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Felix Verdejo suffers shock defeat: Measuring Intangibles

Image: Felix Verdejo suffers shock defeat: Measuring Intangibles

By Jacob Rodriguez: On December 12th, 2020, Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo (27-2,17 KOs), suffered his second professional career loss at the hands of Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani (18-1, 13KOs). Much like a Hollywood script, this fight provided fans with action, thrills, and drama. When it seemed like Verdejo was fighting on cruise control and on his way to a dominating win, the battered Nakatani willed himself to victory.

During the opening round, Verdejo landed a “precision-guided” long-range straight-right that sent Nakatani to the canvas for the first time in his pro career. After the referee’s standing eight count, Verdejo mercilessly attacked Nakatani, attempting to knock out the battle-proven warrior. Nakatani weathered the storm, and when it became evident to Verdejo that Nakatani wasn’t going to be knocked-out, Verdejo backed off the onslaught and resumed boxing. Verdejo’s right hand found its mark time and time again during the next five rounds as he battered and bruised Nakatani, dropping him for a second time during the fourth round.

Verdejo was putting on a beautiful display of boxing skills and was dominating Nakatani. However, in the 5th round, the tide started to shift, and it wasn’t in Verdejo’s favor. Verdejo abandoned his boxing plan and started to inexplicably launch lead left hooks. Nakatani ducked and avoided these hooks and countered with straight right hands. In the 5th round, Nakatani landed a right hand that hurt Verdejo. Verdejo shook it off and didn’t let Nakatani or the fans know that he was hurt. The dramatic change of events happened during the 7th round. With 1:45 left in the round, Nakatani landed a powerful straight-right hand that rocked Verdejo. Verdejo held on to Nakatani to avoid hitting the canvas. Over the next few rounds, Verdejo was on wobbly legs and couldn’t regain his balance or stability. The end came in the 9th round when Nakatani put Verdejo away with a jab that sent him flying backwards. Verdejo beat the count only to be finished by a right hand prompting the referee to put an end to the action. Nakatani earns the victory and further cements his reputation as a tough, battled hardened warrior that will not quit in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Felix Verdejo who left his fans in awe and disbelief. Although no one thought Nakatani was going to be an easy fight for Verdejo, most boxing experts thought that Verdejo’s skills will earn him the victory in this fight and a chance at a world title fight.

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Since his first loss to Antonio Lozada Torres on March 17th, 2018, Felix Verdejo has been on what many call a “comeback journey”. If you find yourself asking the question, “What is he coming back from”? Believe me, you are not alone. I have asked myself the same question. What did Verdejo need to come back from? He wasn’t a titleholder who lost the title and was coming back to regain it. Up to that point, he hadn’t faced a former world titleholder and only faced his second world title challenger in Lozada-Torres. I guess one could argue that he is “coming back” from suffering his first defeat.

What’s the big deal? Certainly, Verdejo is not the first, nor is he the last fighter to suffer a defeat on their way to contend for a world title. So why the hype surrounding this “comeback story”? A comeback which led him to change trainers and fall under the tutelage of the revered Ismael Salas. Verdejo moved from Puerto Rico and held his training camps in Las Vegas in order to be closer to his trainer and dedicate his full attention to boxing. Verdejo claimed to find a renewed focus after suffering a motorcycle accident in 2016 where he sustained head trauma and facial lacerations. He said in interviews that lapses in judgment and immaturity contributed to the accident and his inability to live up to his full potential. Taking everything he said at face value, if this was truly his “comeback journey”, and he mitigated all the things he believed contributed to his underachieving career so far. Why did he fall short after dominating the first half of the fight?

Since Saturday, I find myself trying to make sense of this. In an article released by Puerto Rican news outlet Primera Hora, boxing experts, including two-time world champion Ivan Calderon, offer their opinions and try to make sense of Verdejo’s loss. One expert claimed that Verdejo abandoned his fight plan and that’s why he lost the fight. Another questioned the legitimacy of Verdejo’s stamina and training regimen. For his part, Calderon is under the opinion that Verdejo gassed himself in the earlier rounds trying to knock out Nakatani.

Image: Felix Verdejo suffers shock defeat: Measuring Intangibles

This is a question that warrants many opinions and leads us into the unknown mind of a fighter. I try not to venture into the mind of others, and I try to avoid intangible measurements such as heart, determination, will, and courage; especially with that of a world-class boxer. Although there are no “Compubox” scores or statistics to measure intangibles such as grit, toughness, and tenacity. The brutality of boxing itself allows for the intangibles to be picked apart by the court of public opinion. Every boxing expert in the article was so concerned with what Verdejo failed to do, that they inadvertently (or otherwise), failed to acknowledge that Nakatani dug deep in the “tool-bag of intangibles” in order to knock out Verdejo. Verdejo on the other hand conceded his lead in the face of adversity.

Since in his “comeback journey”, I’ve attentively watched Verdejo’s training footage, his interviews, and his fights. In terms of boxing Felix Verdejo has it all. He has speed, and moves in and out of his opponent’s guard with ease. He can box and put together lightning-quick precision punches that can knock opponents out. At one time, the great Tito Trinidad blessed Felix Verdejo as the next Puerto Rican boxer that can fill his shoes. However, Verdejo’s body language says otherwise; especially when facing adversity. The few times he has had to punch adversity in the mouth, he failed to answer the call. Not like Miguel Cotto did against Roberto Torres. Not in the same fashion that Wilfredo Gomez did against Lupe Pintor, or Hector Camacho did against Edwin Rosario. In these epic battles, each champion mustered up the will to win when it was evident that their boxing skills weren’t enough to attain victory. Felix Verdejo for some unknown reason can’t, or won’t bite down and fight his way to victory during a grueling fight. This gives validity to Mike Tyson’s adage “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”; a sad truth in both of Verdejo’s losses.

I don’t know what the future holds for Verdejo. At 27 years old, he is still young enough to recover from these two losses and make a run at a world title. But the clock is ticking and as they say in boxing, “Father Time is undefeated”. He certainly doesn’t need any more “comeback journeys” that involve a new trainer or training regimen. He doesn’t need a renewed focus if he already had one. What Verdejo needs can’t be taught or given to him. General Douglas McArthur once said, “It is fatal to enter war without the will to win it”. What Verdejo needs is what every warrior since ancient times has had to face in one battle or another; the will to win at all cost.

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