Former junior lightweight world titlist Andrew Cancio has a new opponent for his July 16 return to the ring for the first time since losing his belt to Rene Alvarado in November.

Cancio will take on Cesar Alan Valenzuela in a 10-round bout at a contract weight of 133 pounds, a source with knowledge of the agreement, which is not yet signed, told on Friday.

The fight is slated to be on the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card that will be headlined by the light heavyweight world title elimination bout between former titlist Eleider “Storm” Alvarez and former world title challenger Joe Smith Jr. inside the Grand Ballroom at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where Top Rank is running its twice-weekly series this summer without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The fight will be Cancio’s first since signing with Top Rank in January. After the seventh-round knockout loss to Alvarado, Golden Boy Promotions released Cancio, who not only changed promoters but also trainers as he is now working with Joe Goossen. He went with Goossen after parting ways with Joseph “Hoss” Janik.

Cancio was initially slated to fight Manuel Rey Rojas (18-4, 5 KOs), 27, of Dallas, whose six-fight winning streak ended when he dropped a decision to Felix Verdejo in a lightweight bout in January, at 131 pounds. However, Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett declined to approve Rojas as Cancio’s opponent, which forced Top Rank to find a new foe.

So, now Cancio (21-5-2, 16 KOs), 31, a Blythe, California, native, is due to me meet Valenzuela (15-6-1, 5 KOs), 30, of Phoenix, who is coming off an eight-round decision win against Christian “Chimpa” Gonzalez last June 13 in Hollywood, California, in a fight that marked Valenzuela’s first bout in 19 months.

Valenzuela’s victory snapped a two-fight losing streak in 2017. He had been knocked out by rising star Ryan Garcia in the second round after dropping an eight-round split decision to Cesar Morales.

Cancio holds down a day job as a line worker for a Southern California gas company and normally he takes off only one week – the week of the fight – before his bout. But he recently told BoxingScene that he planned to take off two weeks to make sure he is fully prepared and rested for his return bout.

“It’s my debut with Top Rank and I’m coming off a defeat with Rene Alvarado, so I don’t want to take any chances,” Cancio said. “I want to make sure I’m fresh in there. I figured two weeks before the fight I’ll take it off and I will have time to relax and just focus on the fight.”

Cancio also said when he was first offered a bout in July he was unsure he wanted to fight without any spectators in attendance, although he eventually changed his mind.

“My manager (Ray Chaparro) told me, ‘You’re not getting any younger, you want to get back to being a world champion so we got to get ourselves in that position where when the time does come to fight for a title again the fight fans are back,” Cancio said.

“Hopefully, this fight will be one step closer to getting a world title shot. I don’t know how long it’s going to be without fans being allowed in, so I told manager he was right. At first I told him, ‘Hell, no, I’m not doing it without fans because it takes away from the sport.’ But the more and more you see how long it’s going to be where there’s no fans, I don’t have that time to wait to fight. I need to get the taste of this loss out of my mouth anyway and I have so much more to prove.

“So I do have mixed feelings about fighting with no crowd, but this time around I got to think about myself and my family. I win this fight, I will be one step closer to where I want to be and it’s going to be a lot of exposure on ESPN. I’m doing my part in the gym. I’m here getting myself my ready so we can rock ‘n roll for July 16.”

Dan Rafael was's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.