By Keith Idec
Oscar Valdez scared his fans Friday night, but eventually sent them home very happy.
The unbeaten WBO featherweight champion overcame a fourth-round knockdown and other troublesome moments to survive Genesis Servania’s challenge in a very competitive title fight ESPN televised from the Tucson Convention Center in Tucson, Arizona. Mexico’s Valdez (23-0, 19 KOs), who lived in Tucson when he was a child, dropped Servania in the fifth round, out-boxed him in the second half of their fight and won a 12-round unanimous decision to retain his 126-pound championship.
Valdez, who was dropped for the first time in his career, won by comfortable margins on the scorecards of all three judges (116-110, 119-111 and 117-109).
“I never thought I was gonna be on the canvas like that,” Valdez told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna after the fight. “But this is boxing. This is what it is. To be completely honest, I wasn’t really hurt. I was really surprised. I was like, ‘OK, I’m on the floor. But now, nothing happened. I’m gonna get up and I’m gonna do my work.’ ”
The Philippines’ Servania (29-1, 12 KOs) was unknown to American fight fans before Friday night and unproven at the championship level, but more than proved himself as a legitimate threat against a more experienced, undefeated world champion.
Valdez, a two-time Mexican Olympian, had even more problems early in their fight with Servania than he did when he defended his championship against Miguel Marriaga on April 22 in Carson, California. Colombia’s Marriaga made their fight difficult at times for Valdez, who knocked down Marriaga (25-3, 21 KOs) in the 10th round of an entertaining encounter and won a unanimous decision (119-108, 118-109, 116-111).
Servania is ranked No. 4 among the WBO’s 126-pound contenders, but he hadn’t beaten a top opponent prior to landing this title shot. He made his debut in the United States on Friday night and fought for the first time outside of Asia.
His first appearance on American soil was memorable, right up until the final bell.
The 12th round featured more exchanges than the prior three rounds, as Servania tried to score the knockout he had to have known he needed. Valdez responded with power shots of his own, but both fighters took the other’s hardest punches well.
“I let the crowd sometimes get to me,” Valdez said. “I wanna show my crowd a good fight. I got a little too careless and I got hit. This is boxing. But I learned a lot from this fight, definitely.”
The champion was less reckless later in the fight and began building a lead on the scorecards. He out-boxed Servania in the 10th and 11th rounds, when Servania seemed to slow down and had trouble landing flush punches against Valdez.
Valdez was the more active, accurate puncher in the ninth round and more effective defensively than he had been in previous rounds.
Valdez hit Servania with an overhand right in the eighth round, only to have Servania counter with a right uppercut that stunned Valdez. Servania landed two right hands toward the end of the seventh round that backed Valdez into the ropes.
By the start of the sixth round, both boxers had been knocked down and came back from serious trouble. Servania landed a series of right hands that seemed to affect Valdez toward the end of the sixth round.
Valdez overcame a fourth-round knockdown by blasting Servania with a quick, short left hook that knocked Servania flat on his face with 1:03 to go in the fifth round. Servania was badly hurt, but got up before referee Wes Melton reached the count of 10 and fought his way to the end of the round.
Servania started to land on Valdez in the first half of the fourth round, but Valdez started slowing him down with body shots. Servania stunned him shortly thereafter, though, by drilling Valdez with a looping right hand that dropped Valdez as he was moving away from Servania.
Valdez got up and seemed to be OK, but Servania wobbled him again with another right hand just before the end of the fourth round.
Valdez landed an overhand right just before the midway mark of the second round. Valdez drilled Servania with a left hook later in the second round that stopped Servania in his tracks.
Servania slipped a left hook through Valdez’s guard in the first round, most of which Valdez spent trying to establish distance.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.