When Felix Verdejo steps inside the ring tonight to face Juan Santiago in Caguas, Puerto Rico, it will be the first time the youngster has fought on his native island in 10 months.
The popular Boricua is clearly glad to be fighting at home in front of his adoring fans after so long.
“It’s been a while since my last fight here on my island,” Verdejo told RingTV.com “I’m very happy with the opportunity to give love to all my countrymen especially now that my people just told me it’s a sold out.”
Many on the island are looking towards the 20-year-old prospect to be Puerto Rico next star. That’s a pressure that Verdejo lives with, often embracing.
“I just keep doing my part, working hard doing my job,” he said.
“I put it in the hands of God whatever he wants to do with my career. But no I don’t let any of those comments affect me or the way I see myself as an athlete or as a human being. I just use those comments as a motivation to work even harder.”
The 2012 Olympian signed with Top Rank, who have kept him very active with 10 fights, all wins, seven inside the distance, since he turned pro 15 months ago.
If all goes well tonight, it is anticipated that Verdejo (10-0, 7 knockouts) will fight on April 19 in Miami before appearing on the undercard of Sergio Martinez-Miguel Cotto at the famed Madison Square Garden.
Anson Wainwright – What are your thoughts on Santiago?
Felix Verdejo – (It’s) just another fight. I know Santiago is an experienced fighter but I’m well prepared and very positive.
AW – It will be the first fight you have had in Puerto Rico in 10 months. What will it be like for you to appear in front of your countrymen?
FV – It’s been a while since my last fight here on my island. I’m very happy with the opportunity to give love to all my countrymen especially now that my people just told me it’s a sold out. That place will be full of supporters.
AW – You've had 10 fights. How do you assess your progress so far after turning pro around 15 months ago?
FV – After 10 fights I feel more confident and a lot stronger. My trainer Ricky Marquez is taking me into a very hard strength development training program with an emphasis on speed and stamina and the results of that combined with the work on good technical fundamentals are great.
AW – Some people consider you to be the next big thing from Puerto Rico, what would you say about that statement? Is that added pressure or something that you are now used to and just get on with things.
FV – I just keep doing my part, working hard doing my job. I put it in the hands of God whatever he wants to do with my career. But no I don’t let any of those comments affect me or the way I see myself as an athlete or as a human being. I just use those comments as a motivation to work even harder.
AW – Since turning pro, where have you based your training camps? What is a typical training session for you?
FV – I keep training in Puerto Rico as always in Ricky's El Diamante Gym and we just travel to the fights. That’s why people stared calling me El Diamante, because of the name of the gym. The typical training day here is the usual road or track work in the mornings and gym work in the afternoons, which includes any strength/conditioning work. Ricky has in his own training plan and the technical/tactical boxing work.
AW – What were things like for you growing up in Puerto Rico?
FV – I grew up in a place called Las Gladiolas and it was a very tough neighbourhood. You had to be able to defend yourself or the kids will just walk all over you. The government demolished those buildings but the people who used to live there have a bond that will last forever.
AW – You had a very successful amateur career. Can you tell us about it? What tournaments/titles have you won? What is your amateur record?
FV – My amateur record was 106-17 and I went to many international tournaments since I was 15 years old. I won gold in Ecuador's International Tournament golden belt and was selected as the best fighter of the tournament. Gold in Pan-American Championship in the Dominican Republic. Gold in Cheo Aponte International Tournament and the Olympic cup in Puerto Rico. Gold in the Americas Olympic Classificatory Tournament in Brazil.
AW – Since turning pro following the Olympics, how has your popularity grown in Puerto Rico?
FV – My popularity has increased a lot because people recognize me any place I go and they ask me for autographs, pictures or just say hi to me and I receive that as one of the many blessings boxing has given me. To be able to unite my people, give them love and receive all that support from them.
AW – Away from boxing, what do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies and interests?
FV – Away from boxing I’m just a regular guy who loves Baseball and still lives with my mom. I’m a devoted Christian and I go to church a couple of times a week and sometimes drive our church's van to do the route to pick up the people who don’t have a car to come to church.
AW – What is your message for the boxing world?
FV – My message to the boxing world is that there are a couple of young fighters in Puerto Rico, including myself, who will make their names in the sport with hard work and skills and hopefully we'll have your support and respect. God bless all of you.