Record: 22-0 (19 KO) ... Streak: W22 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'5½" / 66" ... Age: 26
Thoughts: Valdez, a former Olympian for Mexico, is one of boxing’s most exciting younger stars. He’s also one of its paperest of paper champions. That’s not a knock on him, that’s a knock on boxing’s politics.
When Vasyl Lomachenko vacated the WBO featherweight title, Top Rank got a chance to get Valdez into that mix, and managed to secure a vacant title fight against Matias Rueda. On paper, Rueda was unbeaten and powerful, as the Argentine came in with a record of 26-0, 23 wins by knockout. But instead of meeting dangerous resistance, Valdez demolished Rueda inside of two rounds, and Rueda looked hopelessly overmatched.
In Valdez’s first defense, Hiroshige Osawa was bowled over inside of seven rounds last November. But then Miguel Marriaga gave Valdez a decent scrap on April 22 of this year, to be fair, at least making Valdez work 12 rounds for the win. Marriaga was a step up, and it showed, though Valdez did dig deep and proven he can do that, at least at that level.
There’s a lot of reason to like Valdez. Even as an amateur, it was clear he was better suited to the pro ranks, and thus far he has not disappointed. He’s fun to watch, looks to win by knockout when he can, and has an agreeable personality. There’s still a level or two for him to explore before he’s an elite fighter, though.
Record: 29-0 (12 KO) ... Streak: W29 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'6½" / N/A ... Age: 26
Thoughts: Servania is an iffy challenger on paper, a good offensive fighter who lacks power and is at his best when he’s being aggressive and using that to control a fight. Of course, that could be a recipe for disaster against the aggressive, harder-punching Valdez.
In other words, the Filipino challenger will probably have to be close to perfect to actually win — Valdez doesn’t lack for skill, even if it’s not his greatest asset or the first thing you think about with him, and Servania isn’t a classic boxer himself, so the idea that he can tactically outbox Valdez is probably out the window. It would require something of a change in disposition from Servania, at least based on the handful of his fights I’ve seen.
And that’s really the toughest thing here: the footage available of Servania tells us what he’s like, sure, but it tells us what he’s like against opponents such as Konosuke Tomiyama and Juan Luis Hernandez, who are not Oscar Valdez. Those fights were also at 122 pounds, where he campaigned until his last fight in April, a win over Ralph Jhon Lulu in Japan.
So Servania is one of those title challengers who has some talent, but is largely unproven. Maybe he can fight at this level. Maybe he’ll get smashed.
Matchup Grade: C. I think this is a safe, carefully chosen fight for Valdez, who has potential to be a star for Top Rank given ESPN-level exposure. His style is pleasing and he’s a likable fighter, and I suspect they’re aiming to ‘showcase’ him for at least a couple more fights.
Record: 35-0 (24 KO) ... Streak: W35 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 6'2½" / 75" ... Age: 26
Thoughts: Nothing about Zurdo Ramirez really excites me, but he’s a guy who is going to win a lot of fights before all is said and done.
He’s long and tall for the division — though Jesse Hart actually has slight advantages in both height and reach, at least as officially listed — and he’s a smart fighter. He’s got some power, but he doesn’t rely on it. At his best, Ramirez keeps range, uses volume punching, and shuts down an opponent’s offense with his own. He’s no brilliant defensive fighter, so he creates defense out of his offense, which can be very effective when done well.
Ramirez’s HBO debut, and thus his introduction to many fight fans, came in January 2015, when he scraped out a win over Maxim Vlasov. It wasn’t impressive, especially given some of the hype behind him from his promoters at Top Rank. But since then, it’s pretty easily arguable he hasn’t lost a round against Derek Edwards, Gevorg Khatchikian, Arthur Abraham, and Max Bursak.
His win over Bursak didn’t set the boxing world ablaze or anything, especially coming a year after his dominance over Abraham, but it was solid and professional. Now, without a long break between fights, we’ll see what he can do against someone who is at least more physically challenging.
Record: 22-0 (18 KO) ... Streak: W22 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’3" / 77½" ... Age: 28
Thoughts: The son of 1970s middleweight Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Jesse Hart is a Philadelphia native and potential style problem for a lot of fighters at 168, including Gilberto Ramirez.
But this is a big, big step up for Hart, too. His best opponent to date is probably Alan Campa, whom he defeated via TKO-5 on April 8 of this year, and then you get into names like Aaron Pryor Jr, Dashon Johnson, and Andrew Hernandez. All decent tests for Hart’s level at the time, but a world away from the world stage.
This is the sort of “thrown into the fire” matchup that makes me wonder if Top Rank matchmakers doubt how far Hart can really go. The optimist in me says that Top Rank wanted to make a good, in-house fight between two strong young super middleweights. The cynic in me — and with boxing, the cynic is right more often than not — wonders if perhaps Top Rank is looking to get this fight out of Hart if nothing else. Feed him to Ramirez and move on from there, basically.
We’ll see. It’s up to Jesse Hart to make this shot count. We kind of all know what Ramirez can do, but Hart hasn’t proven one way or the other if he can fight at this level. Now’s his shot.
Matchup Grade: C+. I like this one a bit more than I do the main event, though, again, I have concerns that it is essentially the same fight, a safe title defense for a young champion Top Rank believes can be a star, against an opponent who hasn’t proven ready for this sort of fight. Maybe Hart and Servania both show they’re for real and win. Maybe one of them does. Maybe neither does, and maybe that’s the idea.