One of the most dramatic, exciting and captivating fighters from 2020 was the brilliant Lightweight bout between Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani (19-1, 13) and Felix Verdejo (27-2, 17). The bout, fought in The Bubble, at the MGM Grand had everything we could ever wish to see in a fighter. It had skills, heart, power, multiple knockdowns, momentum shifts and one of the biggest comebacks of the year. The bout really was something truly amazing and those who missed it really did miss out one something truly special.
1-Nakatani’s will to win is incredible
Few will ever describe Masayoshi Nakatani as a truly skilled fighter, but he has a number of traits that make him incredibly tough to beat. Whilst the most obvious of those, visibly, is his physical size and stature, the other is his will to win. He, like many top Japanese fighters, has incredible determination and his will to fight through adversity cannot be questioned. He did it against Izuki Tomioka, who took an early lead against Nakatani in an OPBF title fight, and against Yoshitaka Kato, who pushed him all the way very early in his career and clearly hurt him with a body shot. He had answered those questions about how much he wanted to win, and what he’d go through to win. Being dropped in rounds 1 and 4 weren’t enough to finish off that will, neither was taking a number of huge right hands in the first few rounds.
Sometimes that will to win, despite being tagged repeatedly, is a trait that will be too much for an opponent and in many ways this was somewhat comparable to the first Antonio Margarito Vs Miguel Cotto fight, though admittedly not as good as that sensational 2008 battle. Nakatani, like Magarito, was being out sped, out boxed, and tagged at will, but refused to quit, pressed forward and slowly broke down his man, who was left questioning what exactly he had to do to stop the terminator like figure in front of him
2-Verdejo’s questionable heart is his biggest issue
Felix Verdejo is an incredibly talented fighter, and he has a lot of things going for him, including blistering speed and fantastic power. Sadly however he still has a number of real issues, and issues that have been clear issues in both of his losses. One of those is his stamina. Due to his style he puts a lot in every shot he throws, and when those shots don’t take opponents out he uses a lot of energy. That’s great if you blow opponents out, which he likely expected to do here, but by the end of round 5 he had clearly slowed and in round 6 he was becoming negative. This was very, very similar to how he suffered his previous loss, with his negativity kicking in, and Verdejo using a lot of energy to try and stay from a taller man.
Another issues he has is his heart. He’s rarely come under any real pressure during his career, but the two notable times where he has had questions being asked of him he has come undone. Sadly for Verdejo whilst a fighter can learn to pace themselves better they can’t suddenly develop the heart and guts to dig themselves out of a hole. With Verdejo having now twice been broken down in the later stages of fights, whilst tiring and crumbling mentally, we suspect he will never become the star he was groomed to be.
3-Nakatani’s jab was vital to his victory
Standing at close to 6’ Masayoshi Nakatani has one of the tallest bodies in the Lightweight division and one of the longest reaches in the division. With that in mind it will come as no surprise to learn he has a solid jab, and that jab really was his key to victory here. Not only did it help him create space when he needed it but it also helped get Verdejo’s respect, broke his man down, created situations to land his right hand and forced the stoppage late on. It also, more notably than anything, helped him extend this fight, and allowed him to slowly break Verdejo mentally and get to a tired Verdejo late on. The lanky Japanese fighter might not be the quickest fighter, or even the smoothest fighter out there, but that long jab is a brilliant weapon and something that he has shown in both of his US bouts as well as his Japanese bouts. Notably however when fighters have taken the jab away from him, as Izuki Tomioka did in 2018, he does struggle to work his way into bouts.
4-ESPN’s commentary was poor
Through much of the early rounds the commentary was more focused on Verdejo’s preparation for the fight rather than calling what was going on in the ring. This meant they ignored a lot of work, with far too much time spent talking about Ismael Salas, who seemed to be the focus of the commentary work for much of round 2. They were very much overlooking everything Nakatani did and over-egging what Verdejo was doing, other than Timothy Bradley who actually did add some genuine insight here about Verdejo’s lack of body shots, rather than repeat “Nakatani can’t take all these shots”, something he did. The pro-Verdejo commentary ended up missing out on some very important things, and also ended up not mentioning Verdejo’s loss, which came to a physically similar fighter to Nakatani, something that would have actually been very insightful for this bout. One of the most annoying things about modern day commentary is that it’s very cheerleading of a fighter, and that was shown here.
It wasn’t until round 5 that they even seemed to question Verdejo, who had been having success but was still being caught himself in the earlier rounds. Even in the later stages, when Nakatani was coming on strong, the focus still seemed to be about Verdejo, and what he had to do to win and his past, rather than what was actually happening. This even saw the commentary talking about Tyson Fury Vs Anthony Joshua at the start of round 9, when Nakatani rocked Verdejo.
Andre Ward even said it was difficult to see Verdejo go out like he did, continuing the narrative that Verdejo was their man. Whilst he might be the Top Rank fighter they need to separate promotional bias from their commentary.
For us commentary should be adding to the fight and telling us what is happening to the fight. It shouldn’t be about trying to sell out of the ring narratives and sacrifices or other fights. Tell us about the fight that is going on, and even give the fight a chance to breathe. This was an incredible fight, and it deserved so much better than it got.
5-Celestino Ruiz did a great job here
In 2013 Celestino Ruiz was the third man in the ring for a controversial bout between Mike Mollo and Artur Szpilka, and he made it very clear which side he was on. He was widely condemned for his performance that night, and deservedly so. Since then however he has slowly been building a solid body of work, and this bout was another example of it. Lesser referees would have panicked after the first knockdown and robbed us of what was a great fight, but Ruiz took his time. Ruiz was also timely with his breaks when the fighters were tangled, even when those the clinches favoured the tiring Verdejo. He also gave Verdejo every chance to continue after the first knockdown. Where he didn’t need to be involved he didn’t involve himself, and like a good referee he let the action flow as much as possible.
We think it’s probably time where we accept Ruiz is actually a very, very good referee, and the Mollo Vs Szpilka fight was a very bad night at the office for him, rather than a sign of anything else.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).