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Featherweight Sluggers Take Center Stage on HBO

Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank

Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank

The era of American boxing audiences largely ignoring the lower weight classes of the sport is long gone. That is evident by HBO opting to invest airtime in this Saturday’s card from Madison Square Garden which will feature Jamaican featherweight slugger Nicholas Walters (25-0, 21 KO) taking on fellow big puncher Miguel Marriaga (20-0, 18 KOs) for a featherweight title. On the same card, lightweight prospect Felix Verdejo (17-0, 13 KOs) will take a further step in his development against fellow prospect Ivan Najera (16-0, 8 KOs) in a fight which is expected to garner a large deal of attention for the Puerto Rican prospect in Verdejo, who will be fighting on the eve of New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.

HBO and Walters’ promoter, Top Rank, are opting to invest in the hard-hitting Jamaican as the two prepare for a potential fall showdown with WBO titlist Vasyl Lomachenko (4-1, 2 KOs) who is considered to the best featherweight in the world. Walters earned that slot by withstanding Nonito Donaire’s early aggression in an October 2014 clash to eventually stop the popular Filipino fighter in a scintillating performance which is still talked about. This performance followed a similar destruction of Aussie favorite Vic Darchinyan. Walters will not, however, be facing a cake walk. In Marriaga Walters finds an opponent who previously beat him in the amateur ranks and appears to bring a big left hook into the ring with him. Walters was previously stunned by Donaire in their October fight and the question will be whether Marriaga can test the Jamaican with those hooks.

Additionally, while Marriaga’s record reveals a large KO percentage, it should be noted that the quality of his opposition as a pro has been woeful and filled with more Colombian stooges and corpses than the final scene in Scarface. However, several observers have noted that Saturday’s fight could prove to be a spoiler for the proposed Walters/Lomachenko matchup.

Verdejo mediaday

On the other televised undercard, the next stage of Felix Verdejo’s escalation into a major contender is set to begin when he takes the HBO stage against Ivan Najera. The fight is notable for the fact that Verdejo is occupying a schedule previously held by Miguel Cotto, which is fighting the night before New York’s Puerto Rican Day parade. While Verdejo’s opposition has been standard fare, many are excited of the prospect of Verdejo becoming the next major Puerto Rican boxing star. His impressive amateur credentials – a 2012 Olympian – ignited the hype machine and his pro career has been littered with impressive knockouts.

Verdejo’s opponent, Najera, possesses an equally glossy record, but a further look into his record reveals a number of local Texas bouts against opponents who were certainly not world beaters. Additionally, Najera has not scored a knockout since early 2013 and may struggle against the hard-hitting Verdejo.

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