Valdez vs Stevenson Featherweight Champs, If there is any animosity between unbeaten 130-pound champion Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez, it originates from Stevenson’s perception that the man he will face in Saturday’s unification bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas has long avoided him.
Valdez went up to junior lightweight to avoid Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs), a former featherweight titleholder who was formerly Valdez’s mandatory challenger at 126 pounds.
Even when Valdez knocked out long-time WBC champion Miguel Berchelt in the knockout of the year in 2021, Stevenson believes Valdez did everything he could to avoid having to fight him.
The 24-year-old southpaw, who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, even claimed that Top Rank, who promotes both fighters, was initially more interested in pitting Valdez against WBO featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete, who is considering stepping up in weight.
“I always tell the truth,” Stevenson stated at his farewell press conference on Thursday. “I get the impression he didn’t want to fight me at 126 pounds.” We’ve arrived at 130. Before fighting me, he was attempting to fight Navarrete. But we’ve arrived. That’s something we can’t keep talking about.
Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) has flatly rejected that he was hoping to avoid Stevenson, who has been compared to a young Floyd Mayweather after tearing through the competition en way to two world crowns in two categories.
Valdez, a native of Nogales, Mexico, was the main event on a Top Rank card that also served as Stevenson’s official debut last year, and he said he’s been training for a pro match against him since first seeing him in the amateurs.
“I was really focused on the fight I had in front of me, just like I was in this fight,” Valdez remarked four years ago when defending his WBO featherweight title against Miguel Marriaga. “Shakur Stevenson was someone I was familiar with. He was in the Olympics, which I saw. He was a tremendous boxer back then, and now he’s a fantastic champion.”
Valdez, 31, had a stellar amateur career and represented Mexico at the 2012 Olympics, similar to Stevenson. He’s also won world titles at 126 and 130 pounds, but he’s coming off a turbulent year filled with highs and lows.
Valdez started 2021 by knocking out Berchelt in an upset, which was hailed as a win partly due to the impact of perennial trainer of the year Eddy Reynoso, who helped Valdez sharpen up his technique to go along with his typical toughness and ferocity. But, just when Valdez appeared to be on his way to being a pound-for-pound contender, he was dogged by scandal.
Valdez tested positive for a banned substance ahead of a September rematch against unbeaten Robson Conceicao, but was controversially allowed to fight nevertheless. Valdez’s focus appeared to be thrown off by the unfavourable headlines as he battled to a tight decision victory.
Despite Valdez’s insistence that the positive test was caused by his ingestion of herbal tea, Stevenson hasn’t forgotten and has warned Valdez to “make sure you’re not cheating” throughout all public appearances starring the two champions during fight week.
“He’s the kind of boxer who talks a lot and always has something to say,” Valdez remarked. “I’m not that way. I let my fists speak for themselves. He is the type of combatant that refuses to fight in a war. I’m the type of boxer who strives to give the fans exactly what they want. This will be more of a chess battle since he is unwilling to give the fans what they want. It will be a more technical battle.
Valdez has worked in the same camp as Canelo Alvarez ahead of his May return, while Stevenson has brought “big brother” Terence Crawford into camp for great sparring.
Despite the fact that Valdez seemed to trust in his prospects, the oddsmakers do not. Stevenson, who stopped WBO champion Jamel Herring in October with the most comprehensive performance of his career, has been installed as a large betting favourite as high as 8-1.
“The odds are stacked against me, and everyone believes he’ll run me over,” Valdez said. “But, much as with Berchelt, I’ll use it as incentive. I know I’m in for a tough struggle, but this isn’t the first time I’ve faced a challenge. I’m willing to die on the line just to win, as we say in Mexico. To me, it’s all that matters.”
The arrogant Stevenson, as expected, is full of confidence as he faces his hardest challenge yet.
“Everything Shakur Stevenson can do in a boxing ring hasn’t been seen yet,” Stevenson stated. “My performance [on Saturday] will prove that I am boxing’s next superstar.”
On the undercard, a pair of hopefuls have another chance to shine before Stevenson vs. Valdez. In a lightweight bout, Keyshawn Davis, a former Olympic silver medallist, faces Esteban Sanchez. Davis, 23, won a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and has since turned pro in February 2021, has gone 4-0 with three knockouts. In addition, Nico Ali Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, makes his fifth appearance in the ring when he fights Alejandro Ibarra at middleweight. Ali Walsh, 21, has three knockouts in four pro fights since becoming pro in August 2021.
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