LAS VEGAS – Oscar Valdez saved the best performance of his career for his biggest fight to date.
The two-time Mexican Olympian is now a two-division champion, claiming the WBC junior lightweight crown after knocking out countryman Miguel Berchelt just before the bell to end round ten.
Valdez scored three knockdowns on the night, the last of which left Berchelt out cold in their ESPN/ESPN+ main event Saturday evening from MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“There’s nothing better in life than proving people wrong. I have a list of people who doubted me,” Valdez told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna after scoring his biggest win thus far. “I’m so happy right now, I can almost do a backflip like [World lightweight champion] Teofimo Lopez.”
Cancun’s Berchelt fought on the outside to open the bout, while Valdez stood at center ring. Berchelt was unable to let loose his right hand, as Valdez constantly shot his jab to control the range and the tempo in a feel-‘em out first round.
Valdez—born in Nogales, Mexico and now trains with Eddy Reynoso in Southern California—connected with a left hook one minute into round two, his most effective power punch to that point. Berchelt was tentative with his punches, particularly his straight right which wasn’t thrown with full conviction. Valdez continued to ram home his jab, splitting the guard of the defending titlist and also leaving him with a bloody nose.
Berchelt gained confidence in round three, throwing a right hand with purpose as Valdez continued to work his stick. Berchelt ended the frame chasing a mobile Valdez, whose movement continued to frustrate his countryman.
Round four saw Berchelt considerably close the gap, landing a left hook on the inside. Not only did it have minimal impact, it left him open for a left hook from Valdez upstairs which left him on wobbly legs. Valdez raced across the ring in effort to close the show, twice more rocking Berchelt before driving him into the ropes. Referee Russell Mora correctly ruled the sequence a knockdown, although Valdez made his case for a 10-8 round to that point. Berchelt beat the count but was rocked again at the bell as he staggered to his corner.
Valdez didn’t let up on the attack, throwing every shot with conviction. Berchelt was once again stunned midway through the round, somehow mustering the strength to remain upright. A two-way exchange along the ropes late in the round saw Berchelt connect with a right hand which was immediately countered by a Valdez left hook over the top.
Berchelt tried in vain to punch his way back into the fight, taking center ring while Valdez fought from the outside in round six. Valdez enjoyed repeat success with his lead left hook, while Berchelt managed to score with a left hook to the body. The lone interruption in Valdez’s attack came late in the round, when referee Russell Mora issued a second and final warning for hitting behind the head. Berchelt landed a right hand to end the frame, though Valdez was landing the far more telling blows.
Valdez opened round seven with a two-punch combo, drawing a rise from the makeshift crowd on hand—comprised mostly of undercard fighters and their teams oohing and ahhing every power punch. Berchelt adjusted, working his jab along with looping right hands to the body. A left hand got through for Berchelt, prompting Valdez to briefly tie up on the inside. Berchelt assumed the role of aggressor, landing a right hand in the corner with roughly 30 seconds to go.
Valdez turned the tide in round eight and more so in round nine. A right hookercut by the unbeaten boxer set the tone for a three-punch combo to send Berchelt to the canvas for the second official knockdown of the fight. The 29-year old once again beat the count, though found himself under siege as Valdez connected with power shots from conventional and southpaw stances.
Concerns arose over whether Berchelt’s corner should consider stopping the fight as they entered round ten. The bout continued, as did Valdez’s momentum. The rapidly emerging one-sided affair was brought to an emphatic close, as Valdez landed perhaps the best left hook of his career. Berchelt hit the deck and was flat on his face as the fight was waved off.
Valdez led 89-80, 88-81 and 87-82 at the time of the stoppage. Interestingly, judge Max DeLuca (87-82) had Berchelt sweeping the first three rounds.
Berchelt suffers his first defeat in nearly seven years, as he falls to 38-2 (34KOs) with the loss. Gone is a 17-fight win streak dating back to May 2014, along with a title reign which recently surpassed the four-year mark.
Valdez becomes the latest student of renowned trainer Eddy Reynoso to watch his career soar to new heights. The win earns a second divisional title for the 30-year old as he improves—in every sense of the word—to 29-0 (23KOs).
With the belt freshly draped across his shoulder, Valdez is already planning for the future.
“I want to take this belt home, and I’m happy for that,” stated Valdez after the win. “Any champion out there… I heard Shakur Stevenson wants to fight. Let’s do it. I just want to keep on fighting and give the fans what they want.”
Valdez undoubtedly races to the top of the junior lightweight division, though it wasn’t always believed he’d reach that status. The former WBO featherweight champ—who made six title defenses—struggled in his first outing at the new weight, climbing off the canvas to stop Adam Lopez in the 7th round of his divisional debut in Nov. 2019.
The fight was to have led to a showdown with Berchelt, only for the pandemic to stall those plans and leaving both to take separate interim fights. It gave Valdez another full camp with renowned trainer Eddy Reynoso, with the two still working on chemistry in Valdez’s 10th round stoppage of Jayson Velez in this very venue last July.
Berchelt—who first won the belt in an 11th round knockout of unbeaten Francisco Vargas in Jan. 2017—took a fight at lightweight, stopping countryman Eleazar Valenzuela in the 6th round last June in Mexico. Following Valdez’s win less than a month later, the stage was set for a planned Dec. 12th showdown at this site. Berchelt had to withdraw from the bout after testing positive for COVID, thus prompting the two-month delay.
Still, it was Berchelt who entered as the heavy betting favorite. Sportsbook William Hill had the now dethroned champ at a healthy -340 while Valdez entered at +270 by opening bell.
More so, Berchelt was the odds-on industry favorite to retain his title and hand Valdez his first defeat.
“My idols doubted me,” noted Valdez. “Boxing analysts doubted me. They said Berchelt was going to knock me out.
“I have a message to everybody: Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox