Felix Verdejo will be returning to the ring next month…
The 27-year-old Puerto Rican professional boxer and lightweight contender will fight Masayoshi Nakatani on December 12, Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti has told The Athletic.
The fight will be the co-main event of a Top Rank card at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
Verdejo (27-1, 17 KOs) was injured in a motorcycle accident in August 2016 but returned to the ring six months later and has a record of 5-1 since then, including an impressive first-round TKO victory over Will Madera in July.
Japan’s Nakatani (18-1, 12 KOs) made his U.S. debut in July 2019 and was the first fighter to take Teofimo Lopez the distance, losing a hard-fought unanimous decision at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Top Rank is still looking for a replacement main event after Miguel Berchelt tested positive for COVID-19 and his fight against Oscar Valdez was postponed.
Former featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson offered to step in for Berchelt and told ESPN on Tuesday that he had asked his team to inquire about the possibility of fighting Valdez on short notice.
The 22-year-old Puerto Rican hard-hitting super middleweight boxer will be featured on the undercard of featherweight world titlist Shakur Stevenson‘s first defense, on March 14 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, according to Top Rank.
Top Rank said Berlanga’s opponent for the scheduled eight-round bout will be finalized next week, but the fight will be one of the preliminary bouts that’ll be streamed live on ESPN+beginning at 7:00 pm ET, ahead of the main card on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. The main card includes the previously announced meeting between Stevenson and challenger Miguel Marriagaand former junior featherweight world titlist Jessie Magdalenosquaring off with Sakaria Lukasin a 10-round featherweight fight.
Berlanga (13-0, 13 KOs), who hails from New York, has won all of his fights by first-round knockout.
“Hopefully, I can get in some rounds on March 14,” said Berlanga, who turned pro in 2016. “I want to show everyone I’m more than a one-round fighter. This is my time to shine.”
Berlanga’s longest ring appearance came in his most recent fight, when he needed 2 minutes, 45 seconds to knock out Cesar Nunezon December 14 at Madison Square Gardenon the Terence Crawford–Egidijus Kavaliauskasundercard.
The 30-year-old Mexican American boxer will box on Golden Boy Promotions’ “Thursday Night Fights” series (DAZN/RingTV.com, 10:00 pm ET) on March 19 at the Avalon in Hollywood, California.
Esparza joins a card that includes Joet Gonzalezand Lamont Roach, all coming off decision losses in world title bouts.
Esparza (7-1, 1 KO), who was a 2012 U.S. Olympicbronze medalist, will face Lucia Nunez(7-10), 29, of Mexico, in a six-round, women’s junior bantamweight bout.
In Esparza’s last fight, on November 2 in Las Vegas on the Canelo Alvarez–Sergey Kovalevundercard, she lost a ninth-round technical decision because of a bad cut from an accidental head-butt against rival Seniesa Estradafor a vacant interim women’s flyweight title.
“I’m ready to get back in the ring,” Esparza said. “There were multiple factors that made this last fight a real learning experience, but this next round of professional boxing is just the beginning of much more. I’m looking forward to coming out with the new strategies that I’ve been learning and switching up my game a bit.”
Gonzalez (23-1, 14 KOs), 26, of Glendora, California, will square off with former world title challenger Chris Avalos (27-7, 20 KOs), 30, of Lancaster, California, in a 10-round featherweight fight.
Gonzalez will be fighting for the first time since he faced bitter rival Shakur Stevenson for a vacant featherweight world title on October 26 in Reno, Nevada, and lost a near-shutout decision.
“I can’t wait to step back into the ring,” Gonzalez said. “I fought for a world title, so I know what it’s like to be at that level. Now, I’ll be coming back with an even stronger desire to become a world champion. This March 19, I will not disappoint.”
Avalos has lost two fights in a row but has vast experience, including in losses in world title bouts to Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz and to Oscar Valdezin a nontitle bout.
“We’re coming to win,” Avalos said. “We’re back on track. The old Chris Avalos is back. (Gonzalez) may think I’m a joke. You may think I’m washed up. But I’m coming to kick your ass. Keep your hands (up) or you will see what happens.”
Roach (19-1-1, 7 KOs), 24, of Washington, will face Neil John Tabanao(17-7, 11 KOs), 25, of the Philippines, in a 10-round junior lightweight bout in the co-feature.
Roach will be in the ring for the first time since he lost a competitive unanimous decision as the mandatory challenger for 130-pound world titlist Jamel Herringon November 9 in Fresno, California.
“I’ve been itching to get back in that square to show that I’m the best at 130,” Roach said. “My last fight was just a glimpse, but this year it’s all the way up with me.”
Tabanao is coming off three 10-round decision losses in a row, all against undefeated fighters.
“I’m looking forward to this fight against Lamont Roach Jr.,” Tabanao said. “I know that he’s coming off his first loss and that he wants to fight for a world title again. However, I more experience than he, and I know how to score an upset.”
He may have switched divisions, but Robeisy Ramirez is still an Olympic champion…
The 22-year-old Cuban amateur boxer out-pointed Team USA’s Shakur Stevenson at the 2016 Rio Games to decide the first Olympic gold medal fight between the two boxing powerhouses in 20 years.
The two nations are the most successful in Olympic boxing history yet had oddly avoided each other with the top prize on the line until Ramirez beat Stevenson via split decision to settle the bantamweight gold.
Ramirez, one of the most technically proficient punchers at the 2016 Summer Olympics, has become just the third boxer in history to win two Olympic golds in separate weight divisions.