Tuesday, February 9, 2016
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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.”