Edgar Berlanga picked up a win on Saturday night, in what was meant to be a big and positive night for his career, defeating Roamer Alexis Angulo by unanimous decision.
Whether you agreed with the scoring — many believe the cards were too wide even if he deserved the win — Berlanga doesn’t seem to have shown his critics anything to sway the fading buzz back in his favor. That fading hype was inevitable after how he started his career, but fight by fight, it seems to nosedive even more.
This was his first main event on Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend in New York, something Miguel Cotto made a notable event in boxing’s last generation, and something Berlanga said he took seriously in pre-fight interviews and considered an honor.
Far worse than an arguably uninspiring performance, he was shown on many slow motion replays biting — or attempting to bite — Angulo in the seventh round, which he joked about after the fight.
The combination of the bite itself and Berlanga’s demeanor when ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna asked him about it have pretty clearly overshadowed his performance.
“Nah, ‘cause he was throwing elbows. I was about to do a Mike Tyson on him. He kept throwing his elbows and I didn’t want to get cut, I was ready to bite him like Mike Tyson,” Berlanga said with a laugh, while his team laughed behind him.
Osuna quickly noted, “You almost got disqualified,” before moving on to the next question.
ESPN journalist and interviewer Mark Kriegel objected to Berlanga’s tone on the “State of Boxing” post-fight show.
“I thought it was terrible! I really did. It’s not a goof. You don’t bite another fighter,” Kriegel said. “He came here to be remembered in the same way of the great Miguel Cotto, who’s put together an extraodinary record on this weekend. You don’t bite another fighter, it’s not a goof.”
The backlash, of course, spread to other boxing voices and social media, as you would expect. Berlanga has not yet mentioned anything about the bite on his own social media — no apology, no “my temper got the best of me in the heat of the moment,” or whatever else. I’m not demanding that sort of thing from him, because if it’s not sincere what do I care if he says it, but just as a note. He still could, of course, and I’m not even saying it wouldn’t be sincere.
But it’s going to have people questioning the 25-year-old Berlanga (19-0, 16 KO) on another level. ESPN and Top Rank hyped him up as a blue chip monster on the rise, what with his 16 straight first round stoppages to start his career, but then the opposition got a little tougher.
He put a beating on Demond Nicholson, who lasted a full eight rounds. He scraped past Marcelo Coceres and Steve Rolls in fights where he didn’t seem to do much big damage, really; in fact, Berlanga was down in the ninth round against Coceres.
Personally, I don’t think this is necessarily the worst thing. With Coceres, I wrote then that I felt it was the right sort of step for him, and a challenge that Berlanga proved capable of handling. I thought he boxed well in the first half and that it was a solid win.
The Rolls fight showcased a guy who struggled tactically with a veteran who moved around. No one argued he lost, but after Top Rank and ESPN — lacking true star power for their boxing brand and seeing a potential New York ticket-seller in their hands — talked Berlanga up so much, the fall from that hype has been far harder and steeper than it probably needed to be.
The bite, though, is now the big new thing, along with how he discussed it after the fight.
Berlanga was frustrated by Angulo, pointing out the Colombian illegally using his elbows. Not to excuse that, it’s a foul, but we all know it does happen, and other fighters Berlanga faces are going to do it, too.
Is he going to bite all of them? Is he going to lash out whenever an opponent flusters or annoys him? Will he lose his cool when he loses his swagger or has his confidence at all dented in a fight?
Because the opposition gets a lot better than Angulo, a 38-year-old battler who didn’t win a round against either Zurdo Ramirez in 2018 or David Benavidez in 2020.
On top of the questions about his boxing ability — speaking for myself, I still think he’s a solid fighter who can get better, even if he appears to me to have pretty clear limitations — we now have questions about his mentality.
Saturday was supposed to be a good night for Berlanga. For the most part, to him, it probably was. The questions keep piling up, though. And sooner or later, Top Rank are going to have to match him a lot tougher than he has been if he wants to be taken truly seriously as a contender at 168 lbs, or grow into being a proper ESPN main event fighter, and not just a fighter who main events on ESPN.
Even if his boxing can hold up, can he take that pressure on a truly tough night in the ring against better opponents?
This could wind up a passing moment, of course, something that happens the once and never again. But it’s another question about Berlanga’s potential, from a new angle.