While most of the focus of the boxing world will be centered on the fourth chapter of the Manny Pacquiao - Juan Manuel Marquez rivalry at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday evening, leading up to this night, Top Ranks’ future will be on display throughout the week. On Friday, two-time Mexican Olympian Oscar Valdez makes his second pro outing at the Texas Station Casino versus Corben Page in a six-rounder. About a month ago, he successfully made his pro debut in Sonora, Mexico, halting Angel Prado in two rounds.
It was the first step in what could be long and fruitful journey for the hard-hitting Valdez.
“I was a little nervous; I gotta admit. It was something different,” he said the day after Thanksgiving at the Elite MMA Academy in Santa Fe Springs. “I wasn’t really nervous about getting hit; I was nervous to see how I was going to look in front of my crowd. So I was ready to see if I’m meant for the pro world but [as] I was going towards the ring, I was nervous and then it all went away. When I went in the ring, I just did my thing and it went all good.”
In what was an impressive display of power-punching, Valdez stopped Prado. His strength is accentuated now that he can sport eight-ounce gloves.
“Most of my friends are professionals already, so they were all giving me advice, ‘You’re going to feel real different.’ They would tell me, ‘How do you feel?’ I’d tell them, ‘Yeah, I feel a little nervous.’ They’d say, ‘Relax; you’re going to feel real good,’ and then I put the eight-ounce gloves on and they felt real light, real small and felt like my punches were harder. So I started getting a little more confidence in myself again,” said Valdez. But of course, there’s a flipside to wearing smaller gloves that makes your hands feel so fast and hard - your opponents also get to hurl them at you. And for the first time, Valdez was without headgear. “I felt lighter; they couldn’t hit me anymore,” he explained of his maiden voyage as a pro. “I had to correct a lot of errors I did in the amateurs. I can’t lock up like I did in the amateurs. I have to protect myself a lot more but I felt like I was doing good. I felt a lot lighter. It felt good in the pro world.”
Asked if he was more relieved or excited in getting the whole ordeal over with, Valdez answered, “It was a mixture of both.”
This is probably the same range of emotion his manager, Frank Espinoza (who put up a pretty penny to sign Valdez) had. Espinoza, who has handled the careers of Martin Castillo, Israel Vazquez, Enrique Sanchez, Abner Mares and Daniel Ponce de Leon, among others, believes Valdez is perhaps the best young amateur talent he has ever inked. He wasn’t disappointed by what he witnessed that night in Mexico. “I think Oscar flashed a lot of potential. I know there are things he needs to work on but really you could see the natural talent and excitement he brings to the table,” Espinoza stated.
Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank, remarked, “I thought his pro debut, he did really well. I think it’s the toughest type of fight to have for a first fight out with no headgear and eight-ounce gloves. I thought he got a little anxious in the second round when he wanted to put the guy out. But that’s all part of experience and he fought a real crafty, tough guy. This guy was no blowover; he was not your normal pro debut kind of opponent and he used his speed against him, used his accuracy, counterpunched him, worked upstairs, worked downstairs. Did a lot of good things. I’d say the only criticism you’d have to say is that he should’ve been a little more patient and when you get the guy hurt, there’s no reason to get into an exchange when you’re controlling the fight. That will come with experience.”
Valdez’s fan-friendly style is one of the reasons why Top Rank targeted him coming out of London.
“We earmarked him as one of the top guys coming out of the Olympics,” explained duBoef. “First of all, you have to look at A) his bilingual aspect. He comes off incredibly marketable, both English and Spanish is fluent, has a good clean look to him and when you watch him fight, it’s just so telegenic. He is just an action fighter, works the body - you don’t usually see that from the amateur-type of style. We just think that he has great potential and obviously, hailing from a great hotbed in Mexico, it makes everything come together.” Espinoza, who trailed Valdez for a better part of a year leading into the Olympics, says, “When I saw him, I saw a future pro. His style may not have been suited to win an Olympic gold medal or anything like that but I felt this was a kid whose best days were in front of him.”
While his regular trainer works out his visa issues in Mexico, training Valdez for this upcoming fight is Clemente Medina. The veteran cornerman, who currently works with WBC super bantamweight titlist Abner Mares and Carlos Molina (who faces Amir Khan on December 15th) says of Valdez, “This kid has everything. He has speed, body-shots, combinations, good jab, movement. I think Frank Espinoza got the best Olympian, the next champion of the world.”
But Medina does add, “I want to start working on the right hand.” The goal is to make Valdez a more complete, well-rounded, two-handed fighter. As for the left hook, well, that’s something he was seemingly born with.
“Every trainer I’ve ever had, starting with my dad, would tell me, ‘You have a good hook’ and I would just go to the body and I would see if it would work. It would work a lot in the amateurs and people in the amateurs would tell me, ‘It’s going to work a lot in the pros.’ So I just kept on using it and using it and it keeps on working,” said Valdez, who is just 21 years old. Punchers are born, not made, and Valdez has naturally heavy hands and an affinity for attacking the body with his left hook.
Now he goes again in a week when the sport will be in both the domestic and international spotlight.
“It’s a great opportunity for Oscar to be introduced to the American media who will be out there and aren’t really familiar with him just yet. We’re not putting a lot of pressure on him or anything but we know that they’re going to be intrigued by what they see. The plan all along with Top Rank was to bring him along at the right pace and this fight here was just perfect timing,” said Espinoza.
But for Valdez, first and foremost, this is a business trip.
“I’m excited because I’m going to fight, mostly. I’m not thinking about other things. But yeah, after my fight, I’m excited to see a big fight like Marquez and Pacquiao, so it’s going to be very exciting. So I’m giving my best in the gym and we’ll see what happens.”
Yeah, it’s all part of the job now; Valdez is officially a professional prizefighter. But he says, “I don’t see it as a job. I do it because it’s fun. I have a lot of friends who are Olympians, gold medalists from different sports and they all tell me the same thing, ‘Don’t do the sport because of money; just have a good time.’ And that’s how it is for me. I love being in the gym; I love boxing. So honestly, nothing’s missing. I don’t need money; I’m not struggling for money. So right now, I’m doing it for the fun.”
Also being showcased this week by Top Rank are fellow 2012 Olympians Felix Verdejo of Puerto Rico and American Jose Ramirez, who will be participating in their first pro bouts.
“We identify fighters of a certain quality, a certain charisma, a certain ‘it’ factor and I think both Valdez and Verdejo have that ‘it’ factor. A lot of it now is the development and how you bring them along. But I would say specifically with Verdejo, it’s a market in Mexico which I felt really responsible for bringing back in 2000 and developing it and knowing how to build a market over there around a guy who is very young, has a lot of charisma himself and has an unlimited amount of ability and he’s a puncher. Those are the types of qualities we look for in young prospects,” said duBoef.
DuBoef became aware of Verdejo, a lightweight, after the buzz he created on social media platforms during his run in the Summer Games. Top Rank guided Miguel Cotto to stardom after the 2000 Olympics but duBoef says of any comparisons, that Verdejo has a “Trinidad left hook, more than Cotto.” Verdejo makes his pro debut on Thursday at the Mirage and his fight will be a part of the ESPN2 broadcast.
A few weeks ago, Top Rank inked Ramirez to a promotional pact. Ramirez breaks the seal on his pro career versus Corey Seigwarth on Saturday night on the Pacquiao-Marquez undercard.
“Jose Ramirez has shown really shown a phone booth style. He’s a big kid, lanky; he has incredible credentials. He comes from California, Hispanic heritage, where his family’s primary language is Spanish and he earned it the hard way. He seems like a dedicated and hard-working kid and is a very polished amateur and we’re going to look in the long run what his abilities are going to be,” said duBoef, who believes that Ramirez, who fought as an amateur at 132 pounds, will benefit from boxing at a higher weight. “Freddie Roach said to me that [this was] the kid that impressed him the most - this is after we signed him - when he was working with the [Olympic] team. He said he’s a hard worker and tough as hell.”
This weekend will be about Pacquiao and Marquez, two Top Rank stalwarts who, along with the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Brandon Rios and Nonito Donaire, form one of the strongest stables in all of boxing. But things can change quickly in this sport. Today’s marquee attraction can become an afterthought in one night. One eye has to always be on the future.
“Today, in my business, is over with. Today is yesterday’s world,” duBoef states.”It doesn’t do me any benefit thinking about today. As much as I do a lot of the events for today and for what we’re working on, a lot of my thoughts are always going towards the future. I’m not looking at six months; I’m not looking at a year. I’m looking at three and five-year clips and these are cornerstones that are part of that three-to-five-year and even 10-year clips. That’s who I’m constantly looking at that business model.
“If I’m short-sighted, I lose a lot of insight into how our business should work.”
Here’s the ticket info for the February 9th card at the Barclays Center that has unified junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia facing Zab Judah in Brooklyn: Tickets, priced at $200, $100, $50 and $25 area available for purchase at www.barclayscenter.com, www.ticketmaster.com, the American Express Box Office at Barclays Center, all Ticketmaster locations or by calling 800-745-3000.
As for the card that takes place on January 19th at the Theater featuring Gennady Golovkin-Gabe Rosado, Orlando Salido-Mikey Garcia and Juan Carlos Burgos-Rocky Martinez, I’m told those tickets will go on sale later this week with similar prices to that of the card at the Barclays Center.
FIGHT WEEK FLURRIES
Showtime announced that the Austin Trout-Miguel Cotto broadcast did record-breaking numbers with a peak of 1.4 million viewers on Saturday night and an average viewing audience of 1.047 million...“Fight Night 36” on Bryant Jennings will premiere Thursday night at 10 p.m., ET on NBC Sports Network...Luis Ramos faces Ricardo Williams on Saturday night from Anaheim on Fox Sports Net/Deportes...It looks like a fight between featherweights Ronny Rios and Rico Ramos will headline the January 11th edition of “ShoBox”...Don’t know about you guys but I like what Nick Foles showed in Sunday night’s loss to the Cowboys. He looked like the Eagles quarterback of the future regardless of the coach...Even though he wasn’t invited to New York, I think Marqise Lee of USC was as impressive as any player in the land this past season...Bret Beliema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas stuns me