All aboard the Oscar Valdez Express
To be greeted by your hero just hours after a knockout win must be an enchanting feeling for any young boxing prospect.
“Oh man, a dream come true, to be honest,” was Oscar Valdez’s immediate reaction, just seconds after living that exact moment. It was on the evening of April 9, 2016, at the post-fight press conference for Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley III and, after knocking Evgeny Gradovich out on the HBO Pay-Per-View undercard, Valdez was bear-hugged by the darling of most Mexican prospects and fans, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
“Chavez, he’s a Mexican idol,” Valdez continued while gleaming. “He’s the biggest boxer for any Mexican. We talked before; he gave me instructions: Box (Gradovich); work the inside; work the body. I told him, right now, ‘I remember what you told me and I took your words.'”
“Perfecto” and “Chingon” were the only two words this English-speaking writer could comprehend as Chavez emphatically whispered into Valdez’s ear. It was a spontaneous moment and one that happened just before I could finish the first question in a quick one-on-one interview. When asked what Chavez told him, Valdez answered, “He said, ‘Don’t lose your feet and be careful of your surroundings.'”
Three months later, Valdez, 19-0 (17), was reminded of the moment at a media fan fest held in Los Angeles, California, less than a week before his next fight on yet another HBO Pay-Per-View (9:00 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) card tonight.
“I talk to (Chavez) every now and then,” Valdez told UCNLive.com when asked how often they communicate. “He’s always been very nice to me. It’s very exciting for me,” Valdez admitted.
What do they talk about? “Just boxing stories,” Valdez responded with a smile that seemingly held back all the potential non-boxing stories JC has to tell. After I told him I didn’t believe him, Valdez laughingly confessed, “He sees me and tells me he once fought an Argentinian with the same record, and this and that, and told me how to beat him.”
That Argentinian was Alberto de las Mercedes Cortes on Dec.16, 1989, a year before Valdez was born and just three months before Chavez infamously stopped Meldrick Taylor in their last round. Still undefeated at the time, Chavez stopped Mercedes Cortes in the third round to defend the WBC junior welterweight title, handing him his first defeat. Valdez faces Matias Carlos Adrian Rueda tonight, an unbeaten 28-year-old from the same country.
“I’m very excited for this fight,” Valdez said about his opponent, who is virtually unknown to many. “I take no fighter lightly, even though he hasn’t been outside Argentina. I’m gonna go in there physically and mentally prepared for this fight.” Despite the somewhat nameless opponent, the fight will be characterized as Valdez’s most important to date, as it will be for the vacant WBO featherweight title. Oscar added, “It’s always been my dream to fight for a world title. This is my shot.”
A former Mexican Olympian, Valdez was instantly recognized by fans as he walked into Olvera Street’s Historic El Pueblo Monument Plaza, where the media event took place outside. Donning a Mexican National soccer team jersey, Valdez signed autographs and took pictures with and for just about everyone before entering and exiting the ring for a short workout on a sweltering day in downtown LA. There wasn’t exactly a mob but it was a sample serving of the potential this kid has going forward, seemingly being the event’s most popular attraction.
Inside the ring, his talent may match, if not surpass, that potential. Valdez is riding a wave of momentum going into this fight and serving has an exclamation point to his past three impressive outings has been his left hook. With it, he’s knocked out Gradovich, Ernie Sanchez and Chris Avalos in succession within the last 10 months, and none of them survived past the fifth round.
“Well, yeah. I don’t think I had a signature punch but yeah, OK,” said Valdez in response to whether or not it was fine to label his left hook in that manner. ”This is gonna be a 12-round fight, so I gotta be well-prepared. I can’t go out there and try to knock out my opponent in the first round and then wear off in the later rounds,” he later opined. But when asked if the left hook is a particular facet he’s been working on, Valdez said, “It’s all the same. We work on a lot of punches and, for some reason, that left hook comes natural in the fights.”
Working with him is trainer Manny Robles, who also spoke with UCNLive.com at the same event.
“It could be,” said Robles on if his protege’s left hook is his finest weapon. After thinking about it, Robles added, “He’s got several. He can sure go to the body. He can come over the top with that right hand as well. He’s a complete fighter and a very well-rounded boxer.” Robles went on to declare Valdez’s motive by saying, “He’s a very hard-working kid. He’s got great work ethic. Sometimes you got to get him to slow down. He doesn’t want to. He’s hungry. He knows what he wants.”
Operating out of “The Rock” in Carson, California, Robles has a solid stable of prospects but when asked if Valdez is the best, he responded, “Among the top, that’s for sure.” As for where Oscar ranks throughout his entire experience in boxing, Robles said, “He ranks right up there as well. Going back in time, working with my dad (the late Manuel “Chato” Robles) and coming under his wing, the world champions we worked with back in those days, Israel Vazquez, Martin Castillo, Reggie Johnson. Those guys were all great. We’re not done yet. (Valdez) still has to step into the ring and fight the world title fight and, obviously once he wins the title, we can rank him up there with the rest but we gotta wait one more week.”
Asked to describe the excitement he has to see how good Valdez really is, Robles responded, “I know he’s talented; I know he’s good but one thing we do: We never overlook anyone. We never underestimate any opponent. We don’t like to get ahead of ourselves and fight the fight. We have to treat the opponent with the respect that he deserves.”
With Valdez listed as a 20-to-11 favorite this Saturday night, Las Vegas isn’t giving Rueda, 26-0 (23), much respect. Valdez is expected, by all, to win and that’s been the narrative for his career, so far, but, as of late, he’s reaped the benefits of being able to separate himself by the way he’s won. Going forward, Valdez is reluctant to actually say it but seems to know there are nothing but world title bouts in his near future. “Hopefully I don’t want to jinx it. I want to win this one,” Valdez responded to the idea. “I never get ahead of myself saying I already have a belt but I’m very dedicated for this fight, for all the fights, and I want to win that belt and see what comes forward.”
Being a world title fight elevates the importance of this fight as a whole. The belt was vacated by Vasyl Lomachenko last month after he knocked Roman Martinez out to win the WBO junior lightweight title. When asked if he’d rather beat Lomachenko to obtain the title rather than winning a vacant one, Valdez responded, “Well, he’s at super featherweight and I know, as I keep on improving, it’s gonna be a point where I have to go up to 130. So whether it’s now or then, sooner or later, we’re gonna have to go at each other. We’ve got the same promoters and we’re gonna be in the same division very soon, so it doesn’t matter if it’s sooner or later. We’re gonna end up fighting.”
It may seem convenient for Top Rank Promotions, Valdez’s promoter, that one of their best talents in Lomachenko moves up just in time for their potential Mexican star to step into world title contention. Actually, there might not be a better way to put it. Yet there is plenty of talent at 126 pounds and, given how Top Rank CEO Bob Arum is currently open to doing business with Al Haymon, big fights could be coming should Valdez win on tonight and throw his hat into the ring of featherweight beltholders.
Leo Santa Cruz (WBA), Gary Russell Jr. (WBC) and Lee Selby (IBF) are the other three titleholders and seemingly the only trait these young men have is their connection to Haymon. Of course, assumptions that these fights will be made could be a mistake but it’s inevitable that Valdez will eventually find himself in a fight in which everyone – Chavez, Robles, fans and even Valdez himself – will find out how good he really is.