Oscar Valdez: Training at home to keep his title at home
Ahead of his most important fight to date, on Saturday night, at the StubHub Center, in Carson, California, Oscar Valdez was just a day or two removed from a full training camp spent in Guadalajara, Mexico, and, at media workout held at the usual place he prepares for a fight, how and why it went was the topic of conversation for the WBO featherweight titleholder.
“I haven’t seen Oscar train harder,” said manager Frank Espinoza, who helped organize the trip for his fighter, along with other clients within the stable of trainer Manny Robles. Espinoza is perhaps the kindest person within the cutthroat boxing business and after putting up his clientele in a full gym equipped with room and board, there is no question he has his fighters’ backs.
“Fish, chicken and vegetables – no meat,” Espinoza said about the food he also helped provide in Mexico. Espinoza also has Valdez enrolled in the VADA drug testing program and put the emphasis on “no meat” but, when it comes to this particular boot camp, this wasn’t something done for just Valdez’s sake. Antonio Orozco – who blew an HBO date in December after failing to even show up at the weigh-in – may have needed the retreat more than ever. Another Espinoza fighter, Jessie Magdaleno, is approaching a year since his first defense of the WBO junior featherweight title and, although he injured his hand at the end of the year, forcing him to back out of a fight, rumors of weight issues have also swirled around. Along with a few others, including prospect Emilio Sanchez, who regularly spars with Valdez, they were castaways with nothing else to do but focus on boxing. As for Valdez himself, it was a good time to change things up, as he faces Scott Quigg, this Saturday, and hopes to maintain his featherweight title reign.
“It’s a little bit of both,” Valdez said, still drenched in sweat from his media workout. “Scott Quigg is a tough fighter. I can’t take him lightly. I have to train very hard but also I’m in the position where I have to be more disciplined. I have to take this more seriously because I’m a world champion. I’ve got a responsibility to keep this belt back in my home of Mexico, so I have to train hard. That’s the main reason to go to Guadalajara and get that extra time to just focus. We were living in a gym. The gym had rooms, so there was extra time working out. We had nothing else to do but work out, so that’s one of the reasons why we’re more prepared for this fight.”
Valdez, 23-0 (19), is coming off an eventful 2017, in which he partook in two quality fights against Miguel Marriaga and Genesis Servania. Valdez won both comfortably on the cards but when gauging how tough the wins actually were, those wide numbers would be a bold-faced lie. Marriaga and Servania pushed Valdez like never before. Against Marriaga, Valdez was barely able to separate himself from his Colombian counterpart until the 10th round, when his trademark left hook dropped his foe hard and helped boost his momentum in the championship rounds. Against Servania, last September, Valdez was dropped in the fourth by the Filipino fringe contender and, although Valdez was able to pay it back in the following round and win the fight outright, the win didn’t come easy.
“I committed a lot of mistakes against Genesis Servania,” Valdez remembered. “Like I said, being in Guadalajara, we’ve been spending more time together, talked a lot and got to work more on our game plan. Stick our hands up. Every time I would put my hands down, Manny will yell at me or just let me know that I’m messing up. So we had a great training camp and one of the main things was keeping your hands up. I dream with that saying already: Keep your hands up.”
Not keeping one’s hands up is a simple and easy mistake in boxing – similar to lifting your head up as a golfer – but, in the heat of a fight, the gravity of the mistake is incomparable. At the workout, Valdez was sure to have his hands way up for every menial drill in practice.
“I loved it. I loved the change,” said Valdez. “Even though we’re from Nogales, Sonora, living in Hermosillo, California, L.A., Carson. Lake Elsinore has already turned into our hometown because 90% of my training camps, I’ve been here. So it already is like our hometown for us, so we need a little bit of privacy to focus on the fight and the main reason why we went to Guadalajara is because we were looking for high altitude. Our first option was Mexico City but, since that didn’t work out, we chose Guadalajara, being that my trainer Manny Robles, that’s his hometown. That’s where he grew up. It was a great training camp. Nothing bad, everything went perfect. Food-wise, training-wise, everything, got to bond more with my trainer, studied more on our game plan and our opponent. We’re going to show it on March 10th.”
Quigg, 34-1-2 (25), is the No. 10 ranked featherweight contender in the eyes of the WBO but should end up being the biggest name on Valdez’s ledger by the end of Saturday night. The British contender is a former beltholder at 122 pounds and after three wins at 126, since his only defeat to Carl Frampton, two years ago, Quigg makes a much anticipated United States debut. Quigg has since brought his life to Southern California after hiring Freddie Roach last year and the 29-year-old hopes to revitalize his career through the offensive-minded trainer. That is part of the reason many think Valdez-Quigg will be a fun action fight but, lately, it hasn’t mattered at all who Valdez is fighting. The Mexican featherweight is on the brink of becoming one of the premier television fighters in the sport.
“To hear these comments, it brings me joy,” Valdez said with a smirk on his face. “It brings a lot of joy to me because I was once a kid who dreamed of being in the position I am right now. Sitting down, having media, having a world title belt, being in a main event card – It’s a dream and I’m living it right now, so it brings a lot of joy, a lot of motivation to myself hearing these things.”
Valdez may be proud to be pinned as a classic Mexican fighter but, at this rate, he might not have a long career.
“No. That’s not the plan obviously,” Valdez said. “Hopefully not. My last fights were tough fights. I didn’t choose them to be like that. I was forced to make them like that. I wish I could box, hit and not get hit, have a clean, (Floyd) Mayweather (Jr.) style but, you know, that’s not the case. Sometimes, you gotta brawl it out and, hopefully, this fight won’t be the case but, looking into Scott Quigg’s style and my style, I’m pretty sure it’s gonna go toe-to-toe. It’ll be a good fight. I don’t choose to have wars in every fight but sometimes it’s necessary.”
With Valdez’s propensity to produce tough, rugged and exciting fights, the question of whether this makes Espinoza’s job easier or harder had to be asked.
“That’s a good question,” said Espinoza before thinking a moment. “I think him being a TV fighter makes it a lot easier. He has that fan-friendly style where people enjoy watching. He has everything it takes, so it makes my job easier. As a matter of fact, it does. It’s easier to negotiate with promoters that want to see him fight, so it’s easy to put him in exciting fights. He’s an exciting fighter.”
Espinoza stood intently as Valdez worked the mitts with Robles, almost sticking his head through the ropes to get a look. If you ask him about any of his fighters, he’ll describe them as if they were his sons and, in many respects, Espinoza is a second father to them who will be there through the good times and the bad. Like any old man would, Frank wore a Valdez jacket proudly and on the back of it was a symbol near and dear to Valdez’s heart.
“That symbol. I would say every guy from Nogales knows what that is,” Valdez said. To put it simply, the symbol was a man with a spear, stepping and stabbing on some sort of evil looking creature. In Mexico, they call it, “El mono bichi.” “It’s a Indian Yaqui, killing the symbol of ignorance. It’s a bat creature, demon. A U.S. custom killed a Mexican and there was a war in Nogales Arizona and Nogales Sonora, so it’s gonna be 100 years, and that was a symbol a hundred years ago. The Yaquis not letting them take over our Nogales. I picked it a couple of years back, I think, when I first became a professional. I wanted something that means the symbol of Nogales and the first thing that popped in my mind was the mono bichi. That’s what it’s called! El mono bichi because every guy from Nogales knows what it is.”
Espinoza didn’t know as much about that symbol on the back of that jacket but he can be rest assured that a distinguished fighter like Valdez has got his back.