By Jake Donovan
Prior to Saturday night, Oscar Valdez took a wait-and-see approach before discussing potential unification bouts or even a huge showdown with former two-division titlist Carl Frampton.
By fight’s end, the question was whether he’d need to instead consider a run towards becoming a two-division titlist.
Whatever the case, he remains unbeaten after soundly outpointing first-time challenger Jason Sanchez (14-1, 7KOs) over 12 rounds Saturday evening at Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nev.
Scores were 118-109 and 117-110 in favor of Valdez, who successfully defended his title for the sixth time.
In this his second fight with trainer Eddy Reynoso, the changes in Valdez’s game were more evident than his last outing where he could get away with pure aggression. Sanchez was overmatched but still came to fight, coming forward with right hands and quick left hooks even if they rarely hit the mark.
That was in part due to Valdez playing defense more so than is typically the case. The unbeaten titlist from Nogales, Mex. kept Sanchez at the end of his heavy jab, using it to create separation between the two early in the opening round before developing a steady left hook behind it as he grew comfortable with the pace of the fight.
Sanchez never stopped coming forward, enjoying modest success with his right hand to the body. He continued to shoot the left hook upstairs, but often missed the mark to which Valdez made him pay with straight right hands to the chin. Sanchez opened up late in round four, only to get caught with a left hook to put him back on the defensive.
Valdez scored the bout’s lone knockdown, connecting with a left hook to floor Sanchez early in round five and bringing the crowd of 2,412 in attendance to its feet. The challenger easily beat the count but was reluctant to trade after tasting the champion’s power.
Valdez remain poised, working behind his jab and not wasting power punches even as he slowly picked apart his foe. Such poise might have been to a fault.
Sanchez never threatened to turn things around, but certainly made Valdez work every second for his latest title defense. He continued to get tagged with left hooks and right hands, sporting a bloody lip for his troubles but also having his say on the inside as he began to land his left hook with a bit more regularity.
Sanchez’s increased bravery came at the price of leaving himself open for incoming left hooks. Valdez was dialed in with his money shot in round nine, failing to throw in combination but still landing often and hard enough to open a cut under Sanchez’s right eye. He sucked it up enough to extend beyond the 10th round for the first time in his career, although it only meant two more rounds of punishment.
The championship rounds saw the action slow considerably, with both boxers’ offense limited to one punch at a time. Valdez brought the crowd to life after landing consecutive power shots late in round 11 but proved to be an isolated moment.
As the bell sounded to begin the 12th and final round, Sanchez came out with renewed purpose as if he was going to unearth a power surge from his .500 knockout percentage. Once again, his decision to go for broke came at a heavy price as Valdez found an opening and went on attack. Sanchez’s offense quickly shut down, holding on as Valdez began to crash home chopping right hands.
Valdez offered a 10-second drill in the bout’s closing moments, which played better to the crowd on hand than in the punchstats as most of the shots well missed the mark. The intent was enough to draw appreciation from the crowd who sensed their guy was leaving the same way he entered the night—as an unbeaten titlist.
How much longer that status holds true remains to be seen—and less to do with whom he next faces than whether he can continue to make featherweight. Rumors have run rampant of his struggling mightily to hit 126, with a move to the super featherweight division in his near future.
For now, it’s the sixth successful defense of the featherweight title he won nearly three years ago. The win marks the fourth time in his last five fights in which Valdez has been extended the 12-round distance.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox