NEW YORK (AP) — Nicholas Walters heard the crowd booing the lack of action and waiting for him to live up to his “Axe Man” nickname.
Then again, he had not fought an opponent as tough as Miguel Marriaga until Saturday night’s WBA featherweight fight in which he did enough to remain unbeaten with a unanimous decision.
Walters (26-0) did not retain his title because he was stripped of it Friday when he failed to make weight. He was originally 127.4 pounds at the weigh-in, and two hours later, he was still a pound over the 126-pound limit.
Walters did not “chop down” or knock out Marriaga but his performance was enough to get scores of 119-108, 118-109 and 117-110. In a rematch from their 2008 amateur bout that Marriaga won in Guatemala, the 29-year-old landed 34 percent of his overall punches and 52 percent of power punches.
“The crowd is used to Nicholas knocking out people a lot,” Walters said. “I’m coming off eight months rest and it was a tough fight. I hurt him. Maybe some of the guys who go down (get hurt), but he was tough and stood up.”
After getting the win, Walters said that he will take two weeks to consider a move up to 130 pounds. His next fight is expected to come against Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko.
Nicknamed “Axe Man” for his ability to “chop down” or knock out opponents, Walters did not get his 22nd career knockout and only dropped Marriaga (20-1) once. That came in the final seconds of the ninth round when Walters landed an overhand right on Marriaga’s ear. It was a similar punch that knocked out Nonito Donaire in the sixth round last October in California, but this time it did little overall damage.
“I know I hurt him. I hurt him in the ninth and in the last round, too,” Walters said. “I threw a body shot and (thought) he was done. I was trying to get him (down), I just couldn’t get him.”
Earlier in the fight, the Colombian landed an overhand right that briefly stunned Walters in the fourth round.
“I got tired at the end,” Marriaga said. “He’s very strong for a fighter his size. It felt like I was fighting a welterweight. I tried my best and he was just too good.
Walters’ victory followed a lightweight bout between Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo and Mexican-American Ivan Najera that entertained the announced crowd of 3,321.
Considered by many as the next major Puerto Rican star fighter after Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto, Verdejo went the distance for the first time in his 18 professional fights. He remained undefeated with a unanimous decision: 100-88, 100-88 and 99-89.
Verdejo said he got hurt in the first round, the same round that each of his previous four fights in New York ended. This was only the fourth time an opponent got past the fourth round.
Verdejo dropped Najera twice with his left hand in the fifth and seventh, but each time Najera got up and the fight continued. With about a minute left in the fifth, Verdejo landed a hard uppercut to the face, and in the final seconds of the seventh he got Najera again with his left hand.
“He is one of the toughest opponents I have faced,” Verdejo said. “He’s the first opponent I dropped and he kept coming back.”
After going down twice, Najera hung in, and by the final round both were trading wild shots before embracing when the fight ended.
“He’s tough, he’s very technical,” Najera said. “He’s slick. He counters good and his punches come out of nowhere. I never saw either knockdown punches.”
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