This weekend sees the big junior-lightweight unification fight between Mexican Oscar Valdez and American Shakur Stevenson in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas. The Ring magazine 130lb (9st,4lb) title to determine the divisional king will also be on the line.
The contrast between the two undefeated fighters in professional championship experience is striking. Stevenson (17-0, 9 KO’s), the current WBO champion was a standout amateur, gaining silver in the Rio Games but is only making his first defence of the WBO title. Valdez (30-0, 23 KO’s) is a two-weight world champion and current WBC title holder, having fought at the elite pro level for a number of years. Stevenson comes in off an impressive victory against Jamel Herring to win the title and Valdez beat Miguel Berchelt in one of the standout performances of 2021. The Mexican’s momentum was dented in a poor but victorious fight against Robson Conceicao last September, but he’ll be looking to put things right this time.
Both fighters were available in a Top Rank chaired Zoom call on Monday and spoke candidly about the task ahead.
The 24 year old Stevenson opened by saying “I’m ready to fight” and the match had finally come about because “They probably forced him into fighting me”. He explained “This fight is three years in the making. Everyone knows that I’ve wanted to fight Oscar Valdez since 2019 when he vacated the belt at 126 instead of fighting me. He avoided me for as long as he could, but now is the perfect time for this fight and the fans are in for a show when we finally step into the ring”.
He continued “I am the best 130-pound fighter in the world, and I will prove it when I beat Oscar Valdez and become unified champion”.
The 31 year old Valdez spoke to the media last up and explained, “I know I’m up against a very good fighter. I expect the best Shakur. I’ve trained very well and am expecting a good fight”. He admitted he was not at his best in the Conceicao fight and said in relation to the challenge ahead “We’ve prepared for whatever he brings” continuing “We’ve prepared physically and mentally”. On his future should he come through successfully, he stated “I wanna be in the top ten pound-for-pound and one of the best in Mexican history”. He closed by giving a message to his Mexican fans “I will never promise you a knockout or fight of the year, but I promise you I will give my best”.
Also joining the Zoom call between the main eventers were bright faced US Olympic silver medallist Keyshawn Davis (4-0, 3 KO’s) who fights Esteban Sanchez at lightweight and, Nico Ali Walsh (4-0, 3 KO’s) who faces Alejandro Ibarra at middleweight on Saturday. Both are bright and charismatic prospects with promising careers ahead.
The extremely talented Davis, whom Top Rank’s Bob Arum said he aimed to make “One of the top faces in the sport” dialed in from Terence Crawford’s house and responded smiling to questions on the challenge ahead and his strategy moving forwards. “I don’t really want to move too fast. I want to build myself first as a fighter, so when I do get to a world title fight, I’m already a star, or close to it”. He continued “I wanna keep developing my skills and keep learning the skill of boxing”. His presence was almost Sugar Ray ‘Leonard’esqe’ in its levelheaded confidence and hope. We look forward to seeing him develop and Saturday will give a flavour of the future and show us what he’s all about.
Nico Ali Walsh, who was equally impressive, was asked numerous questions on his link to his famous grandfather Muhammad and his boxing journey so far. Asked of the pressure associated with him entering the same sport as ‘The Greatest’, he responded in regards to his pro-debut. “The pressure of him being my grandfather I never felt, but (I felt) the pressure of my debut”. Whilst in total admiration of his illustrious genes he continued ” It’s very important for me to separate myself (from my grandfather)” as he continues to move forwards.
Walsh was pleased to be fighting in his hometown Saturday by stating “Vegas is the biggest venue in my heart”. Numerous UK journalists were on the call and asked him of any ambition to fight in Britain given his grandfather’s special relationship with the country. Bob Arum waxing lyrical, responded “Ali (the name) means so much to boxing in the UK. I can’t wait to bring him over to fight before the greatest fans in the UK”.
The Valdez-Stevenson fight will be shown live in the UK on Sky Sports in the early hours of Sunday morning and on ESPN+ in the US. Look out for a further news and weights in our Friday Faceup.