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What it might take to bring a unification bout to Tucson: An in depth look at potential Valdez opponents

As the boxing world waits for Top Rank and other organizers to iron out the details for an Oscar Valdez (22-0, 19KOs) and Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez appearance in Tucson this September 22nd, local sports writers sitting in press row of a recent boxing event at Casino Del Sol began speculating the potential opponents Valdez could face in his first ever title defense in the Old Pueblo, the city that raised him.

Oscar Valdez dominates Matias Rueda in stunning fashion to claim the vacant WBO featherweight title in the summer of 2016

When AllSportsTucson.com spoke to Valdez himself in August of last year, fresh off of his win over Matias Rueda to win the WBO feather weight crown, Valdez spoke to us about his goal to unify title belts.

“I’d love to fight for the other belts. 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,” Valdez told us last August.

Since then, Valdez has faced two mandatory challengers. Easily defeating Hiroshige Osawa and earning a unanimous decision win over Miguel Marriaga, who gave Valdez all he could handle.

Abner Mares. Photo via BoxRec

In December of last year, a story published by BoxingScene.com quoted Valdez’s manager Frank Espinoza as saying that a dream matchup for the Valdez camp would be a showdown with Abner Mares. “I would like to make the Valdez-Mares fight. That is my Christmas wish for 2017. That’s a huge fight in Vegas or LA,” Espinoza told BoxingScene.com. Espinoza has a history with Mares, having managed Mares to three world titles before the two went through a turbulent split. Since Espinoza was interviewed, a Valdez-Mares match up became all but impossible when Mares scheduled a bout for October of this year.

There are huge things to consider when scheduling a title unification bout. Television rights, for example. Valdez has mainly appeared on HBO. Other fighters, have spent most of their careers making appearance on other outlets. Mares, for example, has made a living on Showtime. The world of boxing promotion is political, ultra competitive and full of rivalries. As Valdez pointed out last August, politics and rivalry is perhaps the biggest obstacle toward his dream of title unification. Mares’s promoter Al Haymon would have had to come to an agreement with rival Top Rank to make the Valdez-Mares showdown a reality this September.

Lets take a look at who’s potentially IN or OUT as a Valdez opponent this September in Tucson.

OUT

Leo Santa Cruz. Photo via BoxRec

WBA Super World Featherweight Champion LEO SANTA CRUZ(33-1-1, 18KOs): His scheduled showdown with Mares for the WBA Super World featherweight title at the Staples Center in Los Angeles eliminates Santa Cruz as a potential Valdez opponent in September. The Mares/Santa Cruz clash is huge. The outcome of this fight could send a ripple effect throughout the feather weight division and decide the matchups for the next year or more.

IBF World Feather Weight Champion LEE SELBY (25-1-0, 9KOs): Fresh off of his UD over Jonathan Victor Barros (41-4-1) at Wembley Arena in London a couple of weeks ago, a title unification bout with Valdez in September would be highly unlikely. Not impossible but it would be a very quick and (in my mind) unsafe turn around for Selby to fight Valdez, who has been off since April and is in the gym training today.

ABNER MARES (30-2-1, 15KOs): As was pointed out earlier, Mares was perhaps the hugest target on the Valdez camp radar at the beginning of the year. Once Mares inked a deal to face Leo Santa Cruz in October, 2017, all potential of a Valdez-Mares main event in Tucson has vanished.

HOW ARE MANDATORY CHALLENGERS DETERMINED?

Before we continue on, let’s breakdown briefly how and why Valdez is obligated by the WBO to face a mandatory challenger.

The WBO rankings for July 2017 list the top 15 challengers for Oscar Valdez. The August rankings have yet to come out as of this story’s publishing. If Valdez wants to remain champion and not have his title vacated, he must defend his title within nine months, according to the regulations of the World Boxing Organization. Valdez must defend his title against his choice of challengers among the list of 15 best in the world as recognized by the WBO. If Valdez fails to agree to a title defense bout with anyone on the list, the WBO will set a date for him to face No.1 ranked challenger according to their World Championship Committee. The WBO could force Valdez to fight Joseph Diaz (24-0, 13KOs) in Tucson this fall. Which would definitely make an intriguing fight. BoxRec has Diaz ranked No.2 overall among American featherweights after Gary Russell Jr, who we will talk about shortly.

WORLD BOXING ORGANIZATION RANKING JULY 2017

FEATHERWEIGHT (126 lbs) (57.15 kgs)

CHAMPION OSCAR VALDEZ MEX
1) Joseph Diaz (NABO) USA*
2) Mark Magsayo (International) PHI
3) Christopher Diaz PR
4) Genesis Servania (Asia-Pacific) PHI
5) Sakaria Lukas (WBO Africa) NAM
6) Oleg Malynovskyi (WBO Europe) UKR
7) Carl Frampton UK*
8) Jesus M. Rojas PR
9) Josh Warrington UK
10) Luke Jackson (Oriental) AUST
11) Scott Quigg UK*
12) Albert Pagara PHI
13) Dennis Ceylan DEN
14) Josue Veraza (Latino) MEX
15) Ryan Walsh UK
WBA – LEO SANTA CRUZ*
IBF – LEE SELBY*
WBC – GARY RUSSELL, JR.*

If Valdez wants to be a part of a unification bout with champions in the same weight class of the other world sanctioning organizations that the WBO recognizes, he would have to submit written permission to the WBO. Upon approval (assuming the other fighter gets approval from their sanctioning organization), the unification bout could be fought in lieu of facing the mandatory challenger.

IN

To us in the local boxing sport-writing community and who have covered Valdez’s career extensively, a few names we threw around as the greatest potential Valdez opponents for title unification this September in Tucson were:

Carl Frampton. Photo via BoxRec

CARL FRAMPTON (23-1, 14KOs): Could potentially be the biggest fight Oscar Valdez could ever have in his career. A showdown with Frampton (or Selby but we made the case that he wouldn’t be available for September) would vault Valdez on to an international stage and a win would make him a superstar.

Frampton was scheduled a couple of weeks back to face Andres Gutierrez of Mexico in the UK when a freak series of events resulted with the bout being cancelled within 24 hours of the opening bell. To the shock of the boxing world Frampton didn’t make-weight for the Guitierrez tilt. Still, it wasn’t what cancelled the fight. By September 22nd Frampton would be in shape, will have been in the gym the longest of any featherweight contender and is hungry to hoist a title belt after Leo Santa Cruz put the first blemish on the Welsh fighter’s record. Frampton is one of two of the most ready and available featherweights in the world right to face Valdez.

On July 30th, however, Lee Selby offered Frampton a title shot in October or November. Would Frampton travel half a world away to the Old Pueblo to fight for a world title when he can fight for one close to home a couple of months later?

Gary Russel Jr. Photo via BoxRec

WBC World Featherweight Champion GARY RUSSELL JR (28-1, 17KOs): When it comes to availability and timing, Russell is the best choice for Valdez to fight a unification bout in September. After winning against Oscar Escandon (3rd round TKO) on May 20 of this year, a late September bout would be just about the right time for Russell to return to the ring and earn another pay-day in 2017. Russell was virtually untouched in his May outing and would have had healed long before coming to Tucson in September. As the No. 3 ranked featherweight in the world and No. 1 in the United States, Russell is a world-class southpaw that could very likely put the first blemish on Valdez’s record.

IBO World Featherweight Champion & WBA World Featherweight Champion CLAUDIO MARRERO (22-1, 16KOs): I have scoured the WBO’s regulations and by-laws and can not find anything in it where they recognize the IBO as an official world sanctioning body. If Valdez were to enter the ring against Marrero, it would mean the WBO (Valdez) and WBA World (Marrero) belts could be on the line. Marrero has not lost in nearly 4 years and his last bout was in late April. However, the Dominican fighter is the 18th ranked featherweight in the world. Valdez would be fighting way down the chain taking on Marrero, in my opinion. This bout would only serve for Valdez to unify the WBA World and WBO belts, which is a step toward what he has said he wants. However, in my mind, he would not be challenging himself quite enough. A win would not command the same respect as a win against everyone else we have mentioned would. Still, to give Marrero the credit he is due, he is a world champion and holder of at least one belt that the WBO recognizes. It would be seen and felt as if Valdez is giving someone else a title shot, before taking additional title shots of his own.

SCOTT QUIGG (33-1-2, 28KOs): Ranked as the No. 6 featherweight in the world, one spot above Valdez, a bout with Quigg would not be a unification bout. Quigg’s only defeat came at the hands of Carl Frampton in February of 2016. With Quiggs 67% KO percentage, a Valdez victory against the hard-hitting Brit would put the entire boxing world on noticed that Valdez is the real deal and could potentially place Valdez in the pound-for-pound rankings. Valdez has an 86% KO margin. A Valdez-Quigg bout could have the potential to be an enormous crowd pleaser and historic classic.

After a stellar 2016, we wait to see what 2017 holds for Oscar Valdez. Photo: @oscarvaldez56

OPINION: If Valdez was simply going to fight another mandatory challenger, it is my opinion that the opponent and venue would have been announced and the details would have been ironed out by now, less than two months until fight night. The fact that two world sanctioning organizations would have to take extensive time to approve a unification bout is what leads me to believe that a unification bout is likely. A unification bout would require TV rights to be worked out, etc.

I could be completely wrong though. This is me writing this opinion section as a boxing fan. Nothing more.

A win against ANY of the fighters we’ve mentioned in this piece could catapult Valdez into superstardom. Valdez is the No.7 ranked featherweight in the world. The biggest knock on his accomplishments so far has been that he didn’t win his title from a reigning world champion and thus, didn’t contend for it. To critics, Valdez fought for a vacated title and fell into that slot. Now the time has come for Valdez to realize his dream and back up his own words to us at AllSportsTucson.com when he said he wanted to be remembered for fighting the very best of his time. The time has come for Valdez to step up onto the world-class stage. Valdez is already seated at the table, now he needs to start claiming the biggest portions of feast for himself.

If Valdez does not fight one of the fighters we mentioned and continues to fight mandatory challengers, Valdez will continue to take longer to realize the Hall of Fame dream of a career he has told me he wants for himself.

Getting these world-class fighters to want to come all the way to Tucson to fight one of the biggest bouts of their careers is a tall order. It would be easier and perhaps more worth while for the event organizers to set the stage in Los Angeles where Valdez trains, Phoenix where larger venues could support the biggest crowds or in Las Vegas, known the world over as the Mecca of world championship boxing.

Top Rank is determined to make Tucson a fight destination however and Oscar Valdez has earned the chance to fight in front of the city that loves him most.

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