Big fights, Nicholas “The Axeman” Walters says. Nothing else but big fights.
“You know,” the former featherweight champion said, “I just want to be involved in the biggest fights that are out there. After this, nothing but big fights.”
Walters lost his title, and a lot of his reputation, on the scales in June when he couldn’t make the featherweight limit of 126 pounds for a fight in New York against Miguel Marriaga.
Worse, he didn’t display any of the trademark explosiveness he became known for over the last few years, particularly in blowout wins over big names such as Nonito Donaire and Vic Darchinyan.
Marriaga entered the fight with a perfect record that included 18 knockouts in 20 wins. Given that Walters entered with a 25-0 mark and 21 knockouts, big things were expected.
After Walters missed weight, the fight went on, and instead of a shootout, it was a highly technical bout.
It had nothing to do, Walters said, with being physically drained from trying to make the weight.
“Missing the weight, I have nobody to blame but myself, and I accept full responsibility,” Walters told Yahoo Sports. “It’s my job to be on weight and I was a bit too undisciplined. I apologize to all of my fans for that, and I assure them it won’t happen again.
“But I studied the tape of the fight with [Marriaga] very closely. I know people were expecting a war, but this wasn’t just a guy who was running. He was intelligent and he fought a very smart fight. It was high-level boxing.”
Walters returns on Saturday at The Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y., in a non-title super featherweight bout against Jason Sosa on an HBO show headlined by heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Luis Ortiz.
Sosa isn’t a big name, but he’s a hard puncher, and there is plenty of concern within Top Rank, Walters’ promoter, that this could go Sosa’s way.
“There are a lot of people who think Sosa can beat him,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “He’s extraordinarily heavy handed and he’s got a great chin. This is no set-up. This is going to test Walters.”
Walters, though, is eager for the challenge. He praised Sosa and said he’s trained diligently because he knows how gifted Sosa is.
He also wants to close the year on a high note, so that the last memory of him isn’t missing weight and then failing to perform at the level his fans expect.
“I think 2016 is going to be the year of ‘The Axeman,’ ” Walters said. “I want to give the Axe fans a great fight to get them excited for 2016. I want to fight three times, maybe four, in 2016. I don’t want the fans to be aching to see ‘The Axeman’ any more.
“And I want all the big names. Bring them to me. Give me a big name and I’m ready for it.”
He mentioned featherweight champs Leo Santa Cruz and Vasyl Lomachenko, as well as WBA super featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama.
Arum said he’s talked with Uchiyama promoter Akihiko Honda of Teiken Promotions about a match between Walters and Uchiyama in the first quarter of next year.
Yahoo Sports mentioned fast-rising Felix Verdejo as a potential opponent. Walters didn’t dismiss the possibility and said Verdejo “is definitely a good young fighter.”
But he said Verdejo is still learning and would prefer to fight more established opposition.
Verdejo, fresh off a crushing knockout Friday of Josenilson dos Santos, took the veteran approach and warned Walters not to look ahead.
“Walters needs to make sure that he beats Sosa first before thinking about future opponents,” Verdejo said.
Arum doused water on a potential Walters-Verdejo match, saying his plan is for Verdejo to fight for the title sometime in the second half of 2016.
Walters plans to have several fights under his belt by that point.
And he doesn’t plan to carry with him the disappointment he felt when he missed weight by a pound in June.
“You know, when I was young, I dreamed of being a world champion, and I’ve done that,” he said. “And now my dream is to be in the big fights and have the fans excited every time they know ‘The Axeman’ is coming, because they know I will deliver. I want 2016 to be the year of the big fights for me. The more the better. That’s what I want.”