Valdez Goes Back to Second Home
There was a time when Arizona was actually a bit of a boxing hub. Back in Michael Carbajal’s heyday, Phoenix, hometown of the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, was a regular destination for the “Little Hands of Stone.” But with Oscar Valdez – who co-headlines with local product Jose Benavidez – there is a chance this city could be another stop along Bash Boulevard.
“Absolutely, absolutely Valdez is very likable, a good looking kid, very exciting fighter and therefore you have to establish the local market,” said Bob Arum, whose company, Top Rank Promotions is featuring this card, which will be televised nationally on UniMas as part of its “Solo Boxeo” series.
For Valdez, this is a homecoming of sorts.
“I’m so excited right now to go back to Arizona, one of my places where I thought I was adopted by the crowd. I did most of my amateur fights in Phoenix and Tucson and it’s exciting for me to go over there and give them a show,” said Valdez, who has dual citizenship. “I was born in Nogales, Sonora [Mexico] and I did my elementary school in Tucson. So after that, I went back to Mexico and did what I had to do over there. But when I was in Mexico, a lot of fights were in Arizona. The amateur fights were mostly in Arizona so I had to go back over there, Phoenix, Tucson, and did as much amateur fights as I could. So it was a pretty good experience for me doing all that. It helped me a lot in my English, knowing a lot of fighters that are, right now, professionals.”
Valdez is a two-time Mexican Olympian and when asked if he considers himself more Mexican or American, he admitted, “Oh, Mexican, of course, because I did everything in Mexico. My whole family is there; I’m from there but like I said, I feel like I’m adopted from Arizona. They’ve given me a lot of support since I was in the amateurs and now, since I’m a pro, I feel a lot more love from them.”
The 23-year old oozes promotability; he’s got boyish good looks, possesses a fan-friendly style and is bilingual. His manager, Frank Espinoza says, “When I signed him out of the Olympics, I knew this could be special. This is why I worked so hard to sign him a couple of years ago. I believe that not only did he have potential to be an outstanding fighter but a real draw – and a draw on each side of the border. It’s why I signed him to Top Rank because they have a track record of developing both.”
Just recently, Terence Crawford fought in front of a sizable and energetic crowd in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska as he defeated Yuriorkis Gamboa. Top Rank believes that with the Olympic trio of Valdez, Felix Verdejo and Jose Ramirez (who is already moving tickets in the Fresno area), they have three potential hometown franchises. This is not a new paradigm but really a tried and true formula.
Bob Arum stated, “That’s the way it always was, that a guy – a kid – came from an area which didn’t have like a major league team and therefore you weren’t competing against a lot of stuff for attention and then they realized by giving them fights out of town and so forth, how good he was. They saw him on television and there became a built-in demand to watch him fight when he was home and then you did that for awhile and then when that got to a fever pitch, then you felt you could move into a major market like Las Vegas where you could appeal to a casino and where he could bring his hometown fans to the event.”
Save for a few smaller cards, Arizona has been dormant for years, which is puzzling given this state has a sizable Latino population (of the 6.6 million residents, approximately 30 percent are Latino per Arizona QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau). Arum explains, “Because it always got ruined by local promoters fighting with each other, fighting with the commission and unless you’re willing to go in there and do it yourself and spend a lot of time, it’s a very, very tough market.”
Regardless, Valdez envisions himself being to Phoenix what Crawford is in Omaha.
“Hopefully it will be a big accomplishment, bringing a big crowd like that to my hometown, Nogales or Arizona. Anything’s possible but Arizona, there’s a really big fan base for boxing. Everyone loves boxing over there, so I do see one day bringing a crowd out there,” he said. The Celebrity Theater, where this promotion is being hosted, has a capacity of approximately 2,700 and something close to a sell-out is expected. It’s a start.
But first things first; there is a fight taking place that Valdez has to take care of.
“We expect Juan Ruiz to be a tough guy,” said Espinoza. “There’s a reason why we chose him. And we want Oscar to get some rounds under his belt and really learn something. He’s had some early knockouts and we know he can punch but now he is at that point where we all want him to get some seasoning in there.”
Currently, Valdez is 11-0 (11) and he couldn’t be happier with the beginning of his career. He says, “I’ve got a great team; I got Frank Espinoza on my team, a great trainer like Clemente Medina and now Manny Robles and we’re just doing a great job in the gym.” For much of his early run, he has fought on the non-televised portion of big cards featuring the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao and Mikey Garcia. Now, Valdez is one of the names on the marquee and now he takes the stage in front of fans who have specifically bought tickets to see him perform.
“It’s not pressure at all. The contrary, I get more excited; I get anxious going back over there and give the crowd what they want, a good fight,” he said this past Monday morning at the Rock Boxing Gym in Carson, CA. “It’s only three hours from my hometown, Nogales, so I know a lot of people are going to be there, a lot of family, a lot of my friends.
“So I’m excited; I’m not pressured. I’m not even nervous.”
So what is the status of the relationship between Top Rank and Guillermo Rigondeaux, who scored a first round stoppage in Macao, China last weekend?
“We have fulfilled our contract with Rigondeaux and he has fulfilled our contract to us,” said Arum, succinctly.
Uh, that’s it?
“Well,” continued Arum, “if we had a particular fight for him, sure, we would re-sign him. Right now, we don’t have a particular fight for him.” What’s interesting is that Top Rank is planning on staging a series of fights – a tournament of sorts – with Nonito Donaire, Nicholas Walters, Evgeny Gradovich and Vasyl Lomachenko, who are just four pounds north of the Cuban stylist at featherweight. It’s clear that Top Rank has no interest in having Rigondeaux be the fly in the ointment or pay him his contract minimum (which, according to sources, is around a half-million dollars).
Now, Rigondeaux has to face the reality of the open market.
“That goes without saying. He’s a terrific fighter; nobody can deny his ability,” Arum conceded, “but if there’s not a market for him, if you can’t monetize it, what good is it?”
Well, at least Rigondeaux’s on pound-for-pound lists, right?
This card in Phoenix is a co-promotion of Top Rank and Iron Boy Promotions (who has a regular series in that area). Tickets are priced at $65, $50 and $30. You can log on to www.iron-boy.com for tickets.
The latest episode of “The Next Round” has Gabe Montoya and me previewing Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Geale:
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