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Will notoriety and hype get into Edgar Berlanga’s head?

Edgar Berlanga has picked up good buzz with a run of first round knockouts, but will expectations be a hindrance?

Terence Crawford v Egidijus Kavaliauskas Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Edgar Berlanga’s profile has been upped considerably in the last year, with the New York native enjoying the benefit of aligning himself with the estimable Top Rank outfit.

Top Rank has a solid handle on not only how to fuel the hype train for a talent, but also step them up incrementally, so they are not likely to be faced with some surprise pitfall, a stylistic bent for which they’d not been able to prep.

But getting over the higher hurdle is up to them. Maybe you remember the edge up the ladder for Felix Verdejo? It wasn’t like Top Rank threw him in deep water. No, he got tested and lost to Antonio Lozada, and then it would be on him to work on deficiencies, so he could continue to ascend. It seems like that’s happened, maybe, though we’ll have to see it to fully believe.

I’m probably not the only one who thought about the 27-year-old Verdejo, even if just briefly, when pondering the 23-year-old Berlanga, who holds a record of 14-0, all wins by first round stoppage.

And I’m sure I’m not the only one who looks at the hype Berlanga is getting, and sees his social accounts, and wonders if his confidence level could take a nasty hit if and when he experiences the sting of defeat. I actually touched on the topic with his trainer Andre Rozier. Berlanga will face Lanell Bellows (20-5-3, 13 KO) this Saturday, Oct. 17, on the Vasily Lomachenko vs Teofimo Lopez card on ESPN.

How to Watch Lomachenko vs Lopez

Date: Saturday, Oct. 17 | Start Time: 10:00 pm ET (Main Card) / 7:30 pm ET (Prelims)
Location: MGM Top Rank Bubble, Las Vegas, NV
TV: ESPN (Main Card) | Stream: ESPN+ (Prelims)

Rozier admits Bellows is a step up, saying, “He’s won his last two, and he’s never been stopped.”

I put it to Rozier, straight up. Is there any danger that the hype train actually runs over his foot, hobbles him?

“He’s easy to bring down, and if I see something, I will tell him in a minute,” Rozier said. “I call him ‘nephew’ in Spanish, and I don’t mind getting real. If things go wayward, myself, Keith Connolly, his father, he’s got people there to rein anything in.”

Here’s something to ponder on Berlanga. The best thing that could happen to the young gunner on Saturday is that he doesn’t stop Bellows in round one. Yep, there won’t be that element to play up, to accompany the banging of the drums when he gets pub. But by now, it’s maybe more of a hindrance than anything else. Not saying it does, but it can mess with your head, because expectations have been set for you, and you might over-act in order to keep that narrative in place.

“Whether it comes in the second round or the fourth, it doesn’t matter,” Berlanga said this week, of a stoppage of Bellows. “This streak doesn’t bring any pressure. I obviously go in there trying to hurt the guy. I’d rather do that than have him hurt me.”

There is a fine line between belief in self that is earned, and too much confidence.

“I know I’m a killer but there are killers at 168,” Berlanga said to Mark Whicker. “You can’t take shortcuts because they show up in the ring. Right now I’m one of the hottest prospects. They keep trying to step up my opponent little by little. I’m a young superstar, I’ve got the charisma and the image. And I’ve got a country (Puerto Rico) behind me. People should expect fireworks and I just need them to tune in. Get your popcorn and enjoy it.”

Berlanga, who’s lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan, said his mindset is this: “I’ve just been working extremely hard. You have to be humble, you have to know (a foe is going to come forward),” he said.

He said he knows that he will need to have the conditioning that will keep him in good stead in round two, five, and beyond. During the Zoom call, his strength and conditioning coach “Scooter” Honig hung over his left shoulder. That in itself bodes well, because it signals that they are in sync, and that the fighter knows the importance of conditioning.

We all saw it in Deontay Wilder, coming to love and rely too much on the power. And on Feb. 22 you saw what happens when smart boxing is called for, and that when someone gets too reliant on changing the mood with one single crack, they don’t adapt.

It sounds like Berlanga isn’t in that mode.

“I just wanna get 150 percent prepared for when the time comes. Like I said, I’m 23, I got the world in my hands right now. I’m a hot young prospect, I got Puerto Rico behind me. Right now, I’m knocking everybody out, I just wanna enjoy my career. And eventually, I’m gonna step up to the big fights. I want the big paydays, I want the big fights. Eventually, that’ll come. But right now, we’re moving a step at a time. Everything is slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day! We’re just working, getting my craft better, each and every day.”

And he was asked by Marcos Villegas about the expectations, about how he tempers them, and avoids getting taken off track by people wanting those quick rubouts.

“It’s no pressure! No pressure whatsoever. The people is gonna talk, I let them talk, that’s what they’re there for, the critics, the media, that’s you guys, that’s boxing,” he said. “Obviously, I go in to hurt the guy, I’m always looking to hurt them before they hurt me, I’ve always had that mindset since I’ve been a pro. No pressure, man. Every fight I go in that ring, if we gotta go those rounds, we’ll go those rounds. The last fight, I thought I’d probably go a couple rounds with this guy. But you saw what happened, he had to pay for his mistakes.”

Indeed he did. And in his previous outing, Berlanga took out Cesar Nunez in Dec. 2019. On the third knockdown, the ref halted the one sided tussle with 14 seconds left to go in the round. In that fight, you saw a kid who has pop in both hands. Maybe equal power in his left and right, and that will be worrisome to opponents. Patience is still an issue. His timing and accuracy will improve as he gets more selective, doesn’t try to overwhelm, trusts in his placement and throws one meaningful launch rather than flurrying with three and keeping fingers crossed.

Berlanga will get more time to show how much he’s improved working with Rozier, because Bellows will get out of the first round on Saturday at the MGM “Bubble.”

Lanell will eat shots. At 34, his reflexes and mobility conspire against him against someone who can wing punches like Edgar. He stays squared up sometimes, and steels himself against incoming fire, which isn’t ideal most of the time and even less so against a certified power hitter. But his chin is solid, that hasn’t been affected by all the birthdays. Also, he’s proud and stubborn, and will not come to the ring psyched out, as some Berlanga foes have. Body shots that crumpled other guys won’t do that to Bellows, who still has zest in his right hand. In his last scrap, a sweeping right dropped Malcolm Jones so hard the ref didn’t even bother counting. We think this is a good choice by TR matchmakers to gauge their showy prospect.

And what about the notoriety, which includes regular IG snaps of Edgard with celebs?

“Everybody wants to be next to a winner,” Berlanga noted. “I know in my mind, I gotta continue to win, continue to execute.”

Point being, people love to hop on that bandwagon, but they are even quicker to hop off, and be scarce, when a loss or two pops up.

Berlanga said, “I know it’s gotta happen” regarding a fight with Mexico’s Canelo Alvarez, and he said he also wants to tango with David Benavidez. Those sorts of fights, with that Puerto Rico vs Mexico flavor, are good for the sport, he shared. But he admitted he wants and needs more seasoning. He’d give them problems now, he said, but down the line, he will bring more to the table.

“I know I’m one of the hottest prospects in the country right now,” he stated. “I’m a young superstar, I got the image, I got the charisma, I can fight, I’m knocking everything out, and I got a country behind me, what more can I say?”

A Canelo opportunity is something he regards as a “dream fight.” It will be interesting, and we might see a shift in POV on that come Saturday. Suppose you see 23-year-old Teofimo Lopez get the W over the technical wizard Vasiliy Lomachenko. Lopez is 15-0 now; if Teofimo gets that victory, you think maybe Berlanga, if he goes to 15-0, won’t be thinking that maybe he should be challenging for a crown?

If Berlanga keeps winning, how he handles it is going to be something to watch. I detect notes of humility in his talk all the time, and that’s encouraging. Those IG pics with the Fat Joes and the Tracy Morgans, that’s OK, if he doesn’t install himself mentally into the Hall of Fame as he’s posing for those pics. No reason not to soak up some adulation, and groove on the high-powered relationships. But there is still a long ways to go to get to where Berlanga pictures himself. His fans should be encouraged that he himself isn’t sipping too much of his own Kool-Aid.

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