LAS VEGAS — The super featherweight title unification bout on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena between WBC champion Oscar Valdez and WBO champion Shakur Stevenson has been described as a boxer vs. slugger match.
And that’s not far from the truth, because Stevenson is one of the best boxers the super featherweight division has seen in years and Valdez is one of its hardest punchers.
But simply calling Valdez a slugger seems to be unfair to him and doesn’t take into account the full breadth and depth of his resume. Yes, anyone who saw his epic battle last year with then-champion Miguel Berchelt knows that Valdez can slug with the best of them.
He’s far more than that, though. He’s 30-0 with 23 knockouts not because he’s a 130-pound version of Mike Tyson, but because he has a well-rounded game and a full bag of tricks he can call upon when needed.
Stevenson is quick, has elite boxing skills and tremendous punching accuracy. In this fight, Valdez’s job is likely to be to cut off the ring, put Stevenson in the corner and on the ropes and make it a dogfight.
Two of Valdez’s idols, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, fought in the super featherweight division. They were known for their epic trilogy, which was one of the best of all time. The action in each of those fights was heated and heavy from the opening moments.
But the reason they are remembered so fondly now is that they weren’t simply just toe-to-toe slugfests. There was high-level boxing going on as each looked to break down the other.
That’s kind of where Valdez finds himself. He’s shown amazing toughness, fighting more than half the fight against Scott Quigg with a broken jaw, and incredible power when he knocked out Berchelt.
But he set up those punches against Berchelt shrewdly and couldn’t have done it by just blinding throwing. That’ll even be more true against Stevenson. Valdez will have to choose and put together his shots wisely.
“In a fight with Shakur, you never know [what may happen],” Valdez said. “But if we have to bang, we can bang. If we have to box, we can box. It depends on what he brings to the table.”
Stevenson grinned as he heard Valdez speak and jumped in as soon as he finished. I believe, Stevenson said, he’s coming to bang.
Stevenson said he’s prepared for a swarming, high-output style from Valdez.
“I’m ready for the Oscar Valdez who goes in there throwing all them hooks and putting on pressure,” Stevenson said, nodding his head affirmatively as he spoke.
Valdez is trained by the estimable Eddy Reynoso, arguably the best trainer in the business, and he prepares alongside pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez.
Alvarez is as versatile of a fighter as there is in the game and he’s been taught that by Reynoso since he was a teenager just beginning in the sport. It’s the way that Reynoso has approached working with Valdez since they joined forces.
Valdez has carried himself with a quiet confidence. He hasn’t gotten rattled and hasn’t engaged in a back and forth with Stevenson. The public seems fascinated by Stevenson and the odds keep rising in his favor.
At BetMGM, Stevenson was up to a -800 favorite, and Valdez is at +550. Alvarez has a hard time believing those numbers.
Valdez, Alvarez said, is so versatile and competes at such a high level that the betting odds make little sense to him.
Valdez, though, is the epitome of cool and doesn’t let much bother him. This is a guy whose pet is an alligator named Steve, and he jumps into the water with him frequently. If he’s not afraid of an alligator, he’s got no reason to be afraid of a boxer with eight-ounce gloves on his hands.
For him, it’s about soaking in the moment. He grew up rooting on his idols in unification bouts like these. Now, he’s one of them, an undefeated fighter risking his belt against another undefeated fighter who is risking his.
Valdez used to lay in his bed at night and imagine himself in these situations. Now, it’s a reality.
“I’m very excited for this,” Valdez said. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve dreamed of these kinds of opportunities, to be fighting for unified championships and to be fighting in Las Vegas. I’m just very excited right now to be in this mega-fight, and I can’t wait. I’m anxious to step in the ring [Saturday].
“It’s the perfect time to have this fight now. Shakur Stevenson is a two-time world champion right now. I’m a two-time world champion, as well. It’s the perfect time. Let’s prove who is the best 130-pounder. Let’s get it on [Saturday]. Let’s just show it. I think it’s the correct time to do it.”