Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Felix Verdejo is a tough act to follow, at least in New York, even if you are an undefeated fighter coming off a knockout of a pound-for-pound contender. Had more fans stayed after Verdejo’s victory over Ivan Najera – and had more of those who did remain been able to forgive Nicholas Walters and his opponent Miguel Marriaga for not being Puerto Rican – the atmosphere in The Theater at Madison Square Garden, so raucous for the co-main event, would not have been disappointingly flat for Walters’ unanimous decision victory.
Despite the boos and catcalls from the otherwise largely disinterested crowd, this really wasn’t a bad fight. That said, it really wasn’t a very good fight either, despite high expectations as a result of Walters’ destruction of Nonito Donaire last year.
This was one of those fights where, despite solid effort and genuine skill from both men, the clash of styles prevented a perpetually-simmering bout from truly catching light. Colombia’s Marriaga, largely an unknown quantity in the United States, came with a reputation for a powerful left hook to the body, but although he deployed that weapon early as he sought to take advantage, it was Walters who used it more effectively as the bout wore on. He dug the punch beneath Marriaga’s ribcage, forcing the Colombian into a defensive shell that prevented him from launching his own offense as effectively as he undoubtedly would have liked.
Marriaga had his moments: a strong hook to the head, followed up by a right hand, knocked Walters into the ropes in the fourth, and Marriaga launched an attack with his opponent trapped in the corner, only for the Jamaican to fight his way out to the center of the ring and return to offense by round’s end. And a sweeping right hand in the final frame encouraged Marriaga to seek a dramatic denouement, only for Walters to once more return to a body attack that backed him off. Indeed, when Marriaga most opened up with punches, toward the end of the ninth, Waters stepped back from his left/right combination and landed a straight right of his own that dropped Marriaga to his haunches along the ropes for the bout’s only knockdown.
By that stage, after a cagey start and with the exception of that fourth round, Walters had asserted almost complete control, and toward the end of the previous frame had chased Marriaga around the ring in search of a conclusive blow after hurting his opponent badly with a right uppercut and a hook to the body.
In total, according to Compubox, Walters landed 279 of 809 punches, and 148 of 286 power punches – a power connect of 52 percent. In contrast, Marriaga threw 190 fewer blows in total, and landed just 165, for a connect percentage of 27 percent.
“He’s a rugged fighter,” said Walters, who remains undefeated at 26-0, afterward. “He hit me with head butts and low blows, but I weathered it.” He also reminded Marriaga – who had boasted of defeating him as an amateur in 2008 – of the difference between amateur boxing and professional prizefighting.
Walters began Friday as a featherweight champion, a status he relinquished when he couldn’t make the 126-pound limit at the weigh-in that day. On Saturday night, he unofficially weighed 145 pounds, and Marriaga referenced his size and strength afterward.
“I got tired at the end,” he said. “He’s very strong for a fighter his size. I felt like I was fighting a welterweight” – which, of course, effectively he was. Then Marriaga, who fell to 20-1, smiled as he admitted: “He’s gotten better since we last fought. He was the better man tonight.”