Felix Verdejo will see action on ESPN next Saturday night, as his Jan. 18 bout with Manuel Rey Rojas has been bumped to the main card portion of the show following the withdrawal of heavyweight Agit Kabayel, who was originally slated for the co-feature slot.
Germany’s Kabayel (19-0, 13 KO), the most recent European heavyweight champion, was set to make his US debut against Victor Bisbal. Top Rank are looking to expand at heavyweight — as everyone is, really — and the 27-year-old looks to get into a big fight by the end of 2020.
But Kabayel couldn’t secure a visa in time, so he’s off the show, meaning that Verdejo (25-1, 16 KO) will get yet another chance to impress a wide audience in a career that has been, in all honesty, a severe disappointment.
At 26, Verdejo is working with a new trainer in Ismael Salas, and he tells ESPN.com that he’s had a good camp and feels “more motivated than ever.” The Puerto Rican turned pro after a strong showing at the 2012 Olympics in London, where he didn’t medal but gave Vasiliy Lomachenko his best fight of the tournament, losing in the quarterfinals. Verdejo was clearly a hot property with big pro hopes, and signed with Top Rank in October of that year.
But it’s just never quite taken off. He’s had his issues out of the ring, including a motorcycle accident in 2016, and his performances before and after that were often criticized even in victory. In Mar. 2018, he was stunned by Antonio Lozada Jr, who stopped Verdejo in the 10th round in New York. Most recently, Verdejo fought on the Crawford-Khan card last April, and didn’t do a whole lot to convince anyone his star was still as bright as once believed.
He’s young enough to live up to the potential, surely, but the doubts will be there until he mixes it with the best, which he still hasn’t done over seven years into his pro career, and this fight with Rojas (18-3, 5 KO), a 26-year-old fighter out of Dallas, is not close to the top level. Rojas is a club fighter whose most notable fight was either a second round knockout loss to Andy Vences in 2015 or a shutout decision loss to Casey Ramos in 2014.