LAS VEGAS — Oscar Valdez heard every critic. He took note of every doubter. He entered Saturday’s fight as an unbeaten former world champion, but he was nearly a 4-1 underdog against Miguel Berchelt on Saturday at the MGM Grand Conference Center for Berchelt’s WBC super featherweight title.
Berchelt was too big, too strong, the critics said. Valdez was hit too much, the experts said.
Valdez took it all in and used it as fuel to motivate him.
He pulled off an upset that was all the more stunning given the way he did it. He dropped Berchelt in the fourth and ninth and then finished him brutally, conclusively and powerfully with a left hook for the ages at 2:59 of the 10th round.
Valdez’s victory did two things: It established conclusively that Eddy Reynoso has become the successor to Eddie Futch, Emanuel Steward and Freddie Roach as the best trainer in boxing; and it sets up a big 130-pound fight with Shakur Stevenson.
When Valdez surrendered his WBO featherweight title in 2019, many saw it as a case of him avoiding a mandatory defense with Stevenson. But after the way he fought Saturday, Stevenson will remain a favorite but it’s no longer as one-sided of a bout as it once appeared.
Valdez was magnificent against a compelling, powerful and determined champion.
“There’s nothing better in life than proving people wrong,” Valdez said. “I have a list of people who doubted me. My idols doubted me. Boxing analysts doubted me. They said Berchelt was going to knock me out. I have a message to everybody: Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.”
Valdez had a strong amateur career that he capped by being on the 2012 Mexican Olympic boxing team. And he was successful early on as a professional, racking up win after win, but he was also far too easy to hit.
He had more courage than smarts sometimes, and as a result had more than his share of close calls. He broke his jaw in a fight with Scott Quigg and later was dropped by Adam Lopez.
But after the Quigg fight, Valdez turned to Reynoso, whose brilliant work is not limited simply to the great Canelo Alvarez. He’s turning Ryan Garcia into a legitimate threat at lightweight, and his work in guiding Valdez over Berchelt was masterful.
He formulated a brilliant game plan that helped neutralize Berchelt’s inside game, then made the right adjustments when Berchelt mounted a comeback in the middle rounds.
Part of it was by switching southpaw, something he felt would create confusion on Berchelt’s part.
“We wanted him to make mistakes and lose control inside of the ring and then take advantage of it,” Valdez said.
He handled himself brilliantly, in the build-up, in the ring and at the post-fight news conference.
He heard that his idol, Hall of Famer Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr, picked against him. He was disappointed, but said instead of getting angry, he used it as motivation to prove himself.
“I knew it would be hard, but it wouldn’t be impossible,” he said of defeating Berchelt.
He had a long camp because the fight was originally scheduled for Dec. 12, but was pushed back when Berchelt got COVID-19.
That gave him time to work on fixing his flaws with Reynoso. Day after day, they repeated drills and worked on the simplest of techniques. It wasn’t always fun — Valdez is a guy who likes to get in there nose-to-nose and try to figure out who the better man is — but it was critical in his development.
“His work ethic in the gym [is remarkable],” Valdez said of Reynoso. “There were a lot of repetitions. Going back to the basics could get a little boring, but it was important.”
Valdez wants Stevenson after Berchelt KO
He even impressed Stevenson, who has accused Valdez of ducking him, particularly when they were both featherweights. Stevenson lauded Valdez for his performance and said it wasn’t how he thought things would unfold.
“Really surprised, but he used his boxing very well and he looked good,” Stevenson said.
That’s a big-money fight, but the unbeaten Valdez suddenly has lots of them available to him. He said he’s eager to prove himself against the best and said he wanted Stevenson. Top Rank president Todd duBoef said “I’m down,” when asked if he’d make the bout.
Valdez poured his heart into making himself a better, more complete fighter with Reynoso and it showed. He fought with confidence and poise and was in command at all points.
Even when Berchelt made a brief run in the middle of the fight, he didn’t panic and went back to Reynoso’s plan.
“I truly felt strong in there,” Valdez said. “I worked so hard for this. I truly focused. Day and night I thought of this.”
He got what he wanted and joined some of his legendary countrymen like Chavez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez as WBC super featherweight champion.
They all went on to the Hall of Fame, and Valdez took a step in that direction on Saturday with the performance of his lifetime.
“He was absolutely brilliant,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said of Valdez. “He fought his entire career for us and that was the best he’s ever looked.”
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