By Jake Donovan
As long as he can make weight at least one more time, Oscar Valdez’s next—and potentially final featherweight title fight—figures to be a big one.
The unbeaten slugger from Nogales, Mex. made the sixth successful defense of his 126-poiund strap, scoring a 12-round win over previously unbeaten Jason Sanchez in their ESPN headliner Saturday evening at Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nev.
While the win was a landslide on the scorecards and in terms of actual action, the effects of Valdez (26-0, 20KOs) struggling to make the 126-pound limit are already evident. He’s yet to miss weight for a fight, but looked a bit drawn even in easily making weight at Friday’s weigh-in and—as observed by former two-division champ and current ESPN expert analyst Andre Ward—didn’t seem all the way replenished come fight night.
Still, the hope is to stick around in the loaded and lucrative division for at least one blockbuster fight.
“I hope (to fight at featherweight again),” Valdez told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna after his latest win. “I also have to listen to my body. We’re going to see what’s best.”
Sanchez (14-1, 7KOs) didn’t win very many rounds but still made the defending titlist work hard for all 12 rounds in order to retain his crown. It showed in Valdez’s offense attack, steady and heavy early on, while reduced to one punch at a time as the fight wore on, particularly after scoring the bout’s lone knockdown courtesy of a left hook in round five.
“Sometimes I get tired in there, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the weight loss,” admitted Valdez. “We’ll talk about (my next move) as a team and we will do what is best. I want to fight everybody at 126, 130. Let’s do it.”
While unification bouts are always the quickest way toward clarity in any division lacking a lineal champion, it seems Valdez’s featherweight tour will likely end without such a bout. There does exist at least one big option for his next adventure in former two-division titlist Carl Frampton for his next outing.
Frampton recently signed with Top Rank this past March and is due to make his debut under the promotional banner sometime this summer. It will be his first fight since last December, when he dropped a 12-round decision to unbeaten featherweight titlist Josh Warrington whom fights on ESPN+ next Saturday versus mandatory challenger Kid Galahad.
A clash between Valdez and Warrington makes perfect sense since the other two titlists—Leo Santa Cruz and Gary Russell Jr.—both fight under Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner (although Russell Jr. claims to be a free agent). But with a strong enough performance in his next outing, Frampton’s boxing celebrity status could be enough to jump in line.
“We’re going to look for a fight later on in the year between Valdez and Carl Frampton, if Frampton is successful in his next fight,” notes Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox