Regardless, Valdez, whose record stands at 9-0 (9), is now beginning the step-up stage of his young career.
“This is my first fight at eight rounds, so I’m excited for that,” he said last week before his day’s sparring at the MMA Elite Academy in Santa Fe Springs. “I was also excited for Dat Nguyen; he was going to be a tough competitor going in the ring. He’s an experienced boxer, so now that he hurt his back, I’ve got a new rival. I just know that the competition’s going to get better. It just makes me want to train harder in the gym.”
Thus far, the 23-year-old Valdez has scored a string of knockouts against a carefully selected lot of opponents chosen for him by the Top Rank Promotions staff. The fighter himself yearns for a few more quality rounds in his fights. “That’s one of the reasons I was excited to fight Dat Nguyen; he was never stopped. He’s never been dropped as a professional and that’s against good competition. I was excited for that fight but he ended up hurting his back but it makes me excited that I’m going to start fighting guys like that.”
Valdez (Pictured) weighed in at 129lbs., Perez 130lbs.)
His manager, the respected Frank Espinoza told Maxboxing, “We have a lot of faith in Oscar’s abilities. I think he’s the most promising boxer we have signed from the amateurs. I think we can go fairly quickly with him but I’m not going to rush him in any way. He’s got so much talent but it still has to be honed and developed. I was hoping he could get a test versus Nguyen but maybe that will come down the road. But it’s still a great showcase for him this weekend.”
Espinoza and Top Rank plan on moving Valdez the traditional route, moving him up the ladder in eight, then ten-rounders, eventually have him fight for a regional belt and hopefully, move him into a title fight. He certainly won’t be at the rapid pace Vasyl Lomachenko was on. Lomachenko fought unsuccessfully for the WBO featherweight belt in just his second pro bout. It’s a bout that piqued Valdez’s interest.
“I was excited because I knew it was going to be a good fight. [Former WBO featherweight titlist Orlando] Salido’s a good friend of mine and I know Lomachenko’s a good fighter because I fought him in the amateurs. But I’ve always told friends that Salido’s going to pull it off because of experience and it was an exciting fight for me because I was excited for my friend, knowing that he won the fight, even though he didn’t keep the title because he didn’t make weight. But it was an exciting match for me and my father,” said Valdez, who represented Mexico twice in the Olympics.
For Valdez - and perhaps many other young Olympians who recently turned pro - this fight was a bit of an eye-opener. Professional boxing at the world-class level is a completely different animal. “It was making us look bad, Lomachenko going up there in his second fight, fighting an experienced fighter for a world title. It got to me knowing that Lomachenko, a two-time gold medalist didn’t do it,” he says, “so it makes me know I have to be prepared, get those rounds in and get experience. You can’t just go up there and go fight veterans that have been doing this for more than 15 years.”
“It makes my job easier,” said Espinoza, who explained, “because it shows guys like Oscar that this is a process, that there are certain things to learn along the way that you just can’t get in the gym. A lot of these guys are extremely talented but they’re not the same fighter at 10-0 as they will be at 20-0 and so on. They sometimes think they’re ready before they really are and it’s our jobs to pull them back. It’s no coincidence that most of your best fighters were developed and brought along a certain way. There are still things I want to see him work on: working the jab more, being a bit more patient. But again, that’s why we have him take certain fights, so he can develop all that over time.”
Top Rank has high hopes for Valdez, believing that alongside Puerto Rican Olympian Felix Verdejo, they have a pair of bookends who can anchor this company for years to come. The bottom line is Manny Pacquiao isn’t going to last forever and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is unreliable.
“Everybody is extremely satisfied with [Valdez]’s progress,” says Carl Moretti, Vice President of Boxing Operations for Top Rank. “He’s fought better competition each time out and Saturday is another step up. So as long as he continues to progress in the ring, then we’ll move him the way we should out of the ring with his management.” As for how he’ll be moved the rest of the year, Moretti states, “We’re in April now; I’d like him to get four more fights in which I think is very doable and probably moving to 10-round status by the beginning of 2015.”
Till then, Valdez has time to polish his skills. When asked what he’d like to improve on most, he says, “How to work on my stamina. I try not to go at them like I did in the amateurs and not waste all my energy in the first round and have no energy in the later rounds. That’s what we practice on in the gym and sit down on my punches because sometimes I do fight like my amateur style where there’s more hitting than natural power punches.
“So it’s a lot of little things I have to work on to become a good professional.”