Oscar Valdez will watch from a ringside seat Friday night as Emanuel Navarrete and Liam Wilson fight for the WBO junior lightweight title Valdez once owned.
Mexico’s Valdez was supposed to face Navarrete, his countryman, for that unclaimed championship in a 12-round main event ESPN will televise from Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona. Wilson replaced Valdez in mid-December because Valdez suffered an undisclosed injury while training.
Australia’s Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs) was the WBO’s leading available contender to step in for Valdez. Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs) is consistently listed as a 20-1 favorite to beat Wilson, but promoter Bob Arum informed BoxingScene.com that his promotional company’s plan is to match Valdez against whoever wins later this year.
Arum’s Top Rank Inc., which promotes Navarrete and Valdez, has a contractual option on Wilson’s contract to protect itself in the event Wilson pulls off an upset.
“A hundred percent. Not even a question. That’s the plan,” Arum said. “Whoever wins, there’s an understanding that they’ll fight Valdez.”
It is possible, though, that Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs) could take a tune-up bout before fighting for the WBO junior lightweight title he lost to Shakur Stevenson last April 30. Valdez could use some rounds because he hasn’t fought since Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) out-classed him in their 12-round, 130-pound title unification fight nine months ago at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The 32-year-old Valdez was tentatively scheduled to return to the ring November 12 at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, but he suffered an injury, which also wasn’t disclosed, in September and couldn’t compete that night. The former WBO featherweight champion later agreed to fight Navarrete, but the 2012 Mexican Olympian was forced to withdraw from that bout, too.
“It happens,” Arum said. “He’s a really dedicated athlete. He doesn’t carouse around and so forth. But sometimes your body betrays you, and that’s been the case with Oscar. We’ll have to see. He’s a great talent. He’ll get healed and we’ll give him his shot.”
The 91-year-old Arum admitted that Navarrete would be a very tough opponent, but he is confident Valdez can regain his championship form in the 130-pound division.
“There’s no shame in losing to Shakur,” Arum said. “How many fighters out there are going to beat Shakur? He was in the fight, he tried hard, but Shakur’s a master. Shakur is something special.”
Stevenson lost his WBC and WBO 130-pound championships at the scale because he came in overweight for his 12-round, unanimous-decision victory over Brazil’s Robson Conceicao (17-2, 8 KOs) on September 23 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Mexico’s Rey Vargas (36-0, 22 KOs) and O’Shaquie Foster (19-2, 11 KOs), of Orange, Texas, will fight for the vacant WBC super featherweight title Stevenson gave up eight days after Navarrete faces Wilson, on February 11 at Alamodome in San Antonio (Showtime).
Navarrete-Wilson will headline a three-bout broadcast, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT) on ESPN.
In the 10-round co-feature, undefeated junior welterweight contender Arnold Barboza Jr. (27-0, 10 KOs), of South El Monte, California, will oppose Puerto Rico’s Jose Pedraza (29-4-1, 14 KOs), a former IBF junior lightweight and ex-WBO lightweight champion. Heavyweight prospect Richard Torrez Jr. (4-0, 4 KOs), a 2021 Olympic silver medalist from Tulare, California, also will box Pittsburgh’s James Bryant (6-2, 4 KOs) in a televised six-rounder.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.
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