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Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez ready for war Saturday night

The longstanding rivalry between the pair dates back to their amateur days when Valdez was selected to represent Mexico at the Olympics ahead of Berchelt. To hear Berchelt tell it, there was politics involved. Valdez insists that was not the case.

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Berchelt vs. Valdez
Berchelt vs. Valdez

National pride will be on the line when WBC super featherweight champion Miguel ‘El Alacran’ Berchelt 37-1 (33) risks his green belt for the seventh time against former WBO featherweight champion and amateur rival Oscar Valdez 28-0 (22) at ‘The Bubble’ at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday night.


The 29-year-old Berchelt, who originally hails from Cancun but now fights out of Los Mochis, has a burning desire to get one over on Valdez, who he believes prevented him from representing Mexico at the Olympics.


“I believe all Mexican warriors give heart, right? That’s why fights between Mexicans are very popular and are the exception,” Berchelt said on the Top Rank/ESPN produced documentary Blood, Sweat and Tears. “Los Mochis, by tradition, has had many world champions who like sparring here. There is very good food, there are very good women and, well, the guys are really very tough, right?”


Los Mochis has a rich tradition of producing world champions, including Jorge Arce, Fernando Montiel, Humberto Soto and Julio Cesar Chavez, who made nine successful defenses of his WBC super featherweight title in the 1980s before moving up in weight. It is a record Berchelt is keen to eclipse.


“I believe that God puts people on the road for something. I have six successful title defenses. Bandido Vargas twice, Takashi Miura, Jason Sosa, Jonathan Barros, Maxwell Awuku. And well, I am undoubtedly the world champion,” he said.


“I’m very motivated by this fight against Oscar Valdez. I think this is the springboard I’ve been waiting for. I think Valdez is a great fighter, I respect him a lot. But no chance he’s going to take away my belt.


“I’m going to knock Oscar out, I’m going to beat him in a big way. I am close to breaking Chavez’s record, which is at nine. That really motivates me. Imagine, Miguel Berchelt is the best super featherweight in the history of Mexico.”


Not surprisingly, Valdez disagrees with Berchelt’s prediction for the fight. But one thing he does share with his Berchelt is his sense of history and national pride.


“I didn’t look up to Superman or Batman,” the 30-year-old said. “I looked up to Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera. Those are my true idols. Those fights, to this day, I still see [their fights] and I can’t see them too late because if I see them late at night past eight, I won’t be able to sleep because I get full of adrenalin.


“I think about those moments and I think about myself being in there like Erik Morales and I think to myself ‘what would I do if Marco Antonio Barrera was throwing those punches at me?’ What would I truly do? One thing I try to think is that I would be the same type of warrior they were and fight it out and do whatever it takes to come out victorious.”


The longstanding rivalry between the pair dates back to their amateur days when Valdez was selected to represent Mexico at the Olympics ahead of Berchelt. To hear Berchelt tell it, there was politics involved. Valdez insists that was not the case.


“He’s mad about the past that he didn’t get to go to the Olympics because I was number one in the division,” Valdez said. “We never got the chance to fight [in the amateurs] because every time he would go to the nationals I would be fighting internationally, so I think that’s why he really wants this fight.


“I busted my ass very hard to become an Olympian – a two-time Olympian – to win every tournament I could. To hear someone say that politics prevented him from going to the Olympics, that they favoured me, I take that as very offensive because I worked very hard to be number one in Mexico. He’s insulted me by saying that they never gave him a chance. He always had a chance.


“In some way I feel if he beats me, he thinks that will kind of give him an accomplishment of him not going to the Olympics. But I’m not going to let that happen.


“It’s the most that I’ve been motivated. It’s the most I’ve been excited for a fight. I’ve been wanting this fight for the longest time and now that I have the chance, I’m going to take advantage of it.”


There will be, as they say, a lot of feeling in this one.


“I think it’s going to be one of those unforgettable fights like the ones in the old days,” Berchelt’s trainer Alfredo Caballero said.


Valdez has been evolving as a fighter ever since defeating former WBA super bantamweight titleholder Scott Quigg on points in a 12 round war three years ago. Not only did Valdez have to contend with his opponent coming in two-and-a-half pounds over the featherweight limit, he also had to fight through the pain of a broken jaw.


He says the experience only made him a better fighter.


“I had a war with Miguel Marriaga, I had a war with Genesis Servania, then I had my final war with Scott Quigg,” Valdez said. “The Scott Quigg fight was without a doubt one of the toughest fights of my career. He broke my jaw in the fifth round. Losing was never an option, so quitting was never an option either. It turned out to be a good fight and it was one of the happiest days of my life.


“It’s funny because a lot of people think that after that fight you’re delicate, you lose something. They say that after that fight, he’s not going to be the same. But it was the opposite for me. I thought about it. If I went through that, then from here on I can do anything. There’s nothing that can stop me.”


While recovering from his broken jaw, Valdez decided it was time to seek out a new trainer who could put some more wrinkles in his game. He settled on Eddy Reynoso, coach of multi-weight world champion and top pound-for-pound fighter Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.


Reynoso liked what he saw but could see room for improvement.


“Yeah, he’s a fighter who gets angry when his opponent connects and then he starts punching away,” Reynoso said. “He’s a very brave fighter. But beyond that, you have to have other weapons. He’s had this attitude since he was born. He’s showing that in the fights. But beyond that, you have to learn how to do things that work in your favour in the ring. Because you know, everyone is brave just to get in the ring. You have to know how to attack, know how to defend and to get the most out of your talents without getting hit.”


Mexican superstar Alvarez has been impressed by Valdez’s dedication in the gym too and often provides hints and tips after sparring.


“One day I went to Guadalajara to watch Valdez and they looked very serious, committed to their work and disciplined,” the four-weight world champion said. “That’s what we like here on our team. Team Canelo has always been based on discipline, on respecting the sport and that desire to become somebody.”


Victory for Berchelt will also be a victory for coach Caballero, who is going up against one of the best trainers in the game.


“Personally, it will give me a lot of satisfaction to win it,” coach Caballero said. “Eddy Reynoso is now considered the best trainer because he has the best fighter now, pound for pound. And because Oscar Valdez, who is well known, I trained as an amateur.”


The fight was originally slated to take place on December 12 but that date was scrapped in early November when Berchelt tested positive for Covid-19. Berchelt said he contracted the virus through bad luck. Valdez is not so sure.


“It’s a difficult subject, Covid,” Berchelt said. “We’re doing everything we should. We take care of ourselves. We wash our hands. As luck would have it, it touched me just as it has many others. I felt sad because I had already reached the peak of training with my team. But thank God I’m here to talk about it. I’m all recovered and ready for this fight on February 20th.”


Valdez said: “I was very disappointed when I heard El Alacran Berchelt had got Covid. It shocked me, but mostly it got me very mad because I would see pictures of him out in public. Out at baseball games, out at charity events, taking pictures with crowds with no masks.


“In my mind I’m saying to myself, what are you doing? We’re supposed to be professionals, to be in training camp. You’re training in a public gym, you’re not taking care of yourself. My side of camp, we were tested every two to three weeks. We’re taking care of ourselves; we’re sanitising the gym every day, not going out, just to fight.


“Losing two or three months of training over this virus was very unfortunate. I had to go back home with nothing – no belt, no fight, no money, just more debt. This fight was cancelled twice already. I don’t want a virus to cancel it for a third time. I know that on our side of camp we’re safe. I cannot say the same for Berchelt.”


Valdez says he has no fear of Berchelt and will be coming in hot on fight night.


“The mentality is always become victorious, always be number one in anything no matter what,” Valdez said. “Most of my fights I felt that I broke down mentally and physically my opponent. It’s a game of chess inside the ring. I’m not scared of no other fighter. I’m not scared of nothing. I was born to fight.”


Berchelt is equally primed for battle.


“I want to prove I’m the best 130 in the world,” Berchelt said. “Many people consider me the best at 130. And this is an opportunity to show that I am the best in the world.”

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