It is understandable why many want to see lightweight Felix Verdejo matched against a significant opponent, thrown in tough, perhaps even for a world title.
The 2014 ESPN.com prospect of the year is a highly skilled and electrifying performer with a million-dollar smile and a friendly demeanor. As a 2012 Puerto Rican Olympian he also has the amateur pedigree that would suggest he can become the great fighter many expect that he will be eventually.
But he isn't one yet and with so much potential both in terms of ability and earning power, promoter Top Rank, which has excelled at building stars for decades, is not about to rush the 22-year-old Verdejo (19-0, 14 KOs), who has drawn many comparisons to Felix Trinidad, his revered Hall of Fame countryman and a close friend and mentor.
"Building a fighter is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. You have to know that the minute you sign up for it," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. "This is Felix Verdejo's stage right now. Globally, he's the next star. It's one thing to be marketable. It's another thing to deliver in the ring. Felix is and does both."
Top Rank has loads of experience when it comes to building young fighters. Bob Arum's company did it with a few you might have heard of: Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya and future Hall of Famers Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto, to name only three.
But the way Top Rank's brain trust sees things, Verdejo is a work in progress and he will be developed on their timetable and nobody else's, especially since his 2015 campaign was cut short because of left hand surgery to remove bone spurs. It limited him to only three fights last year when the plan had called for five or six.
So Verdejo's development will continue against 28-year-old Brazilian William Silva (23-0, 14 KOs), whose record is spotless but has been built against low-level opposition, in a scheduled 10-round fight on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where Verdejo will be the huge crowd favorite.
The fight is the co-feature on the show headlined by junior welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford (27-0, 19 KOs), who is making his second defense against "Hammerin'" Hank Lundy (26-5-1, 13 KOs).
"They key now is that Verdejo's hand is 100 percent," duBoef said. "It interrupted last year. This year he'll get those rounds under his belt so he's in position for that title shot when he's ready to go. But I am not going to go get a title just to get a title, especially coming off a year when he had an injury.
"He has the skill to fight with anybody, but he needs those seasoning rounds, the kind [Top Rank matchmaker] Bruce [Trampler] wants to see so he can get the experience of getting off the stool after Round 9, 10 and 11."
Verdejo hurt the hand in a 10-round whitewash of Ivan Najera last June at the MSG Theater, when he was making his HBO debut. He returned in December and showed no ill effects of the surgery as he crushed Josenilson Dos Santos in two rounds in San Juan.
Verdejo said his hand is 100 percent now and he has taken measures to protect it, including modifying the way he has it wrapped.
"No pain. No problems," Verdejo said. "We have been training fully, but we have worked on a few different types of moves that will not put as much pressure on my hand just to be careful. Lately we have been doing additional work to see how it goes and it has been great."
DuBoef has an aggressive schedule planned for Verdejo as long as everything goes well Saturday.
Verdejo will return April 16 to headline a UniMas-televised card in Puerto Rico, and if all goes well in that bout he will be back at the Theater on June 11, the eve of the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York. Television details for that card have not been determined, but given how popular Verdejo already is in the Puerto Rican community it figures to be another electric atmosphere as the young man makes his way to a world title opportunity.
But, as duBoef reiterated, there is no hurry.
"There's no accident in helping create the product of a star fighter on ability and marketability at the same time," he said. "Bob and I have envisioned a product in the future, but we have to listen to our matchmakers. We'll build Felix Verdejo the way we know how to build stars. Just look at our track record. I'd say it speaks for itself."
Verdejo is on board with Top Rank's plan. He has entrusted his development to the company.
"I'm not eyeing a specific opponent after [Saturday's fight]," he said. "I just want to fight the world champ when it's time."