WHEN two Mexicans meet in a ring, you know exactly what you are going to get – a straight-up fight. Mexico prides itself on its fabled fistic heritage, and when it comes to the classic ‘Mexican style’ of fighting – all-out attack and non-stop aggression – Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez are certainly carrying on their country’s tradition. This Saturday (February 20), the two power-punching Mexican warriors will go toe-to-toe inside Top Rank’s Bubble at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, live on Premier Sports 1 (UK) and ESPN (US).
The highly awaited clash was originally due to occur in December last year, but it had to be postponed when Berchelt tested positive for COVID-19 in November. Fortunately, this fan-friendly encounter was rearranged, and the wait has only served to heighten the fighters’ focus and anticipation. Valdez has described the bout as “a guaranteed war”, while Berchelt has referred to it as “a great fight”.
As the WBC super-featherweight champion and one of the longest-reigning current world titlists in the sport, Berchelt is determined to retain his title for a seventh time. But keeping hold of his crown is not his sole motivation in this particular contest. For Berchelt, the Valdez fight has been a long time coming. They fought in the same weight class back when they were amateurs in Mexico, but they never had a chance to share a ring.
Berchelt enjoyed significant success on the national scene in the unpaid ranks, but internationally his path was often blocked by Valdez, who represented Mexico at two Olympic Games (2008 and 2012) and also won a bronze medal for his nation at the World Championships in 2009.
Despite going on to establish himself as quite possibly the standout super-featherweight in the professional game today, Berchelt seemingly still harbours some resentment about the way he was overlooked as an amateur. “This fight is the one that I’ve dreamed of since we were both amateur fighters,” Berchelt said. “I’m preparing with everything to win by knockout and leave no doubt that I’m the best super-featherweight in the world.”
Berchelt became the WBC boss in January 2017, when he dethroned the previously unbeaten Francisco Vargas via 11th-round KO. In his six defences so far, the Merida man has not once come close to losing his belt. Former champion Takashi Miura tried to regain his old title from Berchelt in July 2017, but found himself on the wrong end of a wide unanimous decision. Other than Miura, no opponent has been able to last the distance with Berchelt since he won the championship, including Vargas, who was forced out after six rounds in a May 2019 rematch.
Last time out eight months ago, Berchelt kept ticking along with a sixth-round stoppage of the unheralded Eleazar Valenzuela up at lightweight. The following month, Valdez scored a stoppage of his own against the tough and gutsy Jayson Velez, whom he dispatched in the 10th. This was Valdez’s second outing since moving up from featherweight to super-featherweight.
In his first fight as a new-found 130-pounder, the West Covina, California resident opposed the unfancied Adam Lopez in November 2019. Valdez was expected to sweep the late substitute aside with minimal fuss, but instead he had to recover from an early knockdown before eventually coming out on top in the seventh round of an intensely competitive tussle.
Prior to departing the featherweight division, Valdez had reigned as the WBO king at the weight from July 2016 to August 2019, when he decided to relinquish the strap. He stopped the outgunned Matias Rueda in two rounds to pick up the vacant belt, before proceeding to make six successful defences. The biggest name he retained against was ex-WBA super-bantamweight champ Scott Quigg in March 2018. Valdez prevailed unanimously on points in what was a brutal and bloody battle, during which he suffered a broken jaw and had a tooth knocked out.
While Valdez has yet to taste defeat in 28 appearances (all victories, 22 inside schedule), Berchelt has lost once in 39 contests (38 wins, 34 inside time). His loss occurred back in March 2014 when he was stunned by Luis Eduardo Florez in the opening round. A counter left hook caught him cold and dropped him to the canvas, and despite making it back to his feet, the referee waved the fight off, much to Berchelt’s indignation.
Although he has triumphed in all of his bouts, Valdez has been knocked down a handful of times. The pressure-fighting 30-year-old fires out blistering combinations to head and body, but under the guidance of Eddy Reynoso, who also trains Canelo Alvarez, Valdez has been striving to refine his defensive skills.
Like Valdez, the explosive Berchelt unleashes high-intensity combos both upstairs and down, including hooks, straights and uppercuts. The 29-year-old pumps out long jabs and uses clever footwork to create openings for hurtful shots to the midsection.
Valdez has been consistently winning fights, yet a number of them have been far from straightforward. His power has been getting him through some sticky situations, but against a fighter as dangerous as Berchelt, whose versatility is underrated, Valdez could well come unstuck. It will be fiercely fought and action-packed, but after 12 rounds of ferocious combat, the pick is for Berchelt to have his hand raised in victory.
The Verdict With two attack-minded aggressors going head-to-head, this won’t be one for the faint-hearted.