Oscar Valdez and Shakur Stevenson are set to unify a pair of junior lightweight titles in an ESPN main event on Saturday night, a terrific fight that has somewhat flown under the radar for many, but has good potential to be a high-level affair.
Valdez (30-0, 23 KO) and Stevenson (17-0, 9 KO) have been on something of a collision course for a few years now, dating back to when Valdez passed on a featherweight title defense order to face Stevenson in order to move up to 130. Now, both have belts at 130, and the fight is here.
So who wins?
Scott Christ (16-9)
Valdez is a good boxer, but he’s not going to out-box Stevenson. If Oscar Valdez has a shot to win this fight, he has to make it rough, he has to hurt Shakur Stevenson, and he has to go back to the brawling he largely gave up after his brutal, approach-altering win over Scott Quigg in 2018.
The question then becomes whether Valdez can really tap back into that. I think he can, if he’s able to gain the confidence to really press into it. It can’t be a reaction in desperation, because by then he might be mentally beaten and over-thinking how to get back in. If Valdez wins this fight, it will be because he comes out with that approach and finds success early, and it rattles Shakur.
But I don’t think Shakur’s going to rattle easily, ever. He’s got some dog in him, too; he hasn’t had to pull it out much, but we saw a bit nastier an edge last time out with Jamel Herring. If Valdez comes with a lot of aggression, Stevenson should be able to use his superior speed and timing to pick him off and do plenty of damage of his own. And I think that’s what we see. If it’s not that, Stevenson could shut him out over 12 rounds of increasing frustration for Valdez. Stevenson TKO-9
Wil Esco (19-6)
Oscar Valdez seems like a perfectly nice fellow who does have some real ability, unfortunately he’s going up against a fighter with much more ability and who’s been through far less physical trauma in Shakur Stevenson. As far as unification fights go, I can’t really complain about two champions duking it out, but I have a strong suspicion that this fight ends up pretty one-sided in Stevenson’s favor. Valdez isn’t long, tall, or fast enough to fight Stevenson on the outside, and I don’t think he has quick enough on his feet to close the distance to consistently score on Stevenson.
Stevenson is known for being hard to hit, and I think he disciplines Valdez with jabs and counters as Valdez tries to close the distance. Whether or not this fight goes this distance is a matter of how much Valdez is willing to press in my estimation, but I think after getting touched up early he dials it back enough to allow him to make it to the final bell in a wide points loss. Stevenson UD-12
John Hansen (21-4)
It’s hard to pick against Shakur Stevenson. Over his last five fights, the official judges say he’s lost a maximum of two rounds. Everyone gave a round to Joet Gonzalez when Stevenson took a little break mid-fight, and one out of three judges gave a round to Jamel Herring.
The Gonzalez fight is telling, because Stevenson controlled that one from start to finish. And if there’s a route to victory against someone with the top-tier technical skills of Stevenson, it’s forcing a dog fight. Emanuel Navarrete is an excellent fighter, and Joet Gonzalez was able to make life absolutely miserable for him in a bloody and gritty twelve round affair last October. But, Gonzalez couldn’t get through to force that sort of action against Stevenson.
Can Valdez do it? If he can’t, maybe no one at 130 pounds ever will. Valdez fought through all sorts of misery to beat Scott Quigg in 2018, and he made boxing pundits look foolish when he effectively ended the career of Miguel Berchelt in a stunning, dominant knockout upset last February. And Valdez isn’t just a blunt force brawler. He’s a very gifted boxer that also happens to bring power that Stevenson hasn’t seen before as a professional. He may not be as technically sharp as Stevenson, but Stevenson may be the only fighter in the division against whom that assessment of Valdez would apply.
Maybe the oddsmakers are right, and Stevenson will navigate Valdez’s power and aggression without too much trouble. But, if you want to bet on safe and boring, invest in federal bonds. I’m looking for action and excitement, and I think we might just get it. Valdez TKO-8
Patrick Stumberg (19-6)
Oscar Valdez has as good a shot as any super featherweight of handing Shakur Stevenson his first defeat; inconsistent as he can be, his power and body attack are enough to give any technician pause. That said, it’s still not a particularly good shot. Beyond possessing the sort of footwork, jab, and combination punching that gave Valdez fits in the latter’s fight with Robson Conceicao, Stevenson more than proved his ability to hold his own in a phone booth in last year’s rout of Jamel Herring. There just doesn’t seem to be an area in which Valdez can consistently overwhelm him, or at least not one that Stevenson can’t disengage from as needed.
All of that goes out the window if Valdez can put Stevenson down or at the very least hit him hard enough to knock him off his game, of course. Stevenson’s ability to bounce back from adversity remains an open question, as nobody’s actually managed to push him that far as a pro. Even acknowledging that Valdez carried his power up to 130, I don’t see him getting enough opportunities to actually bring it to bear. Stevenson’s too fast, too sharp, and too versatile to lose this one. Stevenson UD-12
Bad Left Hook will have full live coverage including round-by-round for Valdez vs Stevenson on Saturday, April 30, starting at 10:00 pm ET.