Next Friday night, Willie Nelson (22-1-1, 13KO’s) will be entering the ring with a bit of a chip on his shoulder when he faces hard-hitting Mexican contender Luis Grajeda (17-2-2, 13KO’s) in the 10-round main event on that evening’s ESPN Friday Night Fights card, live from Fallon, NV. Nelson will be looking to take out his frustrations and make a major statement to the 154lb. division when he returns to ESPN, the network where he scored his most impressive victory to date just a little over one year ago.
“I have had a great training camp for this fight. My elbow is 100% and I am ready to put on an impressive performance next Friday night and move another step closer to challenging for a world title,” said Nelson.
In March of last year, Nelson, who was coming off equally impressive back-to-back 10-round unanimous decision victories over previously undefeated prospects Yudel Jhonson (12-0) and John Jackson (13-0), was matched against durable contender Michael Medina (26-3-2) in an eight-round co-feature on Friday Night Fights. Nelson was the slight favorite heading into the bout, but a tough and grueling fight was expected out of the two contenders. Just two minutes into the very first round though, the bout was waved off after Nelson twice sent Medina crashing to the canvas.
It was a sensational performance from Nelson that catapulted him into his HBO debut later that same year when he won a thrilling 10-round unanimous decision over fellow contender Luciano Cuello (32-2), whose two previous losses came against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Canelo Alvarez.
Nelson was on a roll, having moved up in weight from 147lbs. and winning five consecutive bouts following his lone defeat-an eight-round majority decision loss to fellow prospect Vincent Arroyo in 2011. Nelson was then scheduled to move up in weight again and take on former three-time world title challenger and top middleweight Matthew Macklin that December on HBO. Just weeks before the bout was to take place though, Nelson suffered an injury to his elbow that required surgery and put him on the sidelines for the time being.
After allowing his elbow to fully heal, which included an extensive and aggressive rehabilitation, Nelson looked to secure a fight with arguably the most feared 154lb. fighter in the world, James Kirkland. A boxer that no champion or top contender was looking to challenge, Nelson was all but begging to fight. Unfortunately, that bout fell by the wayside when Kirkland’s career reached a standstill after running into personal issues.
Nelson returned from a year layoff in June on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez middleweight championship event at Madison Square Garden, scoring a first-round TKO over former perennial contender Darryl Cunningham. Now, he will step back into the spotlight of ESPN when he takes on the dangerous Mexican Grajeda next Friday night. The bout against Grajeda will be the first for Nelson since signing with manager Cameron Dunkin.
“There is no way to sugarcoat it. This past year has been one of the most frustrating years of my life, but I am ready to leave all of that behind me and put on an impressive performance next Friday night. Grajeda is a big, strong kid. I have to be very smart in there and take control of the fight right away. My jab is going to be very important in this fight. I have to make a statement as I am knocking on the door to a world championship. Putting on an impressive performance is a must.”
“I have added Cameron Dunkin to our team, who I feel is one of the best managers in the business. We are ready to throw our name into the hat with any of the 154lb. champions out there. I really want to fight ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade or Carlos Molina, but anyone with a title is good by me. To get that opportunity, though, I must first take care of business next Friday, and, like I said, I have to do so in impressive fashion and that is our plan.”
“This is a very important fight for Willie. We feel that Willie is ready for a world title opportunity and his size, athleticism and ability make him a threat to any of the 154lb. titlists. To get there, though, he must take care of business on August 8th. Grajeda is a real big, solid guy with a lot of power, which makes this a dangerous fight. However, we feel that Willie is truly one of the best 154lb. fighters in the world and he will show that next Friday night,” said promoter Lou DiBella.
“We are excited for Willie to be back on ESPN and are looking forward to working with Cameron and the entire Team Nelson family to get Willie that world championship opportunity, which he so rightfully deserves. Willie is back 100% and he will show the world that he is ready to be the next junior middleweight champion,” said co-promoter Steve Smith, of Rumble Time Promotions.
“Willie’s injury and resulting layoff was a setback for Willie right when his path to superstardom was being cleared. ESPN is a great opportunity to show the boxing world that Willie’s elbow is 100% healthy. Grajeda is a tough guy, a hard puncher, a National champion in Mexico, and a fighter that has never been stopped. Willie’s victories are littered with tough guys and hard hitters. August 8th on ESPN is the next step. Make no mistake, short term goals are Friday Night Fights and world titles,” said longtime advisor Sam Shapiro.
Renowned trainer Jack Loew echoed similar sentiments as Smith and Shapiro and is looking for an impressive showing out of his charge next Friday night.
“This is a must-look-good fight for Willie. We have had some bad breaks recently and a great showing puts us right back in the picture,” stated Loew.