Welcome everybody to another edition of Bad Left Hook Scouting Report, the show that is to boxing journalism what Guillermo Rigondeaux is to The Avengers. In case you're just joining us, this is a series where we've been having a look at some of the sport's up-and-coming young stars and trying to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. Either that, or my incredibly short attention span makes me really, really fond of 6-round fights.
So far we've covered:
- Heavyweight Anthony Joshua, touted as the next great heavyweight of his generation.
- Light heavyweight Russian youngster Dmitry Bivol.
- Minimumweight titleholder Kosei Tanaka.
- Former 2012 US Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez, fighting at jr. welterweight.
- Power punching American super-featherweight Saul Rodriguez.
- Former 2012 US Olympian Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz Jr., fighting at featherweight.
- Argentinian buzzsaw light middleweight Brian Castano.
- British giant super-middleweight Callum Smith.
- Olympic medalist and hopeful cruiserweight title challenger Evander Holyfield.
- Cossack otaman and rising cruiserweight contender Oleksandr Usyk.
- Floyd Mayweather's favourite young fighter: welterweight
Errol FlynnErrol Spence Jr..
- Fan favourite Chechen hammer Artur Beterbiev.
- Young and developing American light middleweight Erickson Lubin.
- Kiwi heavyweight banger Joseph Parker.
In anticipation of April's Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley card, today we will be having a look at young Mexican featherweight prospect Oscar Valdez. Valdez is scheduled to fight on the card against former titleholder Evgeny Gradovich, a big step up given that Gradovich is ranked about 7th or 8th in the world and only has one defeat.
Oscar Valdez comes into this bout on the back of a very successful amateur career in which he was a Youth World Champion, won bronze at the 2009 World Championships, silver at the 2011 Pan American Games and was a two-time Olympian. He signed with Top Rank and turned pro at the end of 2012, was initially brought along very slowly but has gradually increased his level of opposition and has gained a reputation as an aggressive, brutal fighter. His current pro record stands at 18-0 with 16 stoppages.
Here's a link to a fight we've covered before, a bout at the 2011 AIBA World Amateur Championships against another current top featherweight prospect, Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz Jr.Here is his 2nd pro bout, a 2nd round stoppage against a not-even-journeyman from Oregon named Corben Page.Here is his 7th pro fight, courtesy of Bad Left Hook alumn Ryan Bivins.His 13th pro fight saw Mexican puncher Alberto Garza take him into the later rounds, yet get stopped eventually.His 15th pro bout was a brief stoppage of Mexican-scene fringe contender Jose Ramirez, the guy Vasyl Lomachenko stopped in his professional debut.Here are a few highlights of his toughest fight to date, where he was taken the full 10 rounds by the decent Ruben Tamayo, whom we've also seen taking JoJo Diaz the full 10 rounds. Tamayo knocked Valdez down in the first round but otherwise lost pretty much all of the other rounds.His 17th pro fight is his biggest win to date, a 5th round stoppage of contender and recent title challenger Chris Avalos.
And here is his latest bout, a 3rd round KO of random Filipino boxer Ernie Sanchez.
As usual, here is a list of things I noticed, divided into several categories:
The Very Best
1) Complete defense. An unusual thing to start with for a prospect, but Valdez really does have every defensive tool. He moves his head well to dodge punches, he generally has a good, tight guard, he can move away from incoming fire using his feet, he can roll with punches, he can parry them with his gloves, he can even go into a bit of a Philly shell when fighting inside. He doesn't execute each of them perfectly, but the fact that he does have all of these tools is unusual for a fighter this young.
2) Left hook. Oscar Valdez has a passion for using his left hand as a Swiss Army knife. He is very accurate with his left hook, he varies levels and angles at will and he gets really good leverage even when firing them in succession. It is also his best counterpunch. Too bad it doesn't have more power on it.
3) Inside fighting. Valdez is a good inside fighter, managing to get leverage and precision on his punches and maintaining concentration and balance.
4) Overall technique. The kid puts his feet and his body into his punches, moves his feet in short, accurate steps, has good balance and has a tight, compact stance
5) Angles and punch variation. Either from the fly or setting his feet, Valdez can punch with both hands, varies angles mid-combination, changes leverage from one side to the other and seamlessly transitions between uppercuts, hooks, jabs, crosses.
6) Head movement. One thing I love about him is that he can move his head and upper body both on offense and on defense. He really seems to be pretty good at dodging punches.
7) Work rate and stamina. It seemed to me that he was able to maintain a relatively high output of punches irrespective of round, opponent or damage taken. I also never saw him too tired. He seems to have improved his engine from his amateur days.
8) Ring movement. Valdez is a fairly mobile boxer, moving both in-and-out as well as laterally. Defensively he generally prefers to engage rather than move away but offensively he moves very quickly inside on his opponent and also cuts off the ring passably. Granted, the only mover he has faced thus far was Avalos, but he had everything covered in that bout.
9) Corner. My Spanish isn't exactly top notch, but from what I can follow in the interaction between him and his trainer Manuel Robles Jr. between rounds, they have very technical and very complex conversations, Valdez listens, understands and responds to his trainer, unlike many fighters who just stare in the distance, not acknowledging any of the advice they receive. I happen to think that Manuel Robles Jr. is great trainer in the making. Not good, great!
10) Power. As with other prospects, I think his KO ratio oversells his actual power. He usually has to land flush at a sustained rhythm for several rounds before his opponents crumble.
11) Hand speed. Valdez is shifty and his attacks are quick and hard to anticipate, but his actual hand-speed is about average for a featherweight.
12) Versatility. The kid seems comfortable both playing the aggressor and fighting off the back foot and sometimes switches between the two from round to round. His tactical arsenal would be more complete if his outside fighting were passable to complement his inside fighting.
13) Composure in the ring. Valdez is calm and oftentimes a lot more in control of what's going on than his mobile style suggests. He has also learned to not be over-anxious with his offense and will let opportunities come to him instead of jumping in recklessly.
The Not So Great But Improving
14) Slow counterpunching. Valdez wants to counterpunch and will often bait his opponent into throwing but his timing is generally off and doesn't launch the counter early enough to land on the button, when the opponent is vulnerable. His counters are not only off-rhythm, but also wide and slow instead of short and crisp. I happen to think that timing is one of the areas where he's improved visibly so I expect him to become a more assertive counterpuncher any day now. He is still wide and insufficiently accurate though.
15) Loading on the left hook. He sometimes gets really wild with his left hooks mid-combination and really wings one hard and off-target. But since it's unpredictably mid combination and he doesn't lose his balance too bad, I don't see this as a major problem.
16) Open to overhands. Valdez keeps his chin tucked behind his shoulder, but up until recently his forehead was generally exposed to overhand shots. In his more recent fights, as he is becoming more patient and letting the offense come to him, he is also protecting himself slightly better on the outside.
17) Size. Valdez is very short for a featherweight. There's no way around it, his size disadvantage really affects his game-plan and he has virtually no chance of fighting from the outside against his opponents.
18) Jab. Valdez has a fairly tame jab. It is neither accurate nor powerful and really, he doesn't even try to use it much. To be honest, given his reach disadvantage, getting a jab-based game going would be really hard.
The Downright Horrible
19) Distance control. Because he is so short, he cannot fight from a distance and so anytime he engages he is always in range of his opponent. So naturally he eats a lot of punches. Granted, he blocks or deflects lots of them, but even repeated shots to the guard, shoulders and arms take some toll. Win or lose, inside fighters generally accumulate more damage. He seems to kind of enjoy getting into exchanges, which could be good or could be bad depending on the opponent. In recent bouts, he has also grown increasingly cautious in regards to closing the distance. He used to be a bully that would just jump in head-first to make up for his lack of length and lack of jab. But nowadays he would much rather wait for his opponent to close the distance.
I think Oscar Valdez looks like a much more mature fighter than his age might suggest. He has a lot of skills you don't usually see in prospects: a varied and cultured defense, head movement, poise, ability to fight off the back foot. I also like that he is patiently aggressive and seems to intentionally work different aspects out during bouts. Instead of looking for a quick finish, he will experiment with inside fighting, with movement, with waiting on the ropes, try different kinds of guards etc. I honestly think him and his trainer are using this build-up period to prepare for different styles and different situations rather than just doing the same things over and over again. If ever faced with another young fighter, I think that his ability to tackle different in-ring situations is a big advantage over prospects whose bouts always go the same way. On the flipside, his inability to fight effectively from the outside means that he has to constantly wrestle inside with bigger men, which means that some rounds tend to look more like a brawl and seem closer than they actually are. I think a big strong fighter with a big punch would pose a significant problem to Valdez. I would definitely pick someone like Nicholas Walters over him. But the bout with Gradovich seems to be good matchmaking. Valdez is ready to step up his level of opposition and Gradovich's style should favour Valdez and his strengths.
The bad news for Valdez is that most of the top-10-ranked featherweights are with Al Haymon's PBC 'league'. The good news is that there are several potential foes rising up in the ranks as prospects. Bouts with Golden Boy's Ronny Rios, JoJo Diaz, Julian Ramirez or Top Rank's Jessie Magdaleno, Saul 'Neno' Rodriguez or Toka Kahn Clary all sound appealing. Of course the big featherweight name in Top Rank's stable is Vasyl Lomachenko so if Valdez starts developing faster and Lomachenko stays at featherweight... who knows?
As an appetizer, here is a very old amateur bout between Valdez and Lomachenko at the 2009 World Amateur Boxing Championships, where the 18-year old Mexican won bronze after losing in this semifinal.