Laypeople consistently underestimate how difficult it is to be a prizefighter. You see evidence of this when, every couple of years, this football player or that basketball player decides that he could be the next heavyweight champion of the world and picks up a pair of gloves to give the ring a go.
Usually no championship ensues, but the lesson still doesn't stick.
No, attaining mastery of the squared circle is more likely to come after a good decade or so of getting the hang of the sweet science. Which is where Felix Verdejo is at.
The 19-year-old Puerto Rican fighter went into a gym near his hometown of Los Gladiolas when he was 9 years old, with his godfather, Angel Rivera. Ricky Marquez, now his trainer/manager, was present, and little Felix immediately stood out. Not because of his fists, but because of his lungs and desire. All the littlest boxers went for a run, and when they circled back to the gym, Felix was ready to keep galloping.
"He had a lot of natural abilities. He was a natural athlete," Marquez told NYFightblog at a media workout in New York on Tuesday at Mendez Gym on East 26th.
Verdejo will fight Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall on the undercard of the Nonito Donaire-Guillermo Rigondeaux scrap. Verdejo (4-0, 3 KOs) will meet Steven Gutierrez (4-3-1, 2 KOs).
Verdejo, who turned pro on Dec. 6, 2012 with a win over Leo Chavez, still lives with his mom, Madeline Sanchez, in Puerto Rico. He came off a humble and friendly lad who frequently mentioned his faith when we chatted at the gym.
I asked him if his dreams got bigger when he touched down in New York, soaked in the vibrancy of the city and caught the buzz of the frenetic citizens hustling to achieve their dreams. "Yes," he said with a grin, through translator Marquez, "this is one of the biggest venues in boxing. To be there with stars like Donaire and Rigondeaux is huge motivation."
A goodly number of fight fans in Puerto Rico see Verdejo as the top young star among the island's prospects. Does the fighter himself believe he's the best?
"I'm not going to say I'm the best," Verdejo said. "I'm working hard to be the best, but I will let other people judge that."
Verdejo lists, in order, Wilfredo Gomez (1974-89), Wilfred Benitez (1973-90) and Felix Trinidad (1990-2008) as his favorite Puero Rican hitters. Wait, Miguel Cotto doesn't make the cut? Verdejo grinned, paused and said, "He's No. 4 ... for real."
Verdejo would like to remind fight observers of Trinidad, both because of his power -- he likes to dig double left hooks to the body -- but also because of his persona.
The kid has skills, can bang, his people say he's married to the sport and when I asked if he wanted to add anything, he asked that I make sure to mention that "I have God in my heart." Looks like a ton of the right ingredients are present to maybe craft the real deal; we'll just have to see how he does as the competition gets hotter.