New Faces: Oscar Valdez
Hometown: Nogales, Mexico
Weight class: Featherweight
Height / reach: 5-foot-5¾ (166 cm)/ 66 inches (168 cm)
Amateur record: 204 fights, estimates he lost around 25-30.
Turned pro: 2012
Pro record: 18-0, 16 knockouts
Trainers: Manny Robles, Mark Randall (strength and conditioning)
Manager: Frank Espinoza Sr.
Promoter: Top Rank Inc.
Best night of pro career: Valdez stopped Chris Avalos last September. Avalos was one fight removed from a world title loss to Carl Frampton.
“I would say against Chris Avalos,” Valdez told RingTV.com at the Rock Boxing Gym in Carson, California, in late January. “I think he was my toughest opponent. I didn’t expect to win by knockout. Exactly what we did in the gym, that’s what we did in the fight.”
Worst night of pro career: Last summer Valdez was chief support to Tim Bradley-Jessie Vargas at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. He faced Ruben Tamayo. The fight moved up at late notice and was Valdez‘s first HBO appearence.
However, Valdez was a little disappointed with his performance.
“It would have to be Ruben Tamayo,” said the two-time Olympian. “He’s a difficult fighter, he’s southpaw. I would say that was a performance where I didn’t look as good as I wanted to.
“In every fight, I look at the tape and still make mistakes inside the ring. I’m aware I’m not perfect. You never stop learning. I still haven’t shown the true Oscar Valdez, they haven’t seen the best of me yet.”
Next fight: Valdez has fought on several big cards in his career but none bigger than this Saturday’s HBO Pay-Per-View headlined by Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley III. Valdez steps up to face his toughest opponent to date, former world champion Evgeny Gradovich.
Gradovich enters the fight one year removed from losing his IBF 126-pound title, with a record of 21-1-1 (9 KOs).
“I’m very happy they gave me the opportunity to fight on such a great card,” he said. “A lot of people are going to be there. I’m also happy I’m fighting an ‘A’ class fighter in Gradovich. I hear good comments (about this fight) and that’s a big motivation. I’ve seen him fight before and he has a fan-pleasing style, which I have too. I’m very excited being on this card and fighting this opponent.
“I think if I win this fight clearly, if I show who Oscar Valdez is, I’ll win my spot to fight for a world title. My dream is not to fight Gradovich, my dream is to fight and become a world champion and for me to do that, I have to fight Gradovich. He’s in my way and I have to train really hard to get him out of the way and keep improving.”
Why he’s a prospect: Valdez entered the pro game following a highly successful amateur career.
He won the World Youth Championship in 2008, became the first two-time Mexican Olympian (2008 and 2012) and claimed bronze at the 2009 World Championships. He also won gold in Baku, Azerbaijan, at the World Championships (Presidents Cup 2009), gold at the Central American games (2010) and silver in the Pan American games (2011). Along the way he fought a who’s who of amateur boxers.
Though he fought at two Olympics he was unable to achieve his goal of winning a medal, but doesn’t regret the decision to delay his pro transition.
“My dream was always to become an Olympic medalist,” he said. “So I followed my dreams and stuck around for the next Olympics and I think it was one of the best choices I ever made.”
Valdez seems to possess many of the traits Mexican stars are born with – he’s clearly heavy-handed, goes to the body well, appears to have a sturdy chin and he’s never been down, pro or amateur. He also says he has the ability to change styles mid fight.
He is also bilingual in Spanish and English, which will assist his crossover potential in the future.
Valdez has sparred many top pros, including Lee Selby, Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares, Orlando Salido and Vic Darchinyan.
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum clearly recognizes his young fighter’s capabilities.
“(He’s) one of the brightest lights in boxing, a young man we’re very high on,” said the Hall of Fame promoter.
Why he’s a suspect: At this point Valdez looks very well-rounded as a pro. Although he usually gets the stoppage he has managed to get 74 pro rounds under his belt.
With 16 KOs in 18 fights — an 89 percent KO ratio — it’s possible that Valdez could fall in love with his own power. However, he’s quick to scoff at that notion.
“I don’t consider myself as a hard puncher,” he said. “I consider my speed, ability and being smart in the ring.
“Keep on being a smarter fighter. Sometimes when I get hit, I get heated and I want go out there and brawl it out. I’ve managed to change that now I’ve been fighting more but earlier in my career I would get hit once and I’d try to go out there and finish my opponents.”
Story lines: Valdez took up boxing at a young age because family members were interested in the sport.
“I think it was in my blood. My father was a boxer; he never turned pro but he was an amateur boxer,” said Valdez. “I tried each and every sport and the last one was boxing. I fell in love with it.”
Growing up in the notorious border town of Nogales, there were many vices and pitfalls that capture young people. So far Valdez has avoided them. He believes that he can be an example to other young people that there are other ways to succeed than to become involved in crime.
“I think it’s the best thing that could happen to me, being born and raised in Nogales, such a place where you could easily go and take the wrong side with the drug lords and get in gangs. Where I was raised in Nogales it’s real easy to just become a drug dealer. For me it’s an honor to stay away from that.
“I’m trying to get Nogales a good name, ’cause Nogales has a bad reputation because of drugs and cartels. Knowing that I made it from there, it puts out a good example to my friends and the kids in Nogales that if I made it anybody can make it.”
After competing at the 2008 Olympics Valdez admits he was encouraged by most to make the switch to the pros, but he waited another four years so he could participate in the 2012 Games.
“Nine out of 10 people told me to go pro,” said the 25-year old. “I just listened to me and my father and we stuck together and that opened a lot of doors for me right now. I think if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t be in the situation I am now with great trainers and great people around me.”
The youngster lists Julio Cesar Chavez, Jose Luis Castillo, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez among his heros. Away from boxing he has a keen interest in exotic pets:
Nov. 3 – Angel Prado – TKO 2
Dec. 7 – Corben Page – TKO 2
Mar. 16 – Carlos Gonzalez – TKO 4
May 11 – Rocco Espinoza – TKO 1
June 15 – Gil Garcia – TKO 2
Sept. 28 – Jose Morales – TKO 3
Nov. 9 – Jose Lule – TKO 5
Dec. 21 – Cristian Barajas – TKO 1
Mar. 1 – Samuel Sanchez – TKO 3
Apr. 12 – Adrian Perez – KO 4
May 17 – Noel Echevarria – TKO 4
July 26 – Juan Ruiz – UD 8
Nov. 15 – Alberto Garza – TKO 7
Dec. 20 – Jean Javier Sotelo – TKO 5
Apr. 11 – Jose Ramirez – KO 3
June 27 – Ruben Tamayo – UD 10
Sept. 11 – Chris Avalos – TKO 5
Dec. 12 – Ernie Sanchez – KO 3