How Oscar Valdez used criticism as fuel for his career-best performance
Champions are not immune from critique. The question is, “how do you respond when it’s rendered in your direction?” That cloud loomed over Oscar Valdez (29-0, 23 KOs) heading into his February 20 fight against WBC junior lightweight champion Miguel Berchelt (37-2, 33 KOs).
Despite his unbeaten record as a pro, Valdez was the fighter facing the most skepticism. The former WBO featherweight champion was being roundly criticized for his defense and his chin. He switched trainers and began working with the highly-respected Eddie Reynoso in August 2018. The 29 year-old resident of West Covina, California was expected to show marked improvement.
However, during subsequent outings in 2019 and 2020, questions lingered. It seemed Valdez was someone caught in-between styles. In his first four fights with Reynoso, his performances were spotty at best. The backlash came from fans and media pundits. He used it as fuel while preparing for Berchelt. An underdog according to the masses, it was the extra fire in the belly that Valdez needed.
From the opening round, he did a beautiful job of boxing. The physically stronger Berchelt couldn’t impose his will at any point. Valdez’ jab was sharp as a needle as he dissected, broke down and took the champion apart. He even showed the ability to effectively switch from southpaw to orthodox.
PUSHING BACK AGAINST THE HATERS
Moving up from featherweight to junior lightweight, Valdez put it all together as he knocked down Berchelt three times on the way to a tenth round knockout. In the process, he gained the WBC junior lightweight title. Valdez finished the fight in a manner that is an early candidate for the 2021 Knockout of the Year.
During the post-fight press conference, the new champion told reporters the resentment served as motivation for his performance.
“A lot of people doubted me. I heard a lot of boxing experts, analysts, my boxing idol Julio Cesar Chavez say that Miguel Berchelt was going to knock me out. Instead of hurting me, getting me down, I used that as inspiration. I said ‘okay, I’m going to prove you wrong, and I glad that I did.'”
In Valdez’ mind, he felt there were layers in his repertoire. He told reporters he is someone who can do it all. It’s just a matter of hard work and continuing to improve. Facing the biggest fight of his career, it all came together.
BIGGER AND BETTER
Now a champion at junior lightweight, there comes a new set of challenges. You have WBA “super” champion, Gervonta Davis. There’s also former IBF champions Jojo Diaz and Tevin Farmer. Lastly, not to be left out of the picture is current WBO champion, Jamel Herring.
Then you have Shakur Stevenson. He’s also a former WBO featherweight champ and now campaigning at junior lightweight. When asked who he would like to fight next, Valdez’ response was “come one, come all.”
“I say that truly and honestly I’ll fight whoever, whenever. I’m not scared to fight no other fighter. I’m ready for whoever is the world champion and whoever wants to unify.”
“Fighters like Shakur Stevenson have been calling me out. We’re not ducking anybody, any opponent out there willing to fight. I would love to bring a fight back to my hometown where I turned pro, but we’ll have to see.“
Stevenson must have heard his name was mentioned. Currently ranked #2 by the WBC at junior lightweight, he will most assuredly move up to the #1 position. The talented southpaw from New Jersey went to social media to congratulate Valdez, but let it be known that he’s ready.
Wherever direction he decides to go, Valdez feels redeemed and vindicated. This also represents a new level of confidence. Do not be surprised if he uses the experience with Berchelt to become an even better fighter for the rest of his career. If that’s the case, the junior lightweight division should be on high alert.
By: Michael Wilson Jr.