World super welterweight contender Willie “The Great” Nelson (22-1-1, 13 KOs), rated No. 5 in the world by the World Boxing Council (WBC), is back on track after surgery to his left elbow temporarily derailed his very promising career.
Nelson takes on former Mexican champion Luis “Slayer” Grajeda (17-2-2, 13 KOs) in the 10-round main event on this week’s ESPN Friday Night Fights, airing live from Churchill County Fairgrounds in Fallon, Nevada.
“My elbow is fine, 100-percent, and I don’t even think about it when I’m fighting,” Nelson said. “It’s been frustrating but I’m a fighter and I’m looking forward. I’m focused on winning this fight, not on who I might be fighting next. I can’t get my big fight without making a big splash this Friday night. Grajeda is in top shape, always comes to fight, and nobody’s ever stopped him.”
Nelson is riding an impressive six-fight win streak into this Friday night’s fight. He had moved up to No. 3 in the WBC and signed to fight three-time world title challenger Matthew Macklin last December on HBO, however, the aforementioned elbow surgery forced him to pull out of that fight.
Nelson was on a real roll, too, ranked as high as No. 3 in the WBC with all signs pointing towards his first world title fight in 2014. Following his upset win over one Olympian, 2004 Cuban silver medalist Yudel Jhonson (currently WBC #18) by 10-round decision (97-92, 97-92, 95-94), Nelson defeated former U.S. Virgin Island Olympian, previously unbeaten (13-0) John Jackson (currently WBC #6), by way of a 10-round unanimous decision (98-92, 96-94, 96-94) for the vacant North American Boxing Federation (NABF) title.
Then, on ESPN Friday Night Fights, Nelson registered a sensational first-round knockout of Michael Medina (26-3-2), whose ankle was fractured from the force of the blow. This scintillating performance earned Nelson his first shot on HBO, in which Nelson took a 10-round decision (97-93, 97-93, 96-94) from underrated Luciano Leonel Cuello (32-2), who is currently No. 13 by the WBC.
The stage was set for Nelson’s showdown with Macklin at 160 pounds, albeit for his elbow injury, which momentarily curtailed his rise to stardom
“We’re grateful to ESPN for once again giving Willie great exposure fighting again on national television,” added Steve Smith (Rumble Time Promotions) who co-promotes Nelson with DiBella Entertainment. “A bad injury that required elbow surgery slowed his career but he put in a lot of hard rehab and we’re moving forward together as a team. HBO has indicated to us that Willie will be fighting back on HBO later this year, but he needs to look great this Friday against a hard punching opponent who’s never been stopped.
“It’s not easy getting top guys to fight Willie because of his size (6′ 3 ½” and 81″ reach) and tremendous talent as an elite boxer-puncher. We thought Willie was going to fight (James) Kirkland on HBO a few months ago but he was MIA. Sooner, rather than later, Willie’s time to shine will come.”
Alicia vs. Huff in Friday night’s undercard
Another Cleveland fighter also co-promoted by Rumble Time Promotions and DiBella Entertainment, undefeated middleweight prospect Eduardo Alicea (7-0, 3 KOs), is also scheduled to fight on this Friday’s card against Kirk Huff (3-0, 1 KO) in a six-round bout. The 23-year-old Alicia had a sterling 143-16 amateur, highlighted by his gold-medal performance at the 2007 National Junior Olympics champion. Famed trainer Robert Garcia is Alicia’s chief second.
Nelson returned to the ring this past June 7 at Madison Square Garden on the off-TV undercard of the Miquel Cotto–Sergio Martinez pay-per-view event. The freakishly built super welterweight from Cleveland took out all his bent-up frustrations out on veteran Darryl Cunningham (29-6), who was decked twice in the opening round before referee Eddie Claudio mercifully halted the action only 2:43 into the action.
Now, Nelson continues his quest for a world title and/or career-defining fight, showcasing his vast skills this Friday on ESPN FNF against Grajeda.
Grajeda is far from being a soft touch, though, despite American boxing fans not really knowing anything about him. To the contrary, he’s never been stopped in 21 pro fights, defeated Hector Camacho, Jr., among the more notable, and went the full eight-round distance in a competitive loss by decision to WBC #3 Jermell Charlo.
“This kid (Grajeda) can fight,” Nelson’s head trainer Jack Loew added. “He’s 17-3 and a big, strong, hungry kid who at 6′ 1” can punch. He has everything to gain fighting the No. 5 super welterweight in the WBC. If he can pull off an upset, he’s right in the picture.
“Any setback at this stage is frustrating. My guy deserves a big fight but that’s what an injury like Willie had can do. It’s not fair but sometimes it’s that way in boxing. My job is to make Willie believe in me and that he’ll get there. He knows I’m not lying because I’ve been there before with Kelly Pavlik, who was 27-0 before he had his first real big fight. I believe everything happens for a reason. We didn’t fight Macklin but that’s in the rear mirror. If we let everybody do their job (to get Nelson into a big fight), it’s easier for us to do ours in the gym and ring.”