Oscar Valdez aims to leave behind a controversial year in his fight against Shakur Stevenson
The year 2021 was not as good as the stats would suggest for Oscar Valdez.
On paper, the current WBC junior lightweight titlist went 2-0 for the year, and with those wins he paved the way for the biggest fight in his career against fellow WBO titlist Shakur Stevenson, which will happen on April 30 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
But that stretch also included a positive test for a performance-enhancement drug, followed by a win that was validated by some of the worst scorecards in recent memory. Not exactly the best way to psyche himself up for one of the biggest fights of the year against a fellow unbeaten former Olympian in a unification bout, but Valdez believes that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“I think that 2021 was a year to learn more,” said the 31-years-old native of Nogales, Mexico. “One minute I was way up high when I defeated (Miguel) Berchelt, then I was way down low when I had that misunderstanding with the anti-doping test that came out positive for a substance that many people have confused with a PED, which is not the case. But that was how I felt during the last fight, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me, I got carried away by whatever people said about me, what the journalists said.
“The accusations hurt me and affected me in my last fight. I felt it wasn’t me who was fighting, because I paid attention to that. We are all human and make mistakes in paying attention to things that we shouldn’t care about. I was focused on other things and not necessarily on the fight.”
The entire controversy about his positive test for phentermine, a substance that the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) considers a PED, was quite the public relations nightmare for Valdez, but that was only the beginning of a bad streak. After being cleared to fight by the local tribal commission in charge of sanctioning the fight in Arizona, Valdez took on Brazil’s Robson Conceição in a war that ended in a “debatable close decision” in favor of Valdez, which many saw as a straight-up robbery.
The pressure would have been enough for anyone to shelter away from the public eye until the storm was over. But Valdez chose to ride straight into the hurricane instead, taking a fight against a fighter who will surely aim his verbal jabs to those and other sensitive points.
Valdez claims he is ready for that.
“Shakur may say whatever he wants, on social media, in interviews or to my face, anything at all,” said Valdez, anticipating what will surely be an entertaining pre-fight build-up, at the very least. “I will simply let my fists do the talking, and that’s what I will do. I have a great trainer like Eddy Reynoso who has a lot of experience on this. He gives me his advice. We study our opponents, we study his previous fights, and we try to learn everything from them. So anything that Shakur may say will not affect me because I am focused on learning his style instead of his words. I will simply get on that ring and give my best.”
For Valdez, it all seems to lead back to the same process that helped him overcome his dreadful second half of last year.
“I learned that I shouldn’t listen to anyone. Like I said, it’s been a learning process. I wasn’t accustomed to receiving this kind of backlash, so this affected me a lot. But now I am well focused on the task at hand,” said Valdez, who still claims that the banned substance found in his system was an ingredient found in a ‘herbal tea’ that he ingested unknowingly during his training camp. “I know what I have done, my closest people know what we have done. We know that we never cheated at any time or taken PEDs. If I continue in this path, I should be able to give my best in this fight, which is the most important thing. I am very focused on winning this fight, because this is the fight of my life. I have to focus on whatever I can control and not anything else. My eyes are set on the big prize.”
Regardless of how well he did in his career so far, Stevenson promises to be a completely different challenge. A young champion in his prime with a superb Olympic background, Stevenson will surely be Valdez’s most difficult challenge.
“At this level, there are no easy opponents,” said Valdez. “Stevenson is as tough as anyone out there. He is a talented fighter, he has speed, and we are both aware of the magnitude of this fight. We know that whoever wins this fight will be named the best 130-pound fighter in the world. We are the guys to beat at 130. So this fight, if I win, it will place me in a higher place in the pound-for-pound lists, just because of the magnitude of the fight.”
Valdez, although not currently on anyone’s P4P list, may be well on his way to become a candidate for that mythical rating if he defeats Stevenson. His win over Berchelt certainly triggered discussions about his rise as a P4P-level fighter, but Berchelt’s recent defeat at the hands of Jeremiah Nakathila have led many to wonder what kind of value should be placed on Valdez’s win over his fellow Mexican.
Valdez still believes he defeated the best possible Berchelt ever.
“Berchelt is a great fighter, he is a friend of mine. I admire him a lot,” said Valdez. “We knew that after the fight our friendship would be back as usual. I felt sad after his last fight but I felt even worse after hearing the comments from people. I would tell him that if he feels like he can come back, which I know he can, then he should do it, and not listen to people talk. I am sure he will be a world champion again.”
Although there are many possible future opponents for Valdez, he claims that he only thinks about Stevenson right now.
“I don’t think about (other fighters), I focus solely on my next opponent. But there are great talents in my division. You have the other champions too, but I want to be undisputed champion. It is great to have all the belts just like Canelo. It is a great motivation to see Canelo holding all the belts, but before getting to that we have to fight tough opponents like Shakur Stevenson.”
One belt that Canelo owns and Valdez is not going to be disputing in this fight is The Ring’s mythical strap, which will not be at stake since Valdez was dropped from the magazine’s ratings after his positive PED test. But that doesn’t stop him from believing that he will be the undisputed champion one day, and he feels he has the tools to make it.
“Experience will make a difference, but also my heart,” said Valdez. “I still have the same hunger that I had when I made my debut. Right now boxing is my passion, but it is also my job. It is what brings food to the table. If I lose, my family loses, and that I cannot accept. I cannot accept that my opponent wins. That’s why I focus so hard, I try to do my job as best as I can, be as disciplined as possible. If I win, my family wins, my country wins, my children, they all win. That’s my great motivation.”
Motivation and obsession go hand in hand for some, and Valdez qualifies as one of them.
“From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep, all I think about is beating Stevenson. I never promise a knockout or a fight of the year. All I promise is to give my best effort and leave my heart in the ring. Just like we Mexicans say ‘I will die in the front line,’ that’s what I always promise. I don’t visualize a knockout or a specific game plan, all I see is myself winning the fight.”