a good chin. His most significant liability is that he’s slow for a boxer. Speed and quickness can’t be taught.

Zuniga, age 37, turned pro in 2001 and now has a 27-11 (24 KOs) record. In recent years, he has become an opponent, losing to Gilberto Ramirez, Hassan N’Dam, James DeGale, Tavoris Cloud, Lucian Bute, Kelly Pavlik, and others.

Monaghan got hit more than he should have against Zuniga, particularly with left hooks up top. But he scored well to the body, moved inexorably forward, and willingly engaged in trench warfare. The end came at 2:10 of round nine, when Zuniga took a knee after one final body shot, signaling to referee Danny Schiavone that he’d had enough.

“I’m not the most polished boxer in the world,” Monaghan acknowledged afterward. “But I come to fight, I fight hard, I win my fights, and the fans have a good time.”

“Right now, we’re waiting for a title shot,” trainer Joe Higgins added. “The guy we have our eye on is [WBA beltholder] Juergen Braehmer [of Germany]. Sooner or later, Seanie will get his chance. When it comes, he’ll be as ready as he can be.”

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There’s a common-sense solution to the middleweight championship belt tangle that the WBC has created with its lust for sanctioning fees and multiple champions.

Miguel Cotto is the current WBC world middleweight champion by virtue of his having defeated Sergio Martinez last year. Gennady Golovkin is the organization’s “interim” world champion, taking that title from Marco Antonio Rubio on October 18, 2014.

The WBC keeps assuring Golovkin that, at some point, he’ll become Cotto’s mandatory challenger. The problem is that Miguel has no intention of fighting him. First, Cotto defended his title against Daniel Geale. Now a mega-fight against Canelo Alvarez is in the making.

Meanwhile, all sorts of nonsense is being bandied about. Golovkin, will (or will not) receive a step-aside payment to allow Cotto-Alvarez to proceed. The winner of that fight would agree to fight Gennady (or be stripped of his title).

Let’s get real. Alvarez is a junior-middleweight. So is Cotto. Miguel said as much the night he beat Geale, when he told a national television audience, “My weight yesterday was 153.6 pounds. I am not a middleweight.”

The solution is simple. Floyd Mayweather is the current WBC 154-pound champion. But Floyd and his opponent have both weighed under 147 pounds in his last three fights.

The WBC should relieve Mayweather of its 154-pound title. That would free up the bauble for Cotto and Alvarez, and make it palatable for Miguel to relinquish his 160-pound belt. That, in turn, would negate the need for any kind of step-aside payment to Golovkin and generate a large sanctioning fee for the WBC at 154-pounds.

The WBC might even make Mayweather some kind of special 154-pound champion, thus holding out the hope for an additional sanctioning fee the next time Floyd fights.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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