By Diego Morilla
In the long and winding road to superstardom, a fighter is faced with hurdles and obstacles of all sorts. And as challenging as those obstacles may be in themselves, they all have an added element that remains constant in all of them: pressure.
For Felix Verdejo, however, pressure is what has carried him this far, what surrounds him at all times and what will ultimately prove to be the defining challenge of his entire career.
And for a fighter with the nickname "Diamond," the ability to overcome pressure will be the final test in his quest to live up to his moniker.
“It motivates me to continue training harder every day to reach that level that people expect of me,” says the 22-year old former Olympian. Hailing from Puerto Rico, he has been in the spotlight in his boxing-crazy island-nation since his late teens.
“I believe the key to my success is my ability to stay focused on what I do, and my discipline in the gym,” says Verdejo about the qualities that have earned him his unbeaten record of 17-0 with 13 KO. “I believe that all the pressure that people make me feel, in the future it will help me turn into the diamond that people expect me to be.”
That same pressure was all around him when he made his first appearances in front of fans, flashing the camera-friendly smile and the media-darling demeanor that has earned him, so far, the benefit of the doubt after fights against overmatched opponents.
And Verdejo will have a terrific chance to answer some of those lingering doubts this coming Saturday, June 13th, when he will be facing the also unbeaten Ivan Najera (16-0, 8 KO) in a fight that has all the elements of a brutal rite of passage.
There is a lot to unpack in this challenge: a new chapter of the storied rivalry between Mexico and Puerto Rico, taking place on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade at The Theater of New York’s Madison Square Garden. A success in this fight will instantly be regarded as the initial building block of a stellar career that may one day match the accomplishments of fellow “Boricua” icons such as Miguel Cotto and Felix Trinidad. A defeat, however, is not even being discussed.
If that added pressure is getting to Verdejo at all, he's not letting on.
“This makes me feel proud of being a Puerto Rican, and I am also happy to have my own float in the Puerto Rican parade, and enjoy the beautiful things they have here in New York,” says Verdejo.
Still, Verdejo takes the challenge with poise and ease, knowing that his days as a regular headliner at the big room of the storied Madison Square Garden on the eve of the Puerto Rican Parade are still ahead.
“Wow, that would be something really special,” says Verdejo, trying to picture the thought. “I cannot imagine it and I don’t know how I would react at that time, but I believe I’ll just enjoy it with and my family and all of Puerto Rico. But I am still in a developing stage. I know I have a lot to learn, but I am getting ready to face the moment in which I’ll be fighting for a world title.”
The patience that has carried him this far will prove valuable in his wait to flourish into the next big thing in Puerto Rican boxing.
“I believe I am still a raw diamond,” says Verdejo. “I am still in that stage right now. This fight in HBO will help me develop further, and if I face a title fight I will continue developing into a more polished diamond.”