On an island: Pedraza determined to remain Puerto Rico’s lone native male champion

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Jose Pedraza is well aware of his status in the hierarchy of Puerto Rican pugilism.

Jose Pedraza

When he defends his 130-pound world title against Gervonta Davis on Saturday, Jose Pedraza will have an entire island in his corner, as he’s the only male boxer from his native Puerto Rico who currently holds a world title.

With his unanimous decision over Andrey Klimov for a vacant 130-pound crown in June 2015, the Boricua added his name to the island’s impressive list of world champions. It’s a list that includes Puerto Rico’s only four-division champion (Miguel Cotto) and a trio of multidivision titleholders (Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez and Felix Trinidad).

“People forget how small an island Puerto Rico is, so their amount of [boxing] success has been remarkable,” says Showtime analyst and boxing historian Steve Farhood. “Pedraza hasn’t reached the level of so many other Puerto Rican champions because the quality of his opposition has been good but not fantastic.”

Perhaps, but in the wake of defeats suffered last summer by two Puerto Rico-born champions—130-pound titleholder Roman Martinez’s fifth-round stoppage loss to Russia’s Vasyl Lomachenko in June, and 115-pound champ McJoe Arroyo’s unanimous decision setback to Filipino Jerwin Ancajas in September—Pedraza is the lone remaining male native of Puerto Rico who possesses a world title.

Jose Pedraza (22-0, 12 KOs) will look to hold onto that honor Saturday night when he makes his third title defense against Baltimore southpaw Gervonta Davis (16-0, 15 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT).

At 22 years old, Davis is a young but dangerous fighter who is getting his first world title shot.

“Gervonta has tremendous star appeal and potential as an American because of his backstory, and he’s only 22,” Farhood says. “On the other hand, it’s very important that Pedraza retain the title, because he’s the only male Puerto Rican-born champion right now, and the standard bearer for the entire island."

While champions such as Danny Garcia (147 pounds) of Philadelphia and Jason Sosa (130) of Camden, New Jersey, are of Puerto Rican decent, neither is a native. The only other Puerto Rico-born boxing champion is Brooklyn's Amanda Serrano (30-1-1, 23 KOs), who will defend her 122-pound crown on Saturday’s undercard against Mexico’s Yasmin Rivas (35-9-1, 10 KOs).

“Being the only male Puerto Rico-born world champion is something that I’m very proud of. It is a big weight that I carry on my shoulders,” Pedraza says. “I’m going to represent my people on January 14, and I’m very proud of the opportunity.

“I am not just a champion of the ring. I am a champion of my island of Puerto Rico.”

Since winning his title, Pedraza has successfully defended it twice via split decision over Florida’s Edner Cherry in October 2015 and unanimous decision over England’s Stephen Smith in April.

He understands he’s in for a tough challenge against Davis, who is promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and in pursuit of his eighth consecutive stoppage victory. At the same time, though, Pedraza is confident he’ll emerge victorious, especially with a large contingent of Puerto Rican fans expected to fill Barclays Center in addition to those cheering him on from back home.

“Knowing that all of Puerto Rico will be in there with me encourages me to give my all," Pedraza says. “I know that I will have a lot of support from the Puerto Rican boxing fans, and I’m going to train hard to perform for them.

“I’m undefeated and I will remain undefeated after January 14.”

For complete coverage of Pedraza vs Davis, head over to our fight page.

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