Oscar Valdez: Every time you have two Mexican fighters inside the ring there’s fireworks
Oscar Valdez is bidding to become a two-time junior lightweight titlist when he challenges for the WBO title against compatriot Emanuel Navarrete at the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona, on Saturday.
Valdez, The Ring’s No. 1-rated junior lightweight, is glad to be back in a meaningful fight having lost his title and undefeated record last year.
“I’m excited for this new opportunity, I feel blessed to be in this position, having the chance to fight for the world title means the world to me,” Valdez (31-1, 23 knockouts) told The Ring. “Many people know I lost my world title to Shakur Stevenson and I missed being a champion. This is my perfect opportunity to come back strong, especially with a statement.”
The 32-year-old, who previously held the WBO title at 126 pounds before becoming a two-weight world champion when he scored a career-best win over WBC titleholder Miguel Berchelt (KO 10), expects a similarly exciting fight with Navarrete that could place the fight in the annuls of Mexican fighting folklore.
“Fighting someone like ‘Vaquero’ Navarrete is the perfect opportunity because of his style,” he said. “Every time you have two Mexican fighters inside the ring there’s always fireworks, there’s always a good fight, people enjoy those fights because they’re toe-to-toe, there’s blood, knockdowns and that’s what the fans like.
“Mexican fans enjoy it and I feel this fight is the perfect opportunity for that because of ‘Vaquero’ Navarrete’s style and my style. I feel where both not going to back down and I’m excited for that because I grew up watching the great Erik Morales and great Marco Antonio Barrera, those two guys inspired me like no other. They inspired me to be the fighter I am today, so this is my opportunity to come back and come back strong.”
Valdez is no stranger to facing a fellow Mexican in a world title. He rose to the occasion and beat Berchelt in February 2021 and believes this will bring out the best in him in front of a lively crowd.
“It was my biggest night, something I will never forget because I accomplished my dream of being WBC world champion and it’s going to be very hard to top that, but this is the perfect opportunity,” he admitted. “The only difference between that fight and this fight is there’s going to be people there. The Berchelt was during COVID, there was no crowd at all, just TV, my team and his team.
“Now, we’re in Arizona, in a spot where I consider my second home, a spot that’s on the border with my hometown Nogales, Senora. I know a lot of people are going to be there, you’ll see the fans divided, you’ll see a lot of Team Vaquero, a lot of Team Valdez. It’s going to be a magical night. There can only be one champion, we’re both from Mexico but somebody is taking that belt home. I’m working very hard so I can take that belt home.”
After the Berchelt win, he failed a drug test for phentermine and subsequently struggled with Robson Conceicao in a title defense.
The loss to Stevenson was hard for someone who is accustomed to always winning to move on from.
“It was very difficult, it was one of the most difficult things that can happen because you’re used to hearing that when you do things right, everything should turn out right,” he explained. “You work hard, stay disciplined, the outcome will be a good thing, I was used to that. For the Shakur fight I did everything as I should, work hard, stay disciplined, focused, I did everything you’re taught to be successful and then coming out with a loss was a tough pill to swallow.
“Sometimes you have to accept the guy in front of you was better, doesn’t matter that you did everything how you should have. The guy was just better and there’s no excuses. You win some, you lose some. As long as you know you gave your best that gives you a little more peace. Us fighters we’ve got egos, we claim to be the best and that night I wasn’t the best and that really messed with my head for the next couple of weeks until one I told myself I’ve got to suck it up, that’s life, that’s part of the game, you win some, you lose some, inside and outside the ring but you always go back to the drawing board, you try to become a better person inside and outside the ring. That was my learning experience, one of the things it taught me was how much I miss boxing, how much I love boxing.”
After making his peace with the loss, Valdez was looking forward to facing Navarrete in February. However, an injury forced him out of that fight.
The Nogales native returned with a win over old adversary Adam Lopez in May and is now ready to test the mettle of Navarrete at 130 pounds.
“That was one of the most disappointing things I’ve come across, I had a fight coming up and a freak accident happened,” he explained. “I’m walking down the stairs on a rainy night and slipped bad and fall on my back and broke two of my ribs. They had to postpone the fight. Me being a in a hurry, a fighter, who is constantly active, I jump into camp early and we decide to do a sparring session. I get hit to the body and that re-injured the same injury I had, so the fight had to be postponed again and he got the chance to fight for the world title against [Liam] Wilson. There was a lot of emotions going through my mind, coming off the loss, fractured rib twice and seeing him fight, I kept telling myself ‘I should have been the one fighting in this position.’ I think everything happens for a reason. I stayed focused and right now I feel physically and mentally well.
“I got the chance to fight first against Adam Lopez. A lot of people were calling it a tune up fight, but it wasn’t a tune up fight for me because I respect all my opponents, I know they’re also training hard to win the fight, so I had to be on my A-game to win the fight and now I have to be on my A-game to win this fight. I feel ready for this test. People can expect the best version of me because I’m hungrier than ever for this one.”
Valdez, who held his training camp in Lake Tahoe, is still clearly motivated to return to the summit of the junior lightweight division.
“It would put me back in as champion, that’s the main thing right now,” he said. “It means the world to me. I love the sport so much I don’t ever want to retire but winning will put me back in there. Losing never comes into my mind, it’s not an option. I always train harder to say I will win. Losing will be devastating. Right now, it’s win because I have to win and the only thing I have in my mind.
“I do feel I am the better fighter, it’s not because I want to sound arrogant, I always think that way, I’ve always got to think I am the better fighter. I will never train so hard to say I am the No. 2 or No. 3. I will always train so hard to say I am No. 1. I’ve got to win this fight. I honestly do believe I have the better skills, maybe I’m faster, maybe I hit harder, maybe I have the better boxing skills but who knows? Inside the ring anything can, you can never underestimate a fighter like him, who is constantly throwing punches from different angles, who doesn’t stop throwing, non-stop guy who comes forward. You’ve got to be well prepared. I have prepared myself for the best version of ‘Vaquero’ Navarrete, I’m going to be well ready for that one. A little thing I have always said, my opponent can be faster than me, stronger than me, maybe have a better ring I.Q. than me but I will always make sure he’s not trained as hard as me. I’m always constantly training hard, I consider myself a gym rat, so I can at least say I work harder than you so by the time the fight comes, I’ll be ready.”
Navarrete (37-1, 31 KOs) burst onto the scene to claim the WBO junior featherweight title at the expense of Isaac Dogboe (UD 12) in December 2018. He stopped Dogboe (TKO 12) in the first of five defenses before moving up in weight.
The heavy-handed Mexican bested previously unbeaten Ruben Villa (UD 12) to claim the WBO title. The 28-year-old went on to make three defenses. He then jumped to 130 pounds where he claimed the vacant WBO title after getting off the canvas to stop Liam Wilson (TKO 9).
In the wake of Fulton-Inoue and Spence-Crawford, this is the perfect fight to keep the momentum going. This fight has the look of an exciting shootout. I expect Navarrete-Valdez to be a war of attrition that is finely poised.
Navarrete-Valdez, plus undercard bouts, will be broadcast live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
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