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LAS VEGAS — If you are a boxing fan and want to do something to significantly help the sport, the opportunity exists for you now.
On Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the MGM Grand Conference Center, Miguel Berchelt will defend his WBC super featherweight title against former WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez.
Despite their records and glittering résumés — Berchelt is 37-1 with 33 KOs and is 9-0 in world title fights, while Valdez is 28-0 with 22 KOs and looking for a world title in his second weight division — this isn’t a fight with a high profile.
Outside of the hardcore fan base, these two guys aren’t particularly well-known among the average sports fan who doesn’t pay significant attention to boxing.
The fight, though, figures to be so compelling that if they watch, they could get hooked on the sport for life.
This could be a modern day Morales versus Barrera, or Gatti versus Ward. It has the potential to be as action-packed and as violent as any of those bouts.
The fight is so compelling that Top Rank produced a multi-part video series, “Blood, Sweat & Tears,” about it. It’s a strategy that used to be used almost exclusively for pay-per-view fights, but Top Rank president Todd duBoef’s goal is to expose fights like this to the wider audience to try to build the sport.
"We haven’t seen a match like this since Morales and Barrera [who fought a highly lauded trilogy from 2001 through 2004] where it was a true Mexican warrior versus a true Mexican warrior," duBoef said. "These Mexican fights, it’s in their DNA culturally to go out there and fight with great passion and aggressiveness, and it sets up to be one of the best matches we’ve had on the networks.”
Valdez, who has won fights despite competing with a broken jaw and who has gotten up off the canvas to win by KO, agreed.
“Every time you’ve got two Mexicans inside the ring, there’s always fireworks, so everybody can expect a great fight,” Valdez said.
On paper, Valdez looks to be physically overmatched. Berchelt is two inches taller and has a five-inch reach advantage, and is just a thicker, stronger man.
But anyone who thinks that will impact Valdez doesn’t know him. This is a guy who has a pet alligator named Steve that he carries in his arms, so fear isn’t in his vocabulary. He’s recently added a crocodile to his collection of animals.
Valdez hasn’t had the truly high-profile fights, and has been frustrated by the way the business of boxing often works.
He sought fights with Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares, Gary Russell Jr., and others, but they never materialized. But everything aligned this time, as he moved from 126 to 130 and found Berchelt waiting for him. Both are promoted by Top Rank and the men, even though they’re friendly and frequent many of the same places in Hermosillo, Mexico, were eager to fight each other.
“It was always one thing or another and you know the politics of boxing,” Valdez said. “Those TV programs with PBC, ESPN and HBO and certain fights wouldn’t happen. But now we got this opportunity. Berchelt is with Zanfer and Zanfer makes fights with Top Rank, and it’s a great opportunity.”
Berchelt is verging on cracking into the mythical pound-for-pound Top 10 in boxing. There are a number of fights that Valdez could have taken instead of the one with Berchelt, but he wanted to aim for the top and face the super featherweight champion he felt was the best.
A win for Valdez would vault him up several levels in a sport where the fighters are under constant scrutiny for their level of opposition.
“The toughest fighter in this division without a doubt is ‘Alacran’ Berchelt, all due respect to all the other champions out there,” he said. “The most important thing I wanted, I wanted a big name [who would give me] a tough fight. Like I said, I think Alacran Berchelt has it all. He has the WBC belt, and I feel that if I beat Alacran Berchelt, it will put me in a high status [and get me the] recognition of a lot of people.
“I’m not just fighting bums. You know, in boxing it’s very easy to criticize. In the boxing world, and the fans, if they don’t know a fighter, they immediately assume you’re fighting a bum. I’ve fought guys like Miguel Marriaga, Genesis Servania, and all of those fighters had something in common: They didn’t have a lot of name, and a lot of people would consider them easy fights for me, which they weren’t. They were great fighters, but they didn’t have a big name like a Gary Russell.”
Promoter Bob Arum has put on shows for more than 50 years and he’s convinced that on paper, this match has the chance to be as good as most anything he’s done.
He repeatedly compared it to the 2001 classic first bout between Morales and Barrera, which was breathtaking in its ferocity.
“If you look at that first Morales-Barrera fight, one guy would punch the s*** out of the other guy and you’d think it was over and then the other guy would come back and do the same thing and come back,” Arum said. “It was an incredible fight that people still talk about. This fight is going to be like that. These guys are real warriors and to them, it’s almost an embarrassment to take a step backward. On paper, I cannot imagine this not being a Fight of the Year candidate. We’ll see how it plays out, but on paper, this fight is cannot miss."
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