When it comes to passion, few national fanbases can compete with Mexico and fans of Mexican descent. Indeed, without them, the sport would be on life support in North America.
Mexican Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo Weekends consistently present two of the biggest boxing weekends of the year. So there is a lot at stake for becoming the next star to represent that proud tradition.
One of the best candidates for their honor goes into action this weekend, on the undercard for Manny Pacquiao’s clash with Jessie Vargas. Featherweight Oscar Valdez will face Japan’s Hiroshige Osawa.
Valdez looks like the real goods. He was an international standout as an amateur, representing Mexico twice in the Olympics. When he went to Beijing in 2008, he was just 17. Now 25, he is 20-0, with 18 wins coming inside of the distance.
It is not like Valdez has built that resume against tomato cans, either. In June 2015, in his first scheduled 10-rounder, he pitched a near shutout against fringe-contender Ruben Tamayo. Three months later, he knocked out world-title challenger Chris Avalos.
Last April, on the undercard for Manny Pacquiao’s third fight with Timothy Bradley, Valdez hammered former world champion Evgeny Gradovich, stopping him in just four rounds. Gradovich is a hard-travelled 30, and not close to the same fighter he was when he stopped Billy Dib in 2013. But the victory still established Valdez as a legitimate contender at featherweight.
In July, Valdez knocked out Matias Carlos Adrian Rueda in just two rounds, to claim the vacant WBO featherweight belt. Although Rueda was 26-0, I have a hard time viewing that as a legitimate world title fight. The Argentine had fought absolutely nobody of note and was a hand-picked sacrificial lamb for Valdez’s coronation.
I don’t think much of Osawa as a contender. This will be his first fight outside of the Asia-Pacific region and he has never faced any top fighters from that part of the world.
But this is still the preliminary stage of Valdez’s development. An impressive stoppage on an otherwise lackluster card Saturday night will only cause his reputation to swell.