Toward the end of the 30 minutes spent talking to Fat Joe about the young kid making waves with his preposterous power, the legendary Bronx rapper would like to make one thing very clear. There are plenty of reasons why he’s ride or die for New York boxing sensation Edgar Berlanga, who’s on the verge of blowing up. But business ain’t one of ‘em.
“I don’t make no money off of Edgar Berlanga,” says Fat Joe. “This is strictly out of love and respect.”
Chances are you’re unfamiliar with Berlanga unless you’re a serious boxing fan. But if you’ve seen any of the 23-year-old’s 16 professional fights then you know why the undefeated super middleweight caught Fat Joe’s attention in the first place. Berlanga’s scary power—which we’ll get to shortly—is just different.
Add in their shared Puerto Rican heritage and ties to the Big Apple—since Berlanga split his time growing up between Bushwick, Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Lower East Side—it’s easy to see how the two gravitated toward each other. A couple of years after they first connected, what’s morphed from mutual admiration to friendship to a mentor-mentee relationship now goes even deeper than that.
“He took a young kid like me that’s coming up, that’s rising very fast in the sport of boxing, and he took me under the wing of the Terror Squad and [has been a] big mentor in my life,” says Berlanga. “I watched him grow up as a young child and actually being side by side with him is a blessing from God.”
Grounded by a close circle and the theory that knockouts lead to wins, wins lead to big fights, bigger fights lead to title shots, and belts mean you’re earning the big bucks, Berlanga will readily tell you how Fat Joe has helped steer him on a course to be a champion and not just another sad story of unfulfilled potential in a sport full of them.
“I give people a lot of credit to go in the ring with Edgar Berlanga. Whoever goes in the ring with him ain’t a coward because it’s scary standing on the other side of the ring from Edgar Berlanga because you know he’s trying to punch a hole through your head.” — Fat Joe
If you want to get fancy with your vocabulary, the advice Fat Joe offers would be considered sage. New Yorkers would just say the Bronx-bred rapper is keeping it real with his protégé. Do as I say, not as I do—or did—because Fat Joe, who burst onto the scene three decades ago and has been a fixture ever since, can tell all kinds of stories about the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of the entertainment industry.
“I made a lot of mistakes coming up. I’ve seen a lot of other boxers and athletes that could’ve been really, really successful take the wrong turn,” says Fat Joe. “So when I see a brother like this that’s doing his thing, got a beautiful family, got the people behind him, and he wants to listen, I’ll give him what I think is the right advice for him to succeed and become champion of the world and become a living legend. He has everything it takes. The only thing that stops people like Edgar Berlanga is the temptation of the streets. So when I talk to him it’s always positivity.”
And about building a legacy. Berlanga, of course, has a long way to go to earn superstar status in the sport or OG credentials around New York like Fat Joe. But if he’s the next big thing in boxing, it’s only a matter of time. So…is he?
In a sport that perennially places absurd expectations on promising prospects and often makes ridiculous comparisons—this guy’s the next Mike Tyson or that guy’s Floyd Mayweather 2.0, when the reality is no one will ever resemble Iron Mike or Money Mayweather—the honest answer is, who knows? Berlanga’s got a ton of potential and we’ll see how the bruiser handles tougher competition and the pressure to continually deliver a crowd-pleasing outcome—aka, his trademark knockout.
If you haven’t seen Berlanga box we’ll let it slide since his professional fights have never lasted past the first-round. He’s 16-0 with 16 KOs and owns an absurd 16-fight first-round knockout streak—Ali Raymi’s 21 consecutive first-round KOs to begin a career stands as the record—that will be put on the line Saturday in Kissimmee, Florida when Berlanga faces Demond Nicholson (23-3-1, 20 KOs) on ESPN. Every one of Berlanga’s opponents has been viciously dropped, or the fight stopped, in less than three minutes because he has hands heavier than cement-covered bricks.
There are plenty of young, exciting fighters with bright futures you should be paying attention to. A bunch of them even fight under the Top Rank banner like Berlanga. But Berlanga is one you definitely don’t want to miss—not because he’s approaching pound-for-pound status. And not because intriguing showdowns with David Benavidez or pound-for-pound No. 1 Canelo Alvarez are imminent. For right now, it’s all about that insane streak and the power he possesses—we’re talking concussive, destructive, turn out the lights kind of power. Frankly, it’s frightening.
“I give people a lot of credit to go in the ring with Edgar Berlanga,” says Fat Joe. “Whoever goes in the ring with him ain’t a coward because it’s scary standing on the other side of the ring from Edgar Berlanga because you know he’s trying to punch a hole through your head.”
The rapper had heard about Berlanga before their first conversation, which came on a video shoot in Miami. Reggaeton star De La Ghetto handed Fat Joe his phone and asked him to wish the pugilist good luck before a fight. Turned out Berlanga knew a bunch of Terror Squad members and the bond between them grew from there.
On the pre-pandemic nights when Fat Joe would walk Berlanga into the ring for his fight on the undercard, “Lean Back” on blast, he’d tell the fighter to knock his opponent “through the ropes.” And after Berlanga basically obliged, Fat Joe would hightail it out of his ringside seat just to make a statement.
“I ain’t going to lie, I want to stay for the main event sometimes because I love boxing,” says Fat Joe, who promised to be at Silver Spurs Arena this weekend. “But the point has to be made: I am only here for Edgar Berlanga and I get right up after the fight and they’re like, ‘Wow, there’s more fights and this guy is outta here.’ I’m here to see Edgar. The day’s done. That’s it. And that’s important.”
Away from the gym or arena, when they’re out together in Miami or New York, Fat Joe will make sure Berlanga isn’t drinking, taking care of his body, and staying out of trouble. So much stupid shit happens to boxers on the rise—often their own doing, but not always—that 300,000 words wouldn’t be enough to document all the sport’s tragic figures who wasted their talent, money, or both. Fat Joe always keeps in mind one New York boxer in particular as a reason why he constantly makes sure Berlanga stays on the straight and narrow. He declines to name him, but serious boxing fans probably have an idea who he’s talking about. Coming of age in the Big Apple in the ’90s, Fat Joe watched success go straight to the fighter’s head.
“He won a chip and next thing you know we couldn’t get him out of a strip club, he was poppin’ Champagne every day, drunk, this, this, that. Lost his chip and nobody ever says his name no more,” says Fat Joe. “And he was like an up-and-coming Edgar Berlanga. And he lost it. He had the world in his hands and he just went out there blowing it on chicks, getting drunk, and he messed up his career. So that’s what I always keep in the back of my mind when I talk to Edgar.”
Certainly, there are questions about how how he’ll look like when he has to box more than three minutes or even approaches going the distance, whether that’s eight, 10, or eventually 12 rounds. But right now, it’s all about the power. Berlanga didn’t discover his until he turned pro in 2016. “It started in sparring and I would just hurt guys my weight,” he says. Berlanga’s father always told him he had it, but he didn’t become a believer until he punished his first opponent.
“I have that make-you-think-four-times-before-you-throw power,” says Berlanga. “I have the type of power where I hit somebody and I know for a fact that the opponent goes down and is like, ‘Why did I just step into the ring with this dude?’ I have knockout power, but I have heavy, heavy hands and with my explosion it makes it worse. The day of fight night I feel like the Hulk.”
While he’s known for the knockouts, and rightfully so, with the help of his highly respected trainer Andre Rozier, Berlanga says he’s incorporated the trademarks of legends—like future Hall of Famers Andre Ward and Mayweather—among others. “When I pulled the guy’s glove down, I grabbed that from [Vasiliy] Lomachenko,” says Berlanga. He’s also implemented Miguel Cotto’s body shots and Félix Trinidad’s left hook in training and sparring sessions. Hopefully, we’ll actually get to see him use them in a fight.
Just like his Puerto Rican idols Cotto and Trinidad, Berlanga hopes to main event at Madison Square Garden one day. Ideally, the night before New York’s forever festive Puerto Rican Day Parade annually held in June. It would be a weekend to remember for Fat Joe and every Berlanga fanatic.
“With Edgar, it’s bigger than even Edgar,” says Fat Joe. “It’s New York City pride, it’s Boriqua pride, so when Edgar knocks him out it feels like we all won. We don’t know how to act. And we rub it in. So when you pick a fight against Edgar Berlanga just know you’re going to be on Instagram with Fat Joe live and I’m surprised one of these boxers ain’t try to knock me out in the streets because I be going bad for Edgar Berlanga. Too bad.”
Fat Joe isn’t the only famous native New Yorker in Berlanga’s corner. Tracy Morgan has also become a friend and mentor. Berlanga will hang out at Morgan’s mansion in New Jersey from time to time, shoot the shit, and talk about the perils of superstardom.
“With Tracy, it’s family, just like Joe. It’s not even a friendship,” says Berlanga. “I can call Tracy whenever I want and he’ll pick up. I go to his house, I’m in his mansion, and we watch movies and we talk. And he loves to talk so he’ll have me there until 3 o’clock in the morning. And then he’ll be like, ‘Yo, why you leaving?’ And I’m like, ‘So make me a room over here.’”
You might even catch Berlanga in an upcoming episode of Morgan’s TBS series The Last O.G. The boxer says he’s been talking to the production team of the comedy show and could end up filming a few scenes in May. But if Morgan gets any closer to Berlanga, Fat Joe—who once turned down a stupid amount of money to fight 50 Cent back in the day—would like to issue a warning.
“I may have to get into the ring for a celebrity fight against Tracy Morgan because he’s trying to steal my guy,” he jokes.