After the fight: The veiled smile of boxer Felix Verdejo

A boxing weekend that started by enjoying the Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Chris Arreola fight card ended in shock and disgust after the Felix Verdejo charges. 

Originally, I was gleefully looking forward to writing about how the Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Chris Arreola boxing card greatly superseded expectations, but the abhorrent criminal charges filed against Felix Verdejo late on Sunday, May 2, replaced that previous joy with shock and sadness.

When news broke about the disappearance of Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz on Thursday, April 29, and details began to emerge about Verdejo’s possible involvement, the worst-case scenario hovered in the background. Speculation was rampant, but there was still a modicum of hope that Ms. Rodriguez could be found safe.

That hope ended on Saturday, May 1, when Ms. Rodriguez’s body was located. The diligent reporting of‘s Jake Donovan and The Athletic’s Lance Pugmire regularly updated the boxing community about the disturbing facts surrounding Ms. Rodriguez’s murder and the growing connections to Verdejo’s alleged involvement.

Charges against Verdejo were filed late on Sunday, May 2, and Verdejo turned himself into authorities. The affidavit was made public, and Verdejo is currently charged with kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking resulting in death, and killing an unborn child. All of the charges are horrific, but the accusation of filicide adds to the monstrosity of this case.

The appalling nature of these crimes and Verdejo’s status as an athlete make these events harder to fathom. How could someone so young, talented, and seemingly respected commit these actions?

Verdejo appeared to have a kind demeanor with a beautiful wife and child from the outside looking in. The Instagram accounts of Verdejo and his wife Eliz Marie Santiago Sierra, show a happy and loving family. Verdejo and Santiago posted pictures embracing their lovely two-year-old daughter. Social media often shows what people want others to see and excludes the full picture of a person’s life.

It’s alleged that Verdejo led a double life. The 27-year-year old husband and father is alleged to have carried on a years-long relationship with Ms. Rodriguez. Keila Ortiz Rivera, Ms. Rodriguez’s mother, spoke to El Nuevo Dia about her daughter’s disappearance and asserted relationship with Verdejo.

Boxer Felix Verdejo has been charged with multiple crimes in the murder of Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz

“Yesterday we spoke at 7:00 am she told me: ‘Mommy, Felix is ​​coming to see the pregnancy test, and the blood test,” Ms. Ortiz told El Nuevo Dia.

It seems like Verdejo’s alleged relationship with Ms. Rodriguez was common knowledge to many people, including Verdejo’s wife. El Vocero reported that Santiago gave multiple interviews to investigators.

“Eliz Marie was previously interviewed on several occasions by investigators from the San Juan Criminal Investigation Corps (CIC), to whom she allegedly told that Keishla, who had been a friend of Verdejo since adolescence, had been bothering her since January,” stated El Vocero’s report.

The limited details that have been released through the affidavit and other sources are extremely gruesome. Verdejo stands accused of beating Ms. Rodriguez’s face, injecting her with a drug, tying her body up with wire along with a cinderblock, then later throwing her body over a bridge near Laguna San Jose in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The affidavit mentions an unnamed accomplice and that Verdejo shot at Ms. Rodriguez’s body from the bridge. Ms. Rodriguez was identified through her dental records. She was pregnant, allegedly with Verdejo’s child.

The depravity of Ms. Rodriguez’s murder is hard to stomach. The contrast between who most believed Verdejo to be versus his accused crimes is a vast chasm of confusion and disgust.

When you see a person smiling on T.V. or pictures of them at their best on social media, you take that image at face value. If you’re a fan of a famous athlete, you feel a false sense of familiarity that makes you think you know them even though you’ve never met them. In ghastly criminal cases like this one, emotions are enhanced because faux intimacy is fostered over years of fandom.

Ms. Rodgriguez’s life, dreams, aspirations, and unborn child were stolen and desecrated by an evil psychopath. A family is suffering unimaginable pain and the loss of their beloved daughter, sister, and friend.

Many people around the world mourn with them. Most have never met Ms. Rodriguez, but they feel a basic human empathy present in most of us who have a conscience and a heart.

I didn’t know Verdejo. I spoke to him very briefly once about five months ago during a media call before his bout with Masayoshi Nakatani. I asked Verdejo about the lessons he learned throughout his boxing career.

“I feel like I have matured a lot, everything that I’ve been through,” Verdejo told me through an interpreter. “Also, I have a daughter now, so everything that I do, I do for her. And also, she motivates me to be the best at whatever I’m doing.”

In retrospect, those words are haunting.

I believed Verdejo and his sincerity when he spoke those words. However, in light of the heinous charges against him, I’m scared at the prospect that there are such deceitful and sinister people among us hiding in plain sight. It’s a sad reminder that monsters are real.

In Something Wicked this Way Comes, Ray Bradbury wrote“Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light.”

I’ve gone back and looked at Verdejo’s Instagram account and studied his smile in photographs. Even with all the information available, I still can’t decipher the darkness Bradbury describes. That leaves me with an ominous feeling that I’m not sure will ever go away.