After being named 2020’s Prospect of the Year by several publications, including Sports Illustrated and The Athletic, Edgar Berlanga, 25, was acclaimed as the Puerto Rican Mike Tyson. The 16 opponents Berlanga put to sleep in his first 16 fights against journeyman fighters tied the record and led to those early Tyson comps. However, the knockouts have stopped since Berlanga bumped up to a higher echelon of fighters. And then he bit a guy.
On Saturday night, Berlanga (20-0, 16 KO) fought Roamer Alexis Angulo (27-3, 23 KO) in the main event of a Top Rank card at the Hulu Theater inside Madison Square Garden. It was there that Berlanga, in his hometown of New York City, showed a national audience just how short he falls of the hype.
The CompuBox punch stats paint a positive picture for the A-side fighter. Berlanga landed 25.5 percent of his punches overall (108 of 423) to Angulo’s 22 percent of punches landed. Berlanga landed 35.8 percent of his power punches (58 of 162), but completed fewer than Angulo, who landed 67, but threw 231 power punches.
During the seventh round, Berlanga morphed into the worst iteration of Iron Mike during the seventh round of his super middleweight bout. While engaging in a hold of Angulo, Berlanga leaned in and appeared to sink his teeth into Angulo’s shoulder.
Berlanga later explained that his decision to chew on Angulo was more conscious than impulsive.
“He was throwing elbows. I was about to do a Mike Tyson on him,” Berlanga said during his post-fight interview. “He kept throwing his elbows, and I didn’t want to get cut.”
“Teeth = Elbows” is an interesting equation for the judges to factor in, but worked out for Berlanga. After his hangry behavior subsided, Berlanga was allowed to finish the fight and was awarded a controversial unanimous decision (98-92, 99-91, 99-91). The bite was a dumb, impulsive decision that should have resulted in a suspension of his boxing license if the sport had a less tolerant governing body. His brand is tarnished. Berlanga remains undefeated, but the shine is running off. Berlanga’s victory over Angulo was the fourth straight matchup he’s won by decision since his 16-match knockout streak was snapped.
The lengths Berlanga resorted to speak to his approaching limitations. Now that Berlanga is no longer cracking open journeymen and is forced to go 12 rounds with a slew of gatekeepers, his boxing skill has had to take precedence over his knockout ability. Instead, his jab, footwork and power punching have all been found wanting. Even his bite was a poor Tyson imitation. Tyson broke skin on Evander Holyfield’s ear in a high-stakes heavyweight title fight, whereas Berlanga had to resort to cannibalistic methods to survive a 38-year-old, past-his-prime Angulo — the sort of opponent the 2020 Prospect of the Year would have been expected to conquer.
Despite surviving his main card against Angulo, the damage to Berlanga’s reputation is done. The prospect has been panned for his performance in the ring in recent victories and if Top Rank continues to push him into matches against stronger opponents, he’ll be headed for the type of devastating loss that permanently stains young fighters. It feels strange to say this about an undefeated fighter, but something has to change within the Berlanga camp. For whatever reason, his growth as a fighter has stalled. The hype was already outpacing the skills, but judges have saved him in recent fights. It may not be long until he gets in over his head.