Of all the parties who have distanced themselves from Felix Verdejo, his career-long promoter has yet to completely sever ties with the boxer.
Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum has revealed that Top Rank will continue to keep Verdejo under contract as he remains in jail while awaiting trial on charges of murder, kidnapping and carjacking surrounding the gruesome death of Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz. The Puerto Rican lightweight has been removed from Top Rank’s website, a move that was made prior to his arrest Sunday evening.
Verdejo remains the main suspect in the murder of Rodriguez, who had a years-long affair with the married boxer and was one month pregnant with their child. The 27-year-old former lightweight contender was denied bail during a court hearing held Monday via video conference call and has been remanded to a federal detention center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico until at least his next court date which is set for May 11.
For the moment, Verdejo will also remain contractually bound to Top Rank even if there is little to no chance of his ever again fighting under the company’s banner.
“Anyone involved in this murder has obviously committed a heinous act,” Arum stated during a recent interview with WAPA-TV. “That said, we are aware that Felix has been arrested and is in police custody… but we must remember that in the American legal system, a person is innocent until proven (guilty).
“So in that sense, even if he was released on bail, we won’t promote him in [another] fight… (but) we will not release him unless he is convicted and that is our official position. This is truly tragic. All of this is unimaginable. He was always well-mannered. If he was really involved in this tragedy, it is truly unfortunate.”
Rodriguez was first declared missing on April 29, when her sister took to social media to reveal her last steps and absence from her job. It was learned at that time that she made contact with Verdejo and was on her way to meet the boxer to reveal to him the results of a positive pregnancy test.
Puerto Rico officials issued an Alerta Rosa (Pink Alert), utilized in the case of missing women believed to be the victim of gender-based hate crimes. It remained in effect through May 1, when authorities changed the status of the mission from rescue to recovery. Rodriguez’s lifeless body was discovered in Laguna San Jose, roughly 20 miles from where she and Verdejo last met.
Verdejo initially refused to cooperate with local authorities, not answering any questions on the evening in question and again even when accompanied by attorneys during a visit to Cuerpo de Investigacion Criminales (CIC) headquarters in Hato Rey on April 30. The boxer remained a person of interest until the case was taken over by the FBI, at which point they were able to secure a witness with first-hand knowledge of the heinous acts. Verdejo was then advanced to suspect, eventually surrendering to authorities on Sunday after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
With the case being tried in federal court, the crimes carry a maximum punishment of death. Jose Rodriguez, Keishla’s father has informed media in Puerto Rico that the family is not in favor of the death penalty and rather prefer that Verdejo spends the rest of his life in prison if found guilty of the aforementioned charges.
“I don't believe in that because if you give a person who did what he did the death penalty, you are helping him,” insisted Sr. Rodriguez in recent interviews. “It is better to give him 100 years (in prison) and for it to weigh on his conscience every day for the rest of his life.”
As for Top Rank, the plan is to allow the court case to play out and accept whatever fate is dealt.
Verdejo has spent his entire eight-year pro career with Top Rank, signing with the Las Vegas-based company shortly after the 2012 London Olympics where he represented Puerto Rico.
San Juan’s Verdejo emerged as a highly touted prospect but fell apart at the contender level, suffering knockout losses to Antonio Lozada and Masayoshi Nakatani. The latter bout was the most recent ring appearance for Verdejo, who floored Nakatani twice and was ahead on all three scorecards before suffering two knockdowns en route to a 9th round knockout defeat last December at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
The defeat sent Verdejo’s record to 27-2 (17KOs), snapping a four-fight win streak and ruining plans to fight for a lightweight title in 2021.
That is now the very least of his worries, as he has emerged as among the most despised figures in Puerto Rico and throughout the boxing community. Still, he will maintain ties with his career-long employer, however unlikely he will ever again ply his trade.
“A man no matter how bad he looks, is innocent until proven guilty and we will not release him from the contract, or end our relationship with him unless and until he is convicted,” noted Arum. “We will not have any participation, neither in the defense, nor in their legal situations. We will not be involved.
“In the meantime, my prayers are with him and the judicial system will continue its course.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox