With Oscar Valdez on top of the world following his sensational performance and knockout win over Miguel Berchelt on Saturday, attention naturally turns to what’s next. We’ve already done it, and one of the names — maybe the name — in the mix is Shakur Stevenson, a fellow Top Rank standout.
It might seem “early” to go right to Valdez-Stevenson, but the fighters both want it, and there’s already brief history there. Stevenson (15-0, 8 KO) was the mandatory challenger for Valdez’s WBO belt at featherweight last year, but Valdez chose to vacate and move up, chasing the Berchelt fight.
He got that, and he surprised a lot of people not just by winning, but in how good he looked doing it. Valdez (29-0, 23 KO) was dominant in the win, enough to get Stevenson to publicly state some praise for a guy he’s sort of downplayed as a threat in the past:
Congrats champ @oscarvaldez56 I respect what you did tonight surprised me.. It’s only 1 FIGHT to make now!— Shakur Stevenson (@ShakurStevenson) February 21, 2021
The respect shown by the 23-year-old Stevenson is sincere, and so is his belief that the only fight to make now is Valdez-Stevenson. He wanted Valdez last year. He still wants the fight.
As for the 30-year-old Valdez, he is also interested, in part because he doesn’t like the belief some have — including Stevenson — that he avoided that fight at featherweight.
“I’m not scared of fighting no other fighter. I’m ready for whoever, all the champions, whoever wishes to unify, and up-and-coming fighters,” Valdez said at the post-fight virtual presser. “Shakur Stevenson has been calling me out, and I wanna prove that we’re not ducking nobody. Any opponent out there willing to fight.”
There is a chance that Valdez will fight someone else first. He added that he’d love to do a fight in Mexico, where he made his pro debut back in 2012 in Hermosillo, and it’s unlikely a Stevenson fight would happen there. That’d probably be more of a “victory lap” style matchup, at least on paper, and there would be loads of fighters without the huge connections that would be happy to fight Valdez in his living room if offered.
But the Stevenson fight might be too good to pass up for the summer. Stevenson won the featherweight belt Valdez vacated, but wound up not defending it — he’d planned to do so against Miguel Marriaga in Mar. 2020, but COVID shut everything down that very weekend, and instead Stevenson moved up to 130, himself chasing bigger opportunities. He got easy wins over Felix Caraballo and Toka Kahn Clary last year, and now wants to get to a serious fight for a world title.
As stands now, Stevenson is the WBO mandatory challenger, but that belt is tied up in the increasingly frustrating Jamel Herring-Carl Frampton situation. With Valdez’s win over Berchelt, Stevenson figures to be bumped from No. 2 to No. 1 (replacing Valdez) in the WBC rankings, too, so the shot is there if everyone — including if not most importantly Top Rank — want to do it now.
Should Top Rank pull the trigger now? Should they give each guy one more summer fight to build to it for late 2021? Should they “marinate” or just go for the gusto?