Edgar Berlanga still awaits the opportunity to headline a boxing event of his own, though his star power is already on the rise.
The April 24 ESPN-televised show featuring the unbeaten super middleweight will play to a sold-out crowd at Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park (OHP) in Kissimmee, Florida. The last of the first-run tickets were sold on Wednesday, more than three weeks ahead of fight night and with fewer than 80 available at the start of the week.
Headlining the show, Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete (33-1, 28KOs) makes the first defense of his WBO featherweight title versus Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz (26-2, 16KOs), a former title challenger from Barranquitas, Puerto Rico who will enjoy the crowd advantage in the Boricua-friendly Central Florida region.
Diaz is featured among a card loaded with Puerto Rican talent from the title stage all the way down to the prospect level. Chief among them is Berlanga (16-0, 16KOs; all in 1st round), a Brooklyn-bred Nuyorican knockout who was a major driving force in moving tickets, particularly all of the floor seats at the fan-friendly venue for his showdown with Maryland’s Demond Nicholson (23-3-1, 20KOs).
Also slated to appear on the show in offering island flavor are: Plantation, Florida-based welterweight Xander Zayas (7-0, 5KOs), featherweight prospects and cousins Henry ‘Moncho’ Lebron (13-0, 9KOs) and Orlando ‘Zurdo de Oro’ Gonzalez (16-0, 10KOs) and a terrific lightweight clash between Joseph Adorno (14-0-1, 12KOs), a Puerto Rican lightweight from Allentown, Pennsylvania and Jamaine Ortiz (14-0, 12KOs), an unbeaten DominiRican from Worcester, Massachusetts.
The event was capped at roughly 33% capacity due to social distancing measures. It still allows well more than 3,000 fans to attend, which will undoubtedly provide the most rabid atmosphere for any Top Rank boxing event since the pandemic. The show will mark its second outside of Las Vegas, with the company due to present an April 10 show across ESPN platforms from Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Navarrete ventures to Florida for the first time in his career, in his first fight since winning the belt in a 12-round decision over unbeaten Ruben Villa last October. The feat came months after the San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico native abandoned his WBO 122-pound title reign, having held the belt since a 12-round decision over Isaac Dogboe in Dec. 2018 at Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City.
Navarrete managed to cram six title fights into a 14-month span before vacating the belt last summer in pursuit of a featherweight belt. The move came with his taking a non-title fight at featherweight, stopping countryman Uriel Lopez in the 6th round of their June 2020 bout behind closed doors in Mexico City. Fans were also absent from his aforementioned title win over Villa last October at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
There will be a crowd on hand for his title defense versus Diaz, just heavily in favor of the challenger.
Diaz has fought seven times in Central Florida, including five times in Kissimmee. The area housed his lone other title attempt, suffering a 12-round loss to Masayuki Ito while as an unbeaten challenger ahead of their July 2018 vacant title fight at nearby Kissimmee Civic Center. The 26-year old contender is 3-1 since then, the lone loss coming versus Shakur Stevenson in April 2019 and having won his last two starts including a 10-round decision over former title challenger Jason Sanchez last June.
Berlanga fights for the third time in Florida, his previous appearance taking place in the smaller room at OHP in May 2019. The night ended the same as all others to date for Berlanga—inside the first round, as he stopped Gyorgy Varju in just 0:43 on a show which saw Jamel Herring claim the WBO junior lightweight title in the main event.
Five more first-round knockouts have been added to the 23-year-old’s résumé, including his flooring Ulises Sierra three times in 2:40 last December at the MGM Bubble, where his last three fights have taken place. Heading into the bout and in the weeks to follow, Berlanga enhanced his mainstream appeal in part due to his strong bond with Bronx-bred hip hop icon Fat Joe.
The show takes place seven weeks and more than 1,000 miles from the National Puerto Rican Day Parade held annually in New York City (and returning this June after being knocked out by Covid in 2020). However, it will precede the wildly popular annual Día Nacional de la Zalsa festival on Sunday April 25 at Central Florida Fairgrounds in Orlando.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox