This Saturday night at 10 pm ET on ESPN, Oscar Valdez returns to defend his featherweight title against Jason Sanchez in a main event from Reno, Nevada.
What’s at stake?
Valdez (25-0, 20 KO) will be defending his WBO featherweight title for the sixth time, while Sanchez (14-0, 7 KO) is taking a huge step up in competition. Another fight where the underdog has everything to gain and nothing to lose, and the favorite kinda has little to gain and everything to lose.
How did Oscar Valdez get here?
Valdez, 28, was a real good amateur for Mexico, winning gold at the 2008 AIBA Youth Championships and the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games and bronze at the 2009 World Championships as a featherweight, then silver at the 2011 Pan American Games as a bantamweight. He twice represented Mexico at the Olympics. At Beijing 2008, he lost in the opening round to Enkhbatyn Badar-Uugan, who went on to win gold, and at London 2012, he beat Shiva Thapa and Anvar Yusunov before losing to John Joe Nevin, who went on to win silver at bantamweight, losing to Luke Campbell in the final.
But for as much success as Valdez did have as an amateur, it was always pretty clear that the pro game was calling for him. He was aggressive and had the pro style more than the majority of his amateur peers. And after London 2012, he signed with Top Rank and got his career going that November.
Valdez’s first 14 fights between 2012 and 2014 were about the standard early prospect fare, club fighters and journeymen, all of whom he beat pretty handily, only one going the distance. In 2015, he stepped it up just a bit against Jose Ramirez, winning a third round KO, and then Ruben Tamayo and Chris Avalos. Tamayo went 10 and dropped Valdez in the opening round, but Avalos was stopped in five.
In April 2016, Valdez was matched with former featherweight titleholder Evgeny Gradovich, whose brief run near the top had been over for a couple of years. The Russian had drawn with Jayson Velez in a 2014 title defense, then lost his belt wide to Lee Selby in May 2015, and his previous two outings — while victories — were red flags, split and majority decisions over club fighters.
Valdez stormed Gradovich and finished him in four, then in his next fight three months later, was more or less gift-wrapped the WBO 126-pound belt, as the vacant strap was put up for grabs against unbeaten but totally unproven Matias Rueda of Argentina. Valdez routed Rueda, stopping him in two.
From there, he made successful defenses against Hiroshige Osawa (TKO-7), Miguel Marriaga (UD-12), and Genesis Servania (UD-12) before being matched with former 122-pound titleholder Scott Quigg in March 2018.
Quigg figured to be a tougher test for Valdez, at least if he fought up to potential, but there were problems before the fight. Quigg weighed in two-and-a-half pounds over the limit, so the belt wasn’t on the line for him, but the main event went on as planned, anyway.
In a rugged, brutal battle in Carson, California, Quigg got his nose broken and lost the decision, while Valdez got his jaw broken but the victory.
The injury took time to heal, obviously, and Valdez returned in February, 11 months after having last been in the ring. He faced Carmine Tommasone, an unbeaten but rather soft challenger, and knocked him out in the seventh round. That was a fair tune-up return, but this follow-up is, for now, leaving people a little cold.
How did Jason Sanchez get here?
Sanchez, 24, is an Albuquerque native nicknamed “El Alacrancito” and other than that I don’t know much about the guy, being honest. His best win came over Jean Carlos Rivera last October in Panama City, and that’s a legit solid win, Rivera can fight a little bit.
Other than that, Sanchez turned pro in 2012, has fought mostly in his home state, and last time out beat Daniel Olea via TKO-2 on the same card where Valdez beat Tommasone.
This fight was actually lined up to go to Erick Ituarte, a Thompson Boxing fighter, but someone forgot to get Ituarte a WBO ranking first, so the sanctioning body refused to approve it as a title fight. In stepped Sanchez, who is for whatever reason ranked No. 11 by the WBO.
Like any fighter in this position, Sanchez got the call for his big chance, and of course he’s taking it. He should. And we don’t really know what he’s got. He might be a bigger threat to Valdez than is believed right now.
How do the fighters match up?
Well it’s hard to say. Valdez is 5’5½” with a 66-inch reach. BoxRec lists Sanchez at 5’6”, which is normal for a featherweight, but with a 24-inch reach, which I just can’t believe is the case.
As far as competition, Valdez’s has been better, even if his has been a bit spotty for world title fights. He’s been one of those titleholders who kinda went on fighting like a prospect while holding a belt.
Who’s the favorite?
No odds are listed as of this writing, but Valdez is surely the clear favorite. Of course last time this happened with a Top Rank main event, it was Ito-Herring, which wound up having totally bizarre odds over the last couple days once it actually got listed.
Who will win?
Check back on Friday at 3 pm ET for our staff picks!
Not a big undercard, but as usual some prospects in action, and that’s worth seeing.
- Lightweight Gabriel Flores Jr (13-0, 6 KO) takes on Salvador Briceno (15-3, 9 KO) in an eight-round ESPN co-feature. Flores, 19, scored a real GOOM of a KO on May 4 at home in Stockton, California, and looks to follow that up impressively here. Briceno is a 24-year-old Mexican fighter who’s 3-2 in his last five, dropping fights to Mikhail Alexeev (UD-8) and Antonio Moran (KO-2), but he’s won his last two, albeit against guys who came in 3-14 and 9-35.
- Light heavyweight vet Michael Seals (22-2, 16 KO) takes on Christopher Brooker (14-6, 5 KO), leading the ESPN+ prelims. Seals, 36, is best known for a wildly exciting three-round brawl with Edwin Rodriguez back in 2015. He last fought in Sept. 2018 on two dates, five days apart: he beat Carlos Rafael Cruz at 175 on Sept. 17, then Andy Perez on Sept. 22, weighing in at 205 for that one. At 6’3” with an 80-inch reach, Seals has dabbled a few times at heavy and cruiser in his career. He’s a big light heavy. Brooker, 28, is a Philly fighter, 3-4 in his last seven dating back to 2016. He’s coming off a Sept. 22 win over Lanell Bellows.
- Featherweight Robson Conceicao (12-0, 6 KO) will face Carlos Ruiz (16-6-2, 6 KO). Conceicao, 30, won lightweight gold at Rio 2016, turned pro in November of that year, and has shown no indication that he’s particularly serious about his professional career. Ruiz has lost four of his last five.