GLENDALE, Arizona – Oscar Valdez doesn’t mind splitting the crowd with Emanuel Navarrete.
Not even in a region where he’s long ago established a strong following.
Valdez will challenge for Navarrete’s WBO junior lightweight title atop an ESPN tripleheader this Saturday from Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The two-time Mexican Olympian and former two-division titlist has childhood roots in Tucson, Arizona, roughly two hours south of the greater Phoenix area where he’s enjoyed rabid fan support throughout a spirited fight week.
“It's home. Everywhere in Arizona is my second home,” Valdez told BoxingScene.com. “I’m Mexican through and through. I did my elementary school In Tucson, where I was able to learn English and speak it so well.
“I’m a proud Mexican but Arizona is home to me as well. I have friends in Nogales where I’m from and all throughout Sonora. I have friends and fans in Tucson, Phoenix, Glendale, all over Arizona.”
Mexico’s Navarrete (37-1, 31KOs) has given cause for applause in his previous two outings in Arizona. He scored a brutally one-sided, twelfth-round stoppage of Isaac Dogboe in their May 2019 rematch in Tucson, five months into Navarrete’s WBO junior featherweight title reign.
The 28-year-old from San Juan Zitlaltepec fought at this very venue on February 3, an off-the-canvas, ninth-round knockout of Australia’s Liam Wilson to win the vacant WBO 130-pound title. Valdez (31-1, 23KOs) was supposed to face his countryman that night but had to withdraw due to a pre-existing back injury which never fully healed.
Valdez was among those in attendance who was in awe of the adversity that Navarrete overcame to win his third divisional title. The 32-year-old former titleholder recognized the love exuded to his countryman and expects more of the same this weekend, even in a part of town that celebrates his name.
“It’s going to be electric in the arena. I don’t expect all of the fans to be on my side,” admitted Valdez. “I know that there will be many for Team Valdez and many supporting Vaquero. It will be split support and we get to prove who’s the best at 130.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox