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Jaime Arboleda seeking breakout, Jayson Velez a fresh start in WBA eliminator

A young fighter is looking to get in the mix, but he has to get past a veteran who is trying to climb back into contention.

Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

Saturday night’s Showtime tripleheader will open with a crossroads matchup between junior lightweights Jaime Arboleda and Jayson Velez, the two meeting in a WBA eliminator at 130 pounds.

For Panama’s 25-year-old Arboleda (15-1, 13 KO), it’s a chance to break through as a contender, while Puerto Rico’s 31-year-old Velez (29-5-1, 21 KO) is trying to get to a level he flirted with years ago but failed to hang on to at the time.

Arboleda doesn’t have an unblemished record. When he made his US debut in July 2017, he was knocked out in the third round by Recky Dulay, a prospect checker, and any hype was pretty much iced out there. But he’s come back to win five in a row, including his return to the States last August, a first round stoppage of Victor Betancourt in Texas.

The win streak hasn’t come over the most formidable opposition, but he does have some power and expects to show it against Velez.

“I’m very confident that this is going to be a great fight and end in a knockout,” Arboleda said. “I’m prepared and I know that I’m going to win. This is a great chance to get one step closer to my dream of becoming a world champion. I know what I have to do and I’ve prepared every day to make sure that I fight my best on Saturday night.”

Velez, though, is a real step up. While the former prospect never quite panned out at the higher levels, he has been to those higher levels, and Arboleda has not. Velez challenged for the IBF featherweight title in 2014, going to a draw with Evgeny Gradovich, then lost four straight in 2015-16 to Ronny Rios, Joseph Diaz Jr, Rene Alvarado, and Alfredo Santiago.

Like Arboleda, he’s rebounded from defeat, going 6-1 in his last seven, losing a fight to prospect Ryan Garcia in 2018. He’s scored some solid wins in that run, if not exactly head-turners; wins over Alberto Mercado (who was previously unbeaten) and faded veterans Juan Manuel Lopez, Orlando Cruz, and Victor Terrazas have kept his name floating around.

“I’m happy to be here again and back in a big fight,” Velez said. “My last time fighting on Showtime was in 2012 and I’m very thankful for this opportunity to compete on this stage once again.

“I’m blessed to be able to do what I do every day. I’ve fought professionally since 2007. This is the dream that every boxer has. When I win on Saturday, I’ll be the mandatory for the belt and that’s the opportunity that I want.”

The questions are all on Arboleda; frankly, we know what Velez is and isn’t, or at least have our firm ideas at this point. Is Arboleda good enough to beat him, or is even this perhaps beyond the Panamanian puncher?

That’s what we’ll find out this weekend. Velez may not be truly world class, but he’s still the most highly-regarded fighter Arboleda has fought to date, and by quite a bit at that. We could see a young fighter break through, at least a bit, or we could see a veteran claw his way back into relevance and a likely title shot.