Oscar Valdez made a sixth successful defense of his WBO featherweight title last night on ESPN, beating unheralded challenger Jason Sanchez via wide decision over 12 rounds.
Valdez (26-0, 20 KO) once had a reputation for being exciting no matter the opposition, but while that’s good for fight fans, it’s probably not good for longevity. Realizing that, Valdez has switched to trainer Eddy Reynoso in 2019, and is showing a more measured approach in two fights this year, which also came after a bout where he had to fight through the horrible pain of a broken jaw to beat Scott Quigg in 2018.
Carmine Tommasone and Jason Sanchez were, to put it mildly, not exactly tremendous opponents for world title fights. The hope was that as Valdez got through those two fights, got used to working with Reynoso, that he’d take a step up to end 2019. Given his style, fans are relatively forgiving of that.
Frampton was the most-rumored big opponent for Valdez this year. The 32-year-old from Belfast is a former 122- and 126-pound titleholder, and despite a loss in December to Josh Warrington, is still considered a strong contender at 126 pounds.
So when Frampton signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank in March, the path seemed pretty clear. Valdez would fight again, Frampton would get a bounce-back fight of some sort, and the two would meet later in 2019.
Well, Valdez fought again, and Frampton has talked about potentially fighting in August to get back and tuned up. They should line up OK to fight late in 2019.
But now there are other questions, and the big one is Valdez’s weight. He’s reportedly had some trouble making 126, and said in his post-fight interview that he feels making the weight affects him in the ring now. At 28, this isn’t a huge surprise. He turned pro in 2012 and has been fighting at 126 since then. That’s a pretty long run.
Move to Super Featherweight
If Valdez moves up, Top Rank has two titleholders at 130 pounds. One is Miguel Berchelt, widely considered the No. 1 guy in the division, the WBC titleholder. The other is Jamel Herring, recently crowned the new WBO titleholder with his win over Masayuki Ito on May 25.
Going into that fight, there had been talk of Berchelt facing the winner in a unification. But plans can change, of course, and there may be a more interesting path for Top Rank to take if Valdez is going to move up.
Herring is a great story and Top Rank and ESPN gave him a strong promotional push going into, during, and after the fight with Ito. Berchelt-Herring would be a real solid fight for ESPN airwaves later this year.
But Herring-Valdez would also be an interesting fight, and let’s say that happens and Valdez beats Herring to win the WBO title. Then Top Rank has a fight between two good Mexican fighters, Valdez and Berchelt, as a unification bout to be made. If they think there’s better business in a Berchelt-Valdez unification than a Berchelt-Herring unification — and being honest, there probably is — then that might be what the company tries to put together.
And without meaning to disrespect Jamel Herring, say Herring beats Valdez. Then Berchelt-Herring just became even bigger. You have to figure out what to do with Berchelt in the meantime, of course, but the ends could easily justify the means either way Herring-Valdez were to go. Maybe you stick Berchelt in with the Andy Vences-Albert Bell winner while Herring and Valdez fight, I don’t know.
That’s all pure speculation and a boxing version of pro wrestling nerds and their fantasy booking, of course, but I think it’s at least worth considering as a possibility.
And if he doesn’t stay at 126 to fight Frampton — which is the only fight I imagine can entice Valdez to do 126 again — and he doesn’t face Herring or Berchelt at 130, then you get into not-so-big options. Valdez could fight the Vences-Bell winner, for instance. He could fight the Erick De Leon-Jason Sosa winner. He could fight some other dude.
I’m kind of hoping we get the Valdez-Frampton fight, but only if Valdez believes he can do 126 comfortably. I don’t think there’s a ton for anyone to gain in doing that fight with Valdez at less than his best. If he can’t make 126 anymore, then I think I’d like to see him against Jamel Herring, with the winner facing Miguel Berchelt in early 2020.