A matchup once hoped to have contended for 2020 Fight of the Year now has the chance to lead the pack for the year ahead.
Miguel Berchelt—one of the longest reigning active titlists in the sport—is officially set to make the sixth defense of his 130-pound crown as he faces unbeaten former featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez. The all-Mexico battle will take place Feb. 20 live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, as formally announced by Top Rank on Wednesday.
“Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez are two proud Mexican warriors who will give boxing fans a memorable fight,” Top Rank chairman and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum said of the pairing. “Top Rank promoted all three bouts between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, and I view Berchelt-Valdez as this generation’s Barrera-Morales.”
The telecast will serve as a 130-pound doubleheader. As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, the chief support will offer a pivotal crossroads bout between rising prospect Gabriel Flores Jr. and former junior lightweight titlist Andrew Cancio, the latter whom makes his Top Rank debut.
Berchelt and Valdez have waited more than year for their mouthwatering bout to materialize. The two were due to collide last spring, only for such plans to get shut down due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Both were afforded separate ESPN headliners behind closed doors last summer once boxing resumed for the network. Merida, Mexico’s Berchelt (38-1, 34KOs) scored a 6th round knockout of countryman Eleazar Valenzuela last June in a non-title fight in Mexico City. Valdez fought soon thereafter, as the unbeaten former titlist stopped Puerto Rico’s Jayson Velez in the 10th round of their July 23rd bout in Las Vegas.
An expected fight date of Dec. 12th was scrapped after Berchelt tested positive for COVID-19, with the two-month delay only further heightening anticipation.
“This fight is the one that I dreamed of since we were both amateur fighters,” said Berchelt, who has held a 130-pound title since an 11th round knockout win over Francisco Vargas in Jan. 2017. “Valdez is a great fighter, and it will be a great fight.
“I am preparing with everything to win by knockout and leave no doubt that I am the best super featherweight in the world.”
Valdez is ready to end that four-year reign, while furthering his own legacy as a two-time Mexican Olympian and future two-division titlist.
“Whenever there are two Mexicans in the ring, it is a guaranteed war, and it will be an honor for me to bring a great war to my fans,” insists Vargas (28-0, 22KOs), who moved up to 130 in late November following a lengthy featherweight title reign.
The evening’s main supporting bout sees a step up in class for Flores (19-0, 6KOs), a rising prospect from Stockton, California who signed with Top Rank at age 16. The young junior lightweight talent has established himself as a regional draw in California’s Central Valley, drawing 10,000 fans for a supporting bout to light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev on a May 2019 ESPN telecast.
With most of 2020 taking place without fans in attendance, Flores remained active with two wins inside of Top Rank’s Las Vegas bubble. The next step for the J. Prince-managed boxer is to pursue the top fighters in his division.
“My main goal is to win a world title,” said Flores, who is coming off of a 10-round decision win over Ryan Kielcweski last October. “Dominating a former world champion will put me in a great position to challenge for a title soon.”
Cancio (21-5-2, 16KOs) will do his best to disrupt those plans. The working-class hero from California became a feel-good story of 2019 after an upset knockout win over Alberto-Machado to claim a 130-pound title. Cancio repeated the feat four months later, before conceding his belt in a stoppage loss to Rene Alvarado in their November 2019 rematch.
Several efforts were made to get Cancio back in the ring in 2020, who finally gets to enjoy the comeback.
“I’m very excited to return to battle on February 20 against Gabriel Flores Jr.,” insists Cancio. “I’m working hard in the gym, and I know that this fight is the first on my path to becoming a two-time world champion. I would like to thank my fans, who have been so incredibly supportive. I’ve heard you loud and clear and can’t wait to put on another great show for you.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox