August 15, 2022

For as long as Edgar Berlanga – and really anyone around him – can remember, it’s always been about getting to this fight, on this day, at this arena. 

Fifteen years ago this weekend, Berlanga sat as a child among a sold out, raucous Madison Square Garden crowd as he watched his longtime idol Miguel Cotto knockout Zab Judah to retain the WBA welterweight world title.

As the Puerto Rican Day parade captivated his community in celebration across New York City, Cotto, a Puerto Rican superstar who won multiple world titles in four weight classes, was at the center of it all, electrifying a largely Puerto Rican audience with his iconic victory. Years prior, Berlanga’s other idol, the legendary Felix “Tito Trinidad,” did the same, setting a tradition for the best fighters from the island to follow. 

The experiences left Berlanga, now 25 and climbing up the super middleweight rankings, with both “goosebumps” and a blueprint. A Puerto Rican native to Bushwick, Brooklyn and the Lower East Side in Manhattan, Berlanga (19-0) saw his vision, and dream, play out right in front of his eyes. Throughout his entire boxing journey, everything has been working toward representing his community, on this stage, as his heroes did. 

Edgar Berlanga during his last fight in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Getty Images

As the Puerto Rican Day parade returns to the Big Apple streets for the first time in two years (due to the pandemic), Berlanga’s obsession has brought him to his long-fantasized moment. He headlines as the main event Saturday night against Alexis Angulo (27-2) in a super middleweight showdown at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater (11 p.m., ESPN). 

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“I spoke this into existence,” Berlanga said, while sitting down with The Post at The Stewart Hotel in midtown. “I just kept saying this weekend is gonna come, I know Puerto Rican Day weekend, headlining, I knew it was gonna come and I feel like I spoke it into existence.”

Cotto, meanwhile, will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday, while Trinidad is already part of the exclusive club. Years after they inspired a young Berlanga, who saw his future self in them, the roles are reversed. They now see themselves in Berlanga. 

“Trinidad told me that the first day,” Berlanga said. “He told me that the first day I met him last year, once I walked in, we met at a restaurant.

“I met up with him, and that was the first thing he said. He saw the charisma, but he also saw the humbleness. He saw humbleness, and then he saw, he told me ‘I see a glimpse of myself in you.’ That meant a lot.”

The effervescent Berlanga carries a particular giddiness when speaking about Cotto and Trinidad, and how much they’ve meant to his career. When visiting his homeland, Berlanga and Trinidad went for an early-morning run that also served as a brainstorming session for Berlanga’s career. Trinidad convinced Berlanga, who had previously held his training camps either in New York or Las Vegas, to train in Puerto Rico among the people he was about to represent, like he once did.

Berlanga, as the headliner on a heavily-Puerto Rican card, has become the face of the island’s exciting up-and-comers in boxing, a role and responsibility he actively embraces. He’s one of Top Ranks top emerging draws, becoming a hit with the vibrant Puerto Rican community throughout New York City. He sold out his last fight at MSG’s Hulu Theater, the first time he headlined a card in his career. He’s intertwined his image alongside some of the biggest Puerto Rican hip hop stars, having already walked out with Fat Joe and Myke Towers among others. On Saturday, he’ll be joined by Don Omar on his way to the ring. 

“[Trinidad] specifically said ‘this is your island. You’re becoming the face of Puerto Rico, the best thing for you to do is to be here with your people, so your people can feel you and be able to touch you and know that you’re here and feel your presence.’ ” 

Edgar Berlanga
Edgar Berlanga while in training in Puerto Rico, where his celebrity is even greater.
Peter Amador / Top Rank
Edgar Berlanga while in training in Puerto Rico, where his celebrity is even greater.
Edgar Berlanga while in training in Puerto Rico.
Peter Amador / Top Rank

Berlanga felt that “energy” while in Puerto Rico, where his celebrity is even greater than in New York, and hopes to carry that into the ring with him. The trip also served as a reset for him, allowing him to feel “amazing” physically, helping him keep his weight down while also allowing him to be “mentally right, stress free, in a good space.” It came at perhaps the most pivotal juncture of his career. 

After starting with 16 straight first round knockouts – and quickly growing his stardom and working his way up the 168-pound ranks in the process – Berlanga has perhaps failed to match some of that electricity in his last three bouts. He won all three by unanimous decision, but went the distance and looked vulnerable, failing to produce some of the same jaw-dropping moments he had made routine.

His performances prompted speculation about just how ready he was for the top fighters in the division and just how much potential he had to be a world champion. Top ESPN boxing analyst, and former world champion, Timothy Bradley called Berlanga “The Phony One” on the broadcast after his most-recent fight with Steve Rolls, playing on Berlanga’s “The Chosen One” moniker and the early-career prowess he had built up. 

Of course, much of it was unfair – he had taken big jumps up in competition, and was still winning relatively easily, at least points-wise. Against Rolls, when Berlanga faced particularly-strong criticism, the former title contender largely ran and evaded Berlanga, content to merely stay in the bout and go the distance, avoiding serious damage. The 38-year-old Angulo, who has challenged for two world titles, presents a similar challenge – an aging veteran looking to survive.

“Boxing is like that, you’re going to go the distance, you’re going to catch knockouts, you’re going to go the distance again, you’re going to catch an amazing knockout, boxing is like a roller coaster.,” Berlanga said. “You’ve got to just make sure you don’t jump off, you just keep it going, just keep it pushing.”

Still, it somewhat slowed some of the rapid momentum in his young career. After a transformative trip in Puerto Rico, Berlanga is back to feeling like his “old-self.” 

“For me, everyone that was talking, that was badmouthing me and stuff, this weekend they’re still gonna tune in,” he said. “They’re still gonna buy the tickets, they’re still sitting down, probably not in the front row, probably all the way in the back where the birds are at, but they’re definitely going to be tuning in still, so that’s all that matters.” 

Regardless of what people think of his recent bouts, Berlanga has proven his draw is legitimate, and only growing. He’s in no rush to face the division’s elite before he’s ready, but recognizes the expectations his hype, and promotion, have brought. 

Edgar Berlanga, left, and Alexis Angulo ahead of their June 11 fight.
Edgar Berlanga, left, and Alexis Angulo ahead of their June 11 fight.
Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images

On Thursday, Madison Square Garden revealed the winner on Saturday night will receive the inaugural Miguel Cotto Trophy in honor of the former champion’s feats at the arena. It only seems natural Berlanga be the one to first hoist it, just as everything about Berlanga’s career, both inside and outside the ring, has seemed so natural. From the moment Cotto inspired him as a kid sitting in the stands, to now fighting center stage, Berlanga never wavered. 

And now he’s getting everything he dreamed of.

“I’m Puerto Rican. I’m from New York, representing Puerto Rico, I’m from both,” Berlanga said. “I’m handsome, I’ve got charisma. I’m 6’1”. I’ve got white teeth, I’ve got everything. I’ve got the whole package. A lot of fighters, they’re ugly. No offense, but they are. They’re not marketable like that. I feel like with just that, obviously you have to know how to fight. If you can’t fight, you can’t give what the fans want and what the people want to see on TV, then you’re nothing. But I feel like I’ve got the whole package.”