Edgar Berlanga returns to the ring this Saturday in New York, facing Jason Quigley in a DAZN main event, which will be Berlanga’s first fight with Matchroom Boxing.
The 26-year-old Puerto Rican, born and raised in New York, had a strange turn as one of boxing’s hottest rising names just a few years ago, but the last two years have seen his star not just fall but assaulted by pundits, all while never actually losing a fight.
Against Quigley, Berlanga (20-0, 16 KO) has a lot to prove, at least to those skeptics.
Berlanga turned pro in Apr. 2016, and started his career with sixteen straight stoppage wins, all coming in the first round. Three years after his debut, he became a regular feature on Top Rank undercards, continuing to mow down over-matched opposition.
Boxing fans and media and surely those inside the business knew that this couldn’t last. There has always been doubt about Berlanga’s true upside, other than his marketing potential as a hard-hitting Puerto Rican super middleweight with New York roots. We’ve seen fighters go on similar streaks in the past, and quite often, they just aren’t real contenders.
But Top Rank and especially ESPN put the hype machine in full motion, probably more to Berlanga’s peril than benefit. As soon as the streak came to an end against Demond Nicholson in Apr. 2021, where he went a full eight rounds against a tough veteran — and dominated, mind you — the tone started to shift.
10-round decision wins over Marcelo Coceres, Steve Rolls, and Roamer Alexis Angulo saw the ESPN talking heads change their tune entirely, and not without any reason, but the level of harsh criticism now thrown Berlanga’s way was even more ridiculous than the over-hyping of a tomato can KO run.
Everyone who knows knew, and it was asinine for pundits to suddenly pretend Berlanga had been exposed as some ultra phony who had personally offended them, as if he had written up the ESPN.com fluff pieces or recorded the video packages himself.
When he beat Nicholson in 2021, Berlanga said he gave himself a “C” grade, and knew the performance wasn’t great — even though, again, he dominated the fight and won by hugely wide scores.
“I could have done a lot better, there were things I should have did, but we got the job done,” Berlanga said in the ring. “(Trainer Andre Rozier) was telling me to throw the jab and throw body shots. But I didn’t follow instructions. … I just continue to get experience, training hard, and stay in the gym. I need my endurance in the ring to get better and better.”
A featured spot on the Fury vs Wilder 3 undercard in Oct. 2021 saw him get a solid test from Coceres, a veteran who had also given Billy Joe Saunders a rough time in a 2019 WBO title fight.
He won that fight on unanimous scores of 96-93, and nobody really argued that the fight should have gone the other way. It was competitive, but a test passed by Berlanga, and also a reminder that he was still learning the ropes to a degree. It turns out stopping a bunch of guys inside of three minutes for three years doesn’t do a lot to teach you much.
There has been room for fair negative criticism, though, and this isn’t all the world attacking poor beleaguered Berlanga for no good reason.
The win over Rolls, another crafty veteran, saw him get a lot of flak, this time mainly for the lack of entertainment value. Sure, Rolls didn’t do much to engage in an attractive fight, but Berlanga also couldn’t make Rolls do more than Rolls wanted. And when Rolls did throw punches in the middle rounds, he gave Berlanga some fits — not enough to win enough rounds and pull an upset, but this was a bit more damning than the Coceres fight, even with similar, correct scoring.
That was the night where the tone at ESPN truly shifted, too. As John Hansen put it in his post-fight recap: “Andre Ward, Tim Bradley, and even Mark Kriegel all gave candid and valid criticism of Berlanga’s performance throughout the night. None of it was unfair, but the volume and variety of it was shocking, given how ESPN in particular usually discuss their headliners in the adoring tone of a mother describing her child’s graduation from medical school.”
That all hit new heights after the Angulo fight, just over a year ago now. Berlanga struggled more than ever, getting wide scores in a fight that was closer than the BoxRec will make it look for the rest of time.
Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images
Again, it wasn’t an entertaining fight. He also bit — or mimed the act of biting — his opponent. He joked when asked about it after the fight, “Nah, ‘cause he was throwing elbows. I was about to do a Mike Tyson on him. But he kept throwing his elbows. I didn’t want to cut. I was ready to bite him like Mike Tyson.”
Kriegel in particular took Berlanga to task for this, and rightly so — many others did, too. To his credit, Berlanga did take responsibility for not just what he did, but the way he acted about it.
“I want to apologize for my actions and what I said yesterday about the Mike Tyson bite,” he said on social media. “I was in the moment and got a little ahead of myself. It doesn’t take away from the embarrassment that I have caused upon myself, my team, Top Rank, and many others.
“I reacted poorly and take full responsibility. Moving forward, I am going to be more mindful and encouraging in my behavior. Once again, I do apologize.”
After some time on the sidelines due to injury, a surprise came in January: Berlanga and Top Rank had parted ways.
“We had a different philosophy, and we didn’t want to hold him back,” now-former promoter Bob Arum said a couple of weeks later.
“He is bound and determined to proceed at a pace that we don’t think he’s ready for — he thinks differently, and I wish him all the luck in the world. He’s a nice young man, his father is a nice guy, but we just have a different philosophy of where he’s going.”
Still, Berlanga was instantly a hot property. He’s still undefeated. He’s still a Puerto Rican fighter in a division where a fight with Mexico’s Canelo Alvarez — competitive or not — is a potential major money-maker as soon as 2024.
He spoke with Golden Boy, surely some others, and ultimately signed with Matchroom less than a month after hitting the market.
“I’m looking for the big fights and I know signing with Matchroom was the right choice to get me to where I want to go,” Berlanga said then. “I’m humbled by this opportunity, and I will dedicate myself into becoming the best 168 lber in the world. My main goal is to the land the Canelo fight and renew the greatest rivalry in boxing, Mexico vs Puerto Rico.”
New promoter Eddie Hearn spoke about Berlanga having “a great fan base,” being “a real character,” and “most importantly, he can do the business in spectacular fashion in the ring.”
But it’s been a few years and a few fights now that Berlanga has not done the business in spectacular fashion in the ring.
What, if anything, can Berlanga do on Saturday to turn the tide of general opinion? Would knocking out the 32-year-old Quigley (20-2, 14 KO) in the first round do it? Is it as simple as being entertaining in victory again, rather than the dull performances of his last couple of outings?
This isn’t a hard guy to manage into a big fight against Canelo or somebody. He’s got a lot of box office appeal, even with just the basic stuff of who he is and where he’s from. Can anything be done that will make him an actual threat once he gets there? Will the over-hype turned into abnormally harsh criticism be part of what derails him?
We’ll see him for the first time in a year on Saturday. It’s not a huge fight, but it’s an important one for Edgar Berlanga, and for Matchroom in seeing what they’ve spent their money on in the immediate.