“At first, I thought I was going to turn pro after Beijing,” he admitted to Maxboxing on October 23rd, via cell phone from south of the border, “but I thought I was a little too young and just wanted to follow my dream; my dream was to get an Olympic medal. That was the reason I stayed another four years. It was a challenge but things didn’t go out the way I wanted.” He admits there was pressure on him to start punching for pay after the 2008 Games. “Yeah, everyone wanted me to turn pro when I came back from Beijing. They offered me money to turn pro - but money wasn’t my dream. My dream, like I said, was to get that medal. But yeah, a lot of people were pressuring me at first, then I just focused on my dream.”
Valdez is a rarity, a Mexican boxer who turns pro after turning the legal drinking age (21). Many turn pro as teenagers. In relative comparison to his colleagues from this part of the world, he’s ancient; most Mexican pugilists are already seasoned pros by this time. “Everybody says that; a lot of critics when I stayed amateur, they were saying I was going to be too old for a pro. But I don’t see it that way. I think I got a lot of experience as an amateur and it’s going to help me out a lot in the pro world,” said Valdez.
His amateur pedigree is littered with various titles and championships but his dream of winning an Olympic medal would not be fulfilled as he was defeated by John Joe Nevin of Ireland in the quarterfinals. So was this journey worth it for Valdez?
“Yeah, because during the four years I went to the Central America Games, the Pan-Am Games, I went to a couple of World Championships. So the thing is, I got a lot of experience and I traveled around the world. I went to China, Spain, Puerto Rico, so I got to see the world and then fight new styles which will probably help me in the pros,” said Valdez, who, through it all, retained a pro style that made him attractive to managers and promoters at the next level. His last bout in the Olympics was one where he scored a late knockdown (from a body blow) and overall, landed the harder punches but he was outpointed. Valdez was a boxer victimized by the amateur scoring system.
“I didn’t like it at all,” said Valdez of the computerized tabulation of the scores and the judging in his last bout. “I thought I actually won the fight. I saw a lot of fighters get robbed in the Olympics and that had me a little nervous. I saw the United States get robbed in a lot of fights and I just gave my best that fight and what was frustrating was that I waited four years for that moment and for the judges to see it a unanimous decision, well, it made me sad.”
Shortly after coming back from London, Valdez inked a managerial deal with the respected Frank Espinoza, who says, “Out of all my years in this business, this was the one amateur I wanted more than anybody. I think he’s the total package and can do big things.” Then began the process of signing on with a promoter. Interest was high in Valdez given he was Mexican but also came equipped with a fan-friendly professional style. After the process of talking to several promotional firms, Espinoza negotiated a deal for Valdez to fight under the Top Rank banner for the next five years. The contracts were signed October 13th at the Marriott Hotel in Manhattan Beach just hours before the card at the Home Depot Center in Carson (featured the memorable battle between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado).
Valdez states, “I think we made the best decision. Top Rank has good fighters; they make good fights and they made a better offer than Golden Boy and I think we did a perfect job signing with them.” But he added, “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Frank Espinoza; he’s made a lot of champions and if he wants me to go slow, I’ll go slow. He wants me to go fast; I told him that it’s up to him. I’m just going to do my job; I’m going to train hard and fight whoever and I’m going to let him put who he wants in the ring.”
Espinoza, who, in the past, has worked with Bob Arum’s company with the likes of Martin Castillo and Enrique Sanchez, told Maxboxing, “I’m glad we got this deal done with Top Rank; they made us a very attractive offer and I think this is the right place for Oscar.”
Arum says of his newest client, “He’s a terrific fighter; he’s very crowd-pleasing. He’s bilingual and he can relate to both the Mexican and Hispanic-American audiences and we think he can be a major crossover star.” Valdez was born in Tucson, Arizona and now lives in Hermosillo. Top Rank plans to have Valdez as active as possible after his pro debut this weekend, Arum says, “We’re going to bring him onto one of our cards prior to the [Manny] Pacquiao fight.” That card will be scheduled for the night before Pacquiao faces Juan Manuel Marquez for the fourth time in Las Vegas.
So after years of boxing with headgear and bigger gloves, Valdez sheds all of that and begins anew. Today’s amateur boxing couldn’t be any more different than the professional game. It’s an adjustment many amateurs never fully acclimate to.
“There hasn’t been a day it’s slipped my mind,” Valdez admits. “I’m thinking about November 3rd, go out in the ring with eight-ounce gloves, no headgear and see how it’s going to feel like.” Espinoza says, “I think he’ll be fine; he’s got all the talent in the world. We know this kid can really fight and we’re just going to take it one fight at a time and let him develop at the proper pace.”
Valdez doesn’t conceal his excitement at embarking on his pro run.
“From a number, one to 10, it’s a 10. I’m really excited; since I was a kid, my dream was to become a world champion as a pro and this is the first step.”
Top Rank has developed the likes of Oscar De la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto, among many others, from their early days as professionals into legitimate draws. Is it more difficult in today’s marketplace to nurture young boxers into stardom?
“It’s easier today,” claimed Arum, “because there’s so much more boxing televised. So for example, you have all these Spanish openings.” Arum is referring to networks like TV Azteca, Telefutura, Fox Sports Deportes and Telemundo, which regularly televise the “Sweet Science.” And after a bit of a down year in terms of the sheer numbers of cards, Top Rank will ratchet it up in 2013. “We’re going to have a huge number of dates on all of these networks, a huge number. We have to have enough fighters for all the dates we’re gonna have. We expect to have dates on Spanish television alone, probably up to 40 dates.”
Top Rank grabbed both Valdez and Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo from the 2012 class of amateurs and look ready to go into the future. “We were able to sign guys who didn’t want to go to the Olympics,” Arum pointed out.” Jesse Magdaleno, Jesse Hart, Jose Benavidez and then we pinpointed three or four guys that we looked at that we wanted to sign and right now, we signed two of them and we haven’t missed yet.”
A boxing insider pointed out to me on Sunday that it was just two weeks ago when HBO had a “Boxing After Dark” that was electric in many ways, from the actual fights (Rios-Alvarado) and the live crowd at the Home Depot Center to what was trotted out there at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York. On October 13th, boxing looked and felt like a major league sport, something that is exciting, fun and worth being a part of. This past weekend, it had a decidedly minor league look to it in every way from the dreary atmosphere (where it looked like even Gary Shaw himself was about to doze off) and the fights, which didn’t exactly conjure up memories of Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Kennedy McKinney.
Yeah, it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
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