- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Lightweight Felix Verdejo, a 2012 Puerto Rican Olympian and one of boxing’s most significant prospects, fights on Saturday night at New York’s Madison Square Garden. But although his scheduled six-round fight with Engelberto Venezuela won’t be part of the HBO PPV telecast, it will still be televised.
Top Rank and Miguel Cotto Promotions have made a deal with WAPA America, a Spanish-language Puerto Rican channel, to air three undercard bouts involving Puerto Rican fighters -- Verdejo, Jose Lopez and Jantony Ortiz -- Saturday beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. The non-pay-per-view bouts will also stream live on ESPN3.com starting at 7 p.m. ET.
In addition to airing Verdejo (12-0, 9 KOs) against Valenzuela (9-1, 3 KOs), the telecast will also include junior featherweight Lopez (13-0, 11 KOs) against Raul Hidalgo (21-10, 16 KOs) in an eight-rounder and the professional debut of flyweight and 2012 Olympian Ortiz in a four-round bout against Elio Ruiz (1-4, 2 KOs).
“We are very happy to present these bouts, which will feature some of the top prospects from Puerto Rico,” Cotto said. “This historic telecast will be enjoyed by all Puerto Rican fans.”
Cotto promotes regular cards on WAPA, so this was a no-brainer.
The exposure is key for Verdejo, a Top Rank fighter widely considered one of the best prospects in boxing both in terms of ability and marketability. He already is a popular draw and could eventually headline his own major pay-per-view events.
“I am very excited that everyone in Puerto Rico will be able to see these fights from New York live on the same night that our great champion Miguel Cotto will be looking to make history, and one day before my childhood idol Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad will be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame,” Verdejo said. “I know we will have great support in the stands and I feel blessed that I will have the opportunity to show my talent in the most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden.”
Much like Top Rank did with a young Cotto a decade ago, it is priming Verdejo for big things, which is apparent by the way it is promoting his appearance on Saturday’s card.
It has him on his own schedule throughout fight week, which included a public workout and meet and greet with fans this past Saturday, an appearance at Yankee Stadium at Sunday’s baseball game, a television feature on him Monday on Telemundo and other activities associated with the card throughout the week. On Sunday, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum and Verdejo will fly to Canastota, New York, for Trinidad’s Hall of Fame induction.
You can count Trinidad as a Verdejo fan.
"In Puerto Rico people are talking a lot about him,” Trinidad told Puerto Rican media. “He is a good kid and very dedicated to boxing. He has the discipline. His trainer and manager Ricky Marquez is doing a good job with him. Felix Verdejo has all the potential to become the next 'Tito' Trinidad. He has everything. He is tall and he has a great record. I hope he stays undefeated. He has all the tools to become a solid world champion."