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Predictions: Valdez vs Conceicao and Nakatani vs Acosta

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Top Rank is back with two world title fights Friday on ESPN+.

Oscar Valdez v Robson Conceição - Weigh-in Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Junto Nakatani vs Angel Acosta

Scott Christ (46-14)

Nakatani has some real star potential as a young flyweight titlist and top fighter at the weight, and I love this matchup, this could be fun. Acosta went the distance for the first time in his pro career last time out, going a full eight with Gilberto Mendoza in March. If it had been 10 or 12 maybe that doesn’t happen, but now Acosta has 22 wins with 21 stoppages, and both of his losses were by stoppage.

Basically, Acosta is an all-or-nothing sort of fighter. He has some skills, but his bread and butter is power. Nakatani can crack, too, and I think is the clearly more all-around skilled fighter, and will have natural height and reach advantages. But I’m gonna pick the minor upset just for the hell of it; Acosta can catch anyone and hurt them, and Junto is still a little green in there, still makes some mistakes, and hasn’t had to battle much adversity just yet. Give me an Acosta breakthrough in a fight Nakatani is winning. Acosta TKO-7

Wil Esco (48-12)

I can’t help but feel that this fight in particular could turn out to be a really fun one to watch but I am still very much leaning towards the younger Nakantani in this outing. Acosta is a pretty good fighter but one that seems to have a clear ceiling, and now as a 30-year-old flyweight facing a ‘young hungry lion’ I think it will be just too much to bear. I do think Nakantani has a clear ceiling as well, but in this match-up I think Nakatani’s is simply higher than Acosta’s. As I anticipate some fun exchanges early in the fight things could quickly heat up, but I think Nakatani will start to impose himself within a few rounds and look to put a stamp on things by forcing the referee to step in to halt the fight. I’m taking Nakatani to win a late round stoppage. Nakatani TKO-10

Patrick L. Stumberg (49-11)

I get that there’s no functional difference between the main card and the undercard when they air back-to-back on the same platform, but marketing this fight as a prelim still baffles me. You’ve got an extremely promising and hugely entertaining young talent facing one of the purest punchers in the lower weight classes and you’ve got Gabe Flores as the co-feature? C’mon, man.

Acosta is exactly the sort of challenge I want to see Nakatani face at this point. As dominant and star-making as his beatdown of Giemel Magramo was, the still-green Nakatani showed some potentially worrying defensive issues, primarily a clear vulnerability to right hands. He ultimately managed to overwhelm Magramo on the inside through craft, durability, and raw firepower, but it remains to be seen whether he can mix it up with a slugger of Acosta’s caliber. ”Tito’s” got some understated technical skills as well, so he’s ostensibly more able to land potentially game-changing shots against his younger foe.

Still, I have to favor Nakatani. Acosta seems more amenable to fighting at mid-range than the phonebooth-happy Magramo, and Nakatani is a nightmare at that distance. Nakatani’s height, reach, and combination punching give him a clear edge there, and even if Acosta does manage to bull his way inside, Nakatani’s fearsome body attack and sneaky uppercuts are potent weapons. Nakatani breaks him down in a firefight to score a late stoppage. Nakatani TKO-10

And the staff winner is...

Oscar Valdez v Robson Conceição - Weigh-in Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Junto Nakatani (2-1)!

Oscar Valdez vs Robson Conceicao

Scott Christ (46-14)

Conceicao is a former Olympic gold medalist and will probably have an unexpected amount of people rooting for him in this fight, what with Valdez failing the drug test but being allowed to fight anyway because, let’s be honest, boxing is just not going to start taking drug testing seriously no matter much big talk there is, how many nicely-worded press releases there are, how many money-grabbers declare themselves serious about combating the problem. If the people who matter don’t want it to be a real problem, even with a failed test, then it just isn’t going to be.

Sadly, I don’t think Conceicao has much chance here. He has spent nearly five years of his professional career avoiding any sincere challenges in order to get to this moment. Maybe he sees it as protecting his record and his body until the time is right. Maybe he sees it as a cash-out; not saying he’s coming to lose, I’m sure he’ll give his best, but he might be more OK with losing than most in his spot would be if he gets the sense he can’t win once in there.

Valdez is a good boxer, a good puncher, looked great last time out — better than he had in quite a few fights, in fact, really probably better than ever. Makes you think! But don’t bother thinking too hard, because ain’t much gonna happen about it. I think Conceicao basically concedes somewhere around the 8th or 9th and looks to carry through to the distance in a clear loss. Would be happy to be wrong. Valdez UD-12

Wil Esco (48-12)

I’m certainly not going to make excuses for Oscar Valdez testing dirty for a banned substance but since this fight is going ahead anyway, I’m just going to skip straight to the point by picking Valdez to successfully defend his title simply because he’s a much more talented fighter. At one point Valdez seemed have a penchant for letting his heart get the better of him in the sense that he would be warring it out almost too much of the time, but since he’s linked up with Team Canelo I do see him as an improved fighter (even if you do question their camp’s integrity). For Conceicao, I’m plenty confident he’ll come to give it a go but I think Valdez is eventually going to start lighting him up en route to a stoppage. Valdez TKO-9

Patrick L. Stumberg (49-11)

It really is a shame that Conceicao lacks punching power; he’s a very fun offensive technician to watch in action, offering the sort of high-volume attack that you wouldn’t expect to see from someone with his amateur credentials. Unfortunately, the same thing that makes him watchable will prove his undoing here; he’s just too willing to trade leather on the inside, compromising his height and reach in the process. It got him dropped hard by Louie Coria and it figures to get him thumped by an experienced and dangerous bruiser in Valdez, especially since he’s seemingly rediscovered his power. Whether or not you buy Miguel Berchelt’s claims that he was weight-drained, “El Alacran” made a career of walking through nasty punchers and Valdez demolished him.

Though it wouldn’t be too terribly shocking to see him drop the knockdown-prone Valdez at least once, Conceicao had best hope that Valdez’s drug test issues lead to a Whyte-Wach situation where the champ enters in terrible shape. If that’s not the case, Valdez is too professionally seasoned and too big a hitter for Conceicao to repeat his victory in the amateurs. Valdez’s experience in deep waters carry him to a highly entertaining finish in the latter half of the fight. Valdez TKO-8

And the staff winner is...

Oscar Valdez v Robson Conceição - Press Conference Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Oscar Valdez (3-0)!