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Lupe Contreras uttered the words, “PURO…NOGALES…,” into his ring announcer’s microphone and 2,000 spectators joined in unison, “SONORA!” as he introduced Noche De Boxeo’s special guest of the evening. Complete elation erupted in Casino Del Sol’s Grand Ballroom as WBO Featherweight Champion of the World and hometown favorite Oscar “The King” Valdez (20-0, 18 KOs) climbed through the ropes with his title belt held tightly against his chest. Before he was able to address his adoring public, Contreras rattled off each one of Valdez’s accolades, the crowd’s cheers grew louder.
Let’s rewind a bit.
December 12, 2015 – Tucson Convention Center, Tucson, AZ
Valdez made the first appearance of his professional career in the city that raised him. Not far from the west side neighborhood where he went to school at Manzo Elementary, “The King” made easy work of Philippine fighter Ernie Sanchez (15-8-1 6 KOs). First, by landing a left hook to the liver of Sanchez that rocked him hard enough to spit out his mouth piece. The crowd on hand boo’ed, feeling he was buying time to recover from the left to the body. Moments later, Valdez landed a vicious left to chin and scoring a TKO victory, two minutes and fifty-nine seconds into the third round. With a victory so dominant, Tucson fans found the fight a little anti-climactic. They simply didn’t get to see their hometown fighter nearly enough. Thirty minutes after the opening bell, Valdez’s job was done and the climb to the top was in full effect.
As a fight fan, not having begun covering the sport yet, I saw the action with my father at my parents’ home and Valdez caught my attention. I knew who he was but in all honesty, I had lumped him in with all the other Tucson fight prospects I had grown up seeing. Still, the undefeated record and two Olympic appearances stood out to me.
January 22, 2016 – Casino Del Sol, Tucson, AZ
Having just joined the writing staff at AllSportsTucson.com earlier in the month and covering my first event, I took my seat ring side in press row to witness a ShoBox event featuring a much hyped heavyweight prospect, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (17-0-1, 15 KOs), when Norm Frauenheim took the seat next to me. For those of you who may not know who Frauenheim is, I promise you, your favorite boxer does. In the world of boxing, Norm is one of the most respected writers of the sport. Fighters, trainers and managers all notice when he’s in attendance. I’ve seen them all make it a priority to come to the press section, meet him and shake his hand. They make time answer his questions. I was fortunate that day to be able to introduce myself and pick his brain all night and ever since. The biggest thing he told me that night was, “If you’re going to be covering Tucson sports, especially boxing, you need to keep your eye on Oscar Valdez. That kid is special. A lot of buzz about him. The sky’s the limit. Remember his name.”
April 9, 2016 – MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV
Undercard fighters of a major title fight, like that of Timothy Bradley (33-2-1, 13 KOs) vs Manny Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 KOs), usually wind up in the shadows of fight night on the Vegas Strip. The spot light just isn’t wide enough to focus all of the fight world’s attention on the guys who are a fight or two away from being the main event themselves. Only, Oscar Valdez stole the spot light and made it look easy. Evgeny Gradovich (21-2-1, 9 KOs) was a one loss, former featherweight world champion. When he and Valdez stepped into the ring, they each knew the winner would have a world title shot against then featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (6-1, 4 KOs). Valdez embarrassed Gradovich. The Russian’s face was a red mess when Valdez landed a left solidly to his face.
Having had his fighter outclassed and humiliated so much, trainer Robert Garcia suggested that Gradovich retire and help him train fighters in Garcia’s Los Angeles gym.
The stage was set for Oscar Valdez to have his title shot against an arch nemesis in Lomachenko who had defeated him soundly in the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing.
Lomachenko fought Roman Martinez (29-3-3, 17 KOs) on June 11, 2016 for the WBO Super Featherweight title and won, which effectively vacated the WBO Featherweight title spot.
Valdez was pitted against Matias Rueda for the now vacant title.
“Dreams are realized in our sport on the basis of discipline, hard work and talent. That’s why I have no doubt Oscar Valdez will be one of the great champions of the world.” – Julio Cesar Chavez in an interview with Valdez on ESPN before fighting Matias Rueda
“He’s demonstrated an ability to display impressive punching power, at the same time, land combinations with extreme accuracy. Oscar Valdez has shown a true desire to get in the ring with anybody and is not intimidated by an opponents umblemished record. We haven’t seen a talent like him in boxing in a very long time.” – Juan Manuel Marquez commenting on the state of featherweight division before Valdez’s fight with Rueda.
July 23, 2016 – MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV
Once again, Valdez completely dominated the HBO pay per view co-main event. With two shots to the liver, Valdez had achieved his dream of becoming a world champion. Matias Rueda (26-1 23 KOs) who was renowned for his punching power and granite chin, in all honesty, had no business being in the ring with Oscar Valdez.
HBO analysts said, Rueda with a knee still on the ground, looking as if he saw a ghost, blood trickling from both nostrils, “That is as good a performance as anybody has had in the world of boxing this year.”
As Oscar Valdez finished his post-fight presser, Bob Arum led a round of applause for the newly crowned champion, looked Valdez directly in the eye and said loud enough so that the podium microphone could pick it up, “Hopefully the next one will be in Tucson.”
August 6, 2016 – Casino Del Sol, Tucson, AZ
Completely embarrassing opponents has simply become what Valdez does. Not only does he conduct himself well outside of the ring, when it comes to his fight game, there may be only very few fighters who have more passion for the sport than he does.
“Today, boxing is too much like pro wrestling. Which really bothers me. I want to get boxing back to a place when the best actually took on the very best. I want to fight the very best. I’ve always believed that to be considered one of the greats, you have to fight the very best,” said Valdez.
As he continued he alluded to the fact that seemingly, most of the boxing champions of today are selective of their challengers. When the public begins to perceive that title holders are avoiding certain fighters it becomes impossible to name them in the same conversations as the fighters that avoided no one. Fans have become disillusioned with the sport and boxing has suffered.
Valdez continued, “I don’t go into a fight fearing a loss. That’s not to say that I’m OK with losing. I mean, the greatest fighters of all time all have losses. Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, Juan Manuel Marquez all have losses on their record. Muhammad Ali suffered losses. That’s what made them great. They were in true wars. Those guys didn’t shy away from fighting the best of their time. They fought the absolute best. I prepare myself for that eventuality. I know one day my turn will come to be in an epic battle. It’ll be my turn to get in the ring with someone who will want to win just as much as I do. That day, it’s going to come down to who’s the smartest in the ring and who trained the best. So, I stay in the gym. I want my name to be mentioned with Duran and Chavez and them.”
Just prior to making his special guest appearance in front of Tucson’s fight fans, Valdez was gracious enough to stop by my press table and give me a few minutes and ask some questions about his bright future that Tucson boxing fans have been dying to find out about.
Jose Roman Jr: How quick is the process for getting ready for your first title defense?
Oscar Valdez: Pretty quick. I mean, I came out clean from my last fight. I hardly got hit. So, I’m ready to go back to the gym. I mean, I’ve been training already doing light work outs in Hermosillo. Yeah, I’m ready to get back to work. It took me a long time to get this belt and I don’t plan on leaving it any time soon.
JRJ: All your three and a half mile runs up Baldy Mountain have paid off it looks like!
OV: You know, I’m the living proof that if you work hard and you’re dedicated truly to what you love, your dreams will come true. We do a great job in the gym. I’ve got a great trainer, Manny Robles and Edgar Jasso. I think the results speak for themselves on fight nights. Hopefully get back in the ring by November or December.
As he said this, he began shadow boxing against me, throwing phantom blows to my ribs, as I held my voice recorder to his face. He was truly itching for the process. For the gym environment. For a fight. Where’s a camera when you need it?
JRJ: Alright, now, have you chosen your next opponent and how far along is that process?
OV: No. But, I would love to fight for the other belts.
JRJ: Oh you’re already wanting to unify the belts?
OV: Yeah! The only problem is there’s talk about other fighters that don’t make fights with Top Rank. But I mean, anyone that deserves a shot I’ll gladly get them. I’m going to defend my title with everything I got.
This is the very thing that irks Valdez. Champions getting a title belt, then playing it safe. Only a couple of weeks after winning his belt, he has been looking to set up unification bouts against the other fighters in his weight division with belts and they’re already avoiding him.
If the day comes that Valdez does lose his first professional bout, it won’t be because he was out worked or under prepared. Unless he suffers an injury, it’s going to take someone being purely better than him on that given night for him to relinquish his title. Valdez couldn’t express enough how badly he wants to face other fighters who truly consider themselves champions.
It has been Bob Arum’s worst kept secret. He wants Oscar Valdez to fight in Tucson.
Tucson’s worst kept secret has been the fact that they want him to fight in the Old Pueblo. Tucson’s mayor Jonathan Rothschild has been very involved in Tucson’s boxing scene lately making appearances in Las Vegas to lobby for a title bout in Tucson and pre-fight press conferences, posing for pictures with Noche de Boxeo’s headliner Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz (42-4, 21 KOs). Casino Del Sol has been pushing very hard to make it happen as well.
A credible source who has been closer to the talks and has more intimate knowledge told me, on August 6th, that Bob Arum wants the casino and the city to come to some sort of an agreement before Top Rank begins to dedicate resources and bring Valdez’s first title defense bout to Tucson. I was also told that Bob Arum would want to have the event outdoors. Which, to me, is a risky proposition. Hearing this, those of us in the press section at Noche de Boxeo were kind of stunned.
The last time Tucson had a bout that was even close to the magnitude that this one would be was when Fernando Vargas fought Tony Marshall in December of 2003, outdoors at the Casino Del Sol’s AVA Center. I wasn’t there in 2003. Listening to the other media members talk about the 38-degree chill of that night being extremely unpopular with the fighters and trainers (they recalled steam coming off of the fighters’ heads), I thought to myself, perhaps the benefit of having the relative freedom of a tribal commission and the AVA Center being the only venue under a tribal commission’s authority with the seating capacity for a world title bout is what has Top Rank’s attention.
Valdez expressed to me his interest in fighting in November or December. To avoid issues with the weather, fighting a lot sooner or a lot later than that might have to be the case. Otherwise, it might not happen in Tucson at all.
Top Rank promoted a Valdez fight at the Tucson Convention Center that did really well.
Perhaps a deal with the University of Arizona would allow for an even larger crowd at the McKale Center. The University has held concerts in its venue in the recent past and they proved to handle it well. It might be a stretch though.
Jose Roman Jr. was born a Wildcat fan, lifetime fanhood was solidified when he was able to meet Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris, Brandon Sanders, Chuck Levy and Ontiwaun Carter as a sixth grader. Having served 10 years in the armed forces and been deployed all over the world, he’s still managed to make it to every Arizona home football game, bowl game and at least one away game for the last 12 years. Now combining his love of writing with his love of all things sports, Jose is proud and honored to join AllSportsTucson.com as a writer.