Take the greatest boxing minds in the world, those who haven’t been in the gym when Edgar Berlanga Jr. trains, and ask them to name the things that the rising superstar does well.
Chances are you’ll stump them.
And it’s not because there aren’t things that Berlanga does well. To get to 16-0 with 16 first-round knockouts, one needs a lot of ability. But in his 16 fights, Berlanga has spent so little time under the bright lights that he’s something of an unknown quantity.
Demond Nicholson gets the next chance Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) to see if he can push Berlanga into the uncharted territory of the second round when they meet in Kissimmee, Florida. They’ll fight in the co-main event before WBO featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete faces Christopher Diaz in the headliner.
Berlanga isn’t a crude slugger and said that’s the thing that perhaps people who aren’t privileged enough to see him work in the gym don’t understand.
“My boxing ability, my foot movement, I’ve got a beautiful jab and people just haven’t seen that,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve got great, great, great defense. If I have the opportunity to present that side of me Saturday night, it’s going to be done. That’s what we’ve been practicing on for this camp, using angles and using my jab and using my feet.
“But also, don’t shy away and don’t get away from my punching. That’s what brought me here and that’s what I’m going to stay with.”
Berlanga’s manager, Keith Connolly, loves the attention Berlanga has gotten as he has built this first-round knockout streak. He’s big enough that rapper Lil Wayne, who has 35 million Twitter followers and 13.2 million more on Instagram, will walk him to the ring Saturday.
Berlanga was loathe to discuss details, but that’s a sign of his push into the mainstream. Connolly, though, wouldn’t mind seeing Nicholson extend Berlanga.
“For his long-term development, it would be good to see him get some rounds in and see things that he has to work through,” Connolly said.
In each of his past three times out, Berlanga was matched with an opponent with a good record and the talk was, well, Berlanga won’t knock this guy out in the first round.
But 11-2 Eric Moon lasted just 1:02, after which an exuberant Berlanga climbed up on the ring ropes and shouted, “I’m a f***ing monster!” Lanell Bellows entered his bout with Berlanga on Oct. 17 with a 20-5-3 mark before he was gone in 1:19. And on Dec. 12, Ulises Sierra brought a 15-1-2 mark into their fight, but he was gone in 2:40.
Nicholson is 23-3-1 with 20 KOs and has the kind of power to hurt Berlanga if he gets careless.
The fight that everyone with Team Berlanga looks forward to, though, is one against Canelo Alvarez, who is not only the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, he’s also boxing’s biggest draw.
Berlanga is a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent and officials at Madison Square Garden are desperate to have him headline a show there to cater to the city’s huge boxing-loving Puerto Rican population.
Berlanga could be the latest in the line of Puerto Rican icons to be beloved in New York, following recently in the path of Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.
Alvarez is from Mexico, and the two regions have a fierce rivalry in boxing. Berlanga admits he has let his mind wander to think about a fight with the legendary Alvarez.
“I’ve played that fight over 100 times in my head, of me and him fighting together,” Berlanga said. “Like I said, he has a big fan base and I’m building my fan base. My fan base is going to be just as big as him. It’s bound to happen. I don’t see anything past that. For that fight to happen, he’s at the top right now. If he remains at the top, which he will, and I continue to win and bust my butt and win in [an exciting] fashion, that fight is going to come. It’s going to happen and it’s going to be worth a lot of money.”
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