Oscar Valdez yearns for unification opportunities

Photo courtesy of Top Rank Promotions

Photo courtesy of Top Rank Promotions


Oscar Valdez faces Miguel Marriaga this weekend at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, as the headliner on Top Rank Promotions’ pay-per-view card. For Valdez, the reigning WBO featherweight titlist, this is his toughest test as a pro to date. But while he’s certainly not overlooking Marriaga, it’s unification tilts against WBA titlist Leo Santa Cruz, IBF beltholder Lee Selby and WBC titleholder Gary Russell Jr. for which he truly yearns.


For the ambitious 26-year-old from Sonora, Mexico, those are the match-ups he feels will seal his legacy as a prizefighter. (And yes, he does care about such things).


“Those are the fights I was expecting to get but they made (this fight) a mandatory with Miguel Marriaga. I like the competition with him. Let’s get it on. A lot of people may not know him but he’s a tough fighter. He can be up there with any of those guys that have a belt,” Valdez opined.


After this fight – should he get past it, of course – Valdez would like the opportunity to unify the division. Unfortunately for him, the aforementioned beltholders are on the other side of the street with Premier Boxing Champions, while Valdez is aligned with Top Rank. He admits to being a bit frustrated by the business and politics of boxing.


“These last two fights, I usually just do my job at the gym and let my manager Frank (Espinoza) and my dad do the rest but one thing that really bothers me is that I can’t be considered the best at 126 and that can’t happen because the best unification fights, they’re hard to make. But right now, once I got my opponent, Miguel Marriaga, I stopped thinking about all of that. Now, I have one thing on my mind – which is (Marriaga).”


Valdez, who’s generally a very amiable young man, admits to being bit peeved about, when the other featherweight champions talk about future fights with one another, they exclude his name for whatever reason. Thus far, Valdez hasn’t said much but perhaps he needs to step up his emoji game?


“Ummm, I don’t think that’s my personality but I don’t know; I’ve heard that from a couple of people. ‘You need to tweet; you need to call these guys out.’ But even if I tried, I don’t think I’ve got it in me to just say something negative towards somebody just because I don’t have anything personal toward nobody. So I don’t think that’s my style; I’ll let my hands do the talking,” said Valdez on Monday morning before his day’s work at the Rock in Carson, California.


His manager Frank Espinoza tells UCNLive.com, “That’s the goal, to get the biggest and best fights for Oscar in the division. I’ve said for awhile that Oscar is something special. He’s the best pure fighter I’ve ever signed out of the amateurs and all he’s done is get better and better. We’re going to do our best as his brain trust to get him the fights he wants.”


Often times these things are really far above the fighter or manager and it’s up to the promoter to somehow bridge the gap between the opposing parties to make fights. Can Bob Arum cut a deal with Al Haymon to make these match-ups? Recently, a fight between WBC/WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford and Felix Diaz was consummated and, before that, Crawford was matched with John Molina Jr. Both of whom are represented by Haymon and the PBC.


“It’s a question of whose dollar (is available); I have no objections to arranging for Valdez to fight Gary Russell, Leo Santa Cruz on Showtime or we could make a proposal to them to fight off Showtime – where I’m not going to say – so yeah, as far as Top Rank is concerned, there is absolutely no impediment. We’re not angry at anybody. We want to make the best fights that we possibly can,” said Arum, who, for one reason or another, has had to put Valdez’s last three bouts on pay-per-view cards, limiting his overall visibility to the public.


To this, Arum replies, “Well, obviously if (Valdez) could fight before a bigger audience, it would be helpful but we have done the next best thing: keep him active, getting him the right fights and hopefully I look on the fact that this is his toughest fight. We’ve got a little buzz on this fight. He is going in as the main event, so I think Frank Espinoza understands what we’re doing here. It’s not a perfect world but I think we’re coming through big-time for Oscar.”


“We understand the circumstances of the business,” said Espinoza, one of the most respected managers in the sport. “Oscar just has to keep winning and let us do our job. It’s hard to tell young guys, especially who are as talented as he is, to be patient but, right now, he can only focus on the things he can control. And, right now, that’s Marriaga and we know that’s going to be a tough fight.”


Valdez’s trainer Manuel Robles says of the upcoming assignment, “I consider every fight to be a tough fight. I never overlook anyone. That’s our motto. We train hard for every single fight. No such thing as an easy fight, as I always say, but I do respect Marriaga. I do believe Marriaga is a well-experienced fighter. He’s got punching power; he can box. He’s a complete fighter, if you will. So perhaps this might be Oscar’s toughest fight.”


If anything, Marriaga is sturdy and strong. His lone loss in 26 pro bouts came at the hands of Nicholas Walters (who, at the time, was highly regarded). “He definitely does seem durable. You saw the fight with Walters. (Marriaga) took him the whole way,” stated Robles, who will be a busy man on this night as he also will work the corner of WBO junior featherweight champion Jessie Magdaleno, who’s also on this bill. “As you know, Nicholas Walters did not make weight. He came overweight for that fight and maybe that was an issue. But I don’t overlook Marriaga. I respect Marriaga as I do any other opponent. It’s going to be an interesting fight.”


Coming into this fight, Valdez is saying all the right things about being focused on the immediate task at hand but he makes it clear that he wants steeper mountains to climb.


That said, Valdez, 21-0 (19), understands that, in many ways, his journey is just beginning.


“The one thing my manager Frank told me is, ‘Enjoy the ride,’ and I have been enjoying it. Hopefully, if God wants, I’ll win this fight. I want to unify the belts because that’s what everyone wants to see. That’s what I want to see. I want to prove to everyone and myself that I’m the best at this division.”





Also on this card is WBO super middleweight titlist Gilberto Ramirez, who faces Max Bursak, and Magdaleno, who takes on Adeilson Dos Santos in defense of his WBO 122-pound strap. For Top Rank, this card represents its new generation of boxers. With HBO passing on Valdez-Marriaga, they made the decision to go on the pay-per-view platform.


“Yeah, it does because we have these great young fighters who are making their mark and I’m bound and determined – and that’s why we’ve been in business for as long as we have – we’re not going to allow network economics to be an impediment to these guys careers,” said Arum. “I mean, to keep ‘The Three Amigos’ on the sideline because a premium network is having budget issues is a disservice to these guys.


“Now if they weren’t having budget issues and wanted to put these fights on premium cable, I would want it. First, it’s easier and the audience is bigger.”





Here’s this week’s edition of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly.



Mario Lopez and I discuss boxing and his recent sparring session with Saul Alvarez last weekend.






Arum says of Valdez (who grew up in Arizona), “He’s going to fight sometime this year in Tucson”…What were the Compu-Bullets stats for Adrien Broner’s shootout?…So when does the three-part “30 for 30” on Aaron Hernandez go into production?…“L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later” on A&E was very good…Always a good time to cover the fights at the StubHub Center…I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.




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