If there’s any bad blood between undefeated 130-pound champions Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez, it stems from Stevenson’s belief that he’s long been shunned by the man he’ll face off against in the showdown. unification on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Stevenson (17-0, 9 KO), a former featherweight titleholder who was once Valdez’s mandatory challenger at 126 pounds, believes Valdez only moved up to junior lightweight to avoid him. And even after Valdez upset longtime WBC champion Miguel Berchelt in the 2021 knockout of the year, Stevenson thinks Valdez tried everything to not have to cross him.
The 24-year-old southpaw, who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, even went so far as to say he thought Top Rank, which promotes both fighters, was more interested at first in taking on Valdez vs. WBO featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete, who plans to gain weight.
“I tell the truth every time,” Stevenson said at Thursday’s final press conference. “I feel like he didn’t want to fight me at 126. Now we’re here at 130. He was trying to fight Navarrete before he fought me. But we’re here now. We can’t keep talking about it .
“The fight is on Saturday, and I’m ready to fight.”
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For the record, Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) even denied the mention that he was hoping to dodge Stevenson, who has been compared to a young Floyd Mayweather after burning through the competition en route to two world titles in as many divisions.
Valdez, from Nogales, Mexico, was the headliner of a Top Rank card that doubled for Stevenson’s professional debut in 2017 and said he had been preparing for a possible pro encounter against him since the first times he had watched Stevenson in the amateurs.
“Just like in that fight, I was very focused on the fight I had in front of me,” Valdez said, the night he defended his WBO featherweight title four years ago against Miguel Marriaga. “I had heard of Shakur Stevenson. I saw him at the Olympics. He was a great fighter then, and he’s become a great champion now.”
Like Stevenson, Valdez, 31, also had a decorated amateur career and represented Mexico at the 2012 Olympics. He also won world titles at 126 and 130 pounds, but comes into this fight after a tumultuous year of highs. and equal bottoms.
Valdez started 2021 exceeding all expectations in his upset knockout of Berchelt, which was seen as a triumph largely for the influence of perennial coach of the year Eddy Reynoso, who helped Valdez hone his technique to join his tenacity and aggressiveness. . But just when Valdez seemed to be closing in as a possible pound-for-pound talent, controversy soon followed.
Ahead of a September comeback against undefeated Robson Conceicao, Valdez tested positive for a banned substance but was controversially cleared to continue fighting. The negative headlines seemed to spoil Valdez’s focus as he battled for a close decision win.
Although Valdez continues to firmly believe that the positive test was caused by his herbal tea consumption, Stevenson hasn’t forgotten and went so far as to remind Valdez to “make sure you don’t cheat” during all the tests. public events featuring both champions during fight week.
“He’s the type of fighter that talks a lot and always makes his mouth run,” Valdez said. “I’m not like that. I let my fists do the talking. He’s the type of fighter that doesn’t want to go to war. I’m the type of fighter that always wants to give the fans what they want. Since he’s never is not ready to give the fans what they want, it will be more of a chess match, it will be more of a technical fight.
“The smartest fighter inside the ring will win.”
Both fighters welcomed elite talent to their side to help them prepare, as Valdez worked in the same camp as Canelo Alvarez before his return in May and Stevenson welcomed ‘big brother’ Terence Crawford to the camp. for a quality fight.
While it’s clear that Valdez believes in his chances, bettors disagree. Stevenson, who produced the most complete performance of his career in stopping WBO champion Jamel Herring last October, was installed as a massive betting favorite until 8-1.
“The odds are stacked against me and everyone thinks he’s going to step on me,” Valdez said. “But just like against Berchelt, I’m going to use that as motivation. I know I have a tough fight ahead of me but it’s not something I haven’t done before. As they say in Mexico, I’m ready to die on the line just to win. That’s all that matters to me.
As expected, the brash Stevenson doesn’t lack the confidence to tackle his toughest test yet.
“The world has yet to see what Shakur Stevenson can do in a boxing ring,” Stevenson said. “I am the next boxing superstar and my performance [on Saturday] will prove it.”
Before getting to Stevenson against Valdez, a pair of prospects have their chance to shine again on the undercard. Former Olympic silver medalist Keyshawn Davis takes on Esteban Sanchez in a lightweight contest. Davis, 23, won his medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games and has gone 4-0 with three knockouts since turning pro in February 2021. Additionally, Nico Ali Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, makes his fifth trip to the ring when he takes on Alejandro Ibarra at middleweight. Ali Walsh, 21, turned pro in August 2021 and also has three knockouts in four pro fights.
Below is the full fight card for Saturday night on ESPN along with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before moving on to a prediction and expert pick on the main event.
Fight card, odds
- Shakur Stevenson (c) -800 vs. Oscar Valdez (c) +550, lightweight junior unification
- Keyshawn Davis -1300 vs Esteban Sanchez +800, lightweight
- Nico Ali Walsh -1500 vs. Alejandro Ibarra +850, middleweight
- Date: April 30 | Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena–Las Vegas
- Start time: 10 p.m. ET
- TV channel: ESP | Direct: fuboTV (try for free)
Valdez is talented and versatile enough to make this, at least on paper, a potentially interesting style match. But make no mistake, if Valdez is unable to slow down and discipline the sublimely fast Stevenson, it also has the potential to be a surgical dissection.
Comparisons to a younger Mayweather, particularly the turn-of-the-century “Pretty Boy” version, seem to suit Stevenson. He’s far from a big puncher, but the speed and accuracy of his combinations proved deadly.
If Valdez struggles to manage that speed and is unable to time Stevenson, the same way Marquez learned to punch with Pacquiao throughout their four-fight rivalry, the possibility of cuts and damage being taken will be likely. Luckily for Valdez, he’s shown tremendous punch resistance in the past, battling a broken jaw to outlast Scott Quigg in their 2018 featherweight thriller.
The bigger issue for Valdez, however, is that he may have already shown just how great he can be by upping his game against Berchelt. And even that version probably won’t be enough to defeat Stevenson if the Newark, NJ native continues to elevate his performance to the level he has every time the quality of his competition increases.
It’s easy to draw a comparison to a 23-year-old Mayweather facing fellow undefeated (and huge puncher) Diego Corrales in their own 130-pound title showdown in 2001. Five knockdowns later after Corrales’ corner threw in the towel to end a teardown in the face of Round 10, Mayweather had established himself as one of the top P4P threats.
Expect Stevenson to do the same.
To take: Stevenson via TKO11
Who wins Stevenson vs. Valdez? And what accessory is essential? Visit SportsLine now to see Brandon Wise’s best bets for Saturdayall from the CBS combat sports pundit who crushed his 2021 boxing picks, and find out.