Oscar Valdez relished in the afterglow of proving a lot of doubters wrong on Saturday night, as his KO victory over Miguel Berchelt was as thorough and as impressive a performance as the new WBC junior lightweight world titlist could have put together.
After 10 rounds, most of which were spent dictating the fight in the direction he wanted to take it, Valdez further stunned the boxing world by landing a devastating punch flush to Berchelt's face, which knocked Berchelt out cold and ended the fight with just one second left in the round.
Brett Okamoto and Michael Rothstein break down the biggest moments of the night in Las Vegas and project what comes next for both fighters, as well as Top Rank Boxing's calendar going forward. Ben Baby reacts to Adrien Broner's return to the ring for the first time in nearly two years as well.
After the biggest win of his career, what's next for Oscar Valdez?
Rothstein: Valdez fought the perfect fight. An absolutely perfect fight. From the first round on, everything Valdez did was one step ahead of Miguel Berchelt, ending it with a vicious one-punch knockout in the 10th round, a left hook right to the middle of Berchelt's face.
How the fight ended encapsulated how Valdez fought throughout the night. He ducked away from a Berchelt punch, rose up and connected to send Berchelt to the canvas.
It was a consistent combination of speed and landing effective hooks from Valdez throughout the night. The strategy stunned Berchelt in the first two rounds, and it earned Valdez a knockdown in the fourth round, a second knockdown in the ninth and ultimately the knockout in the 10th.
By then, the only thing that would have stopped Valdez from winning the title was a miracle from Berchelt (37-2-0, 33 KO), who didn't seem to have much left a round or two prior to that moment.
This win strengthens the career resume of Valdez (29-0, 23 KO), who now becomes a titleholder in his second division after six defenses of the WBO featherweight world title. Now that he's a titleholder again, the new WBC junior lightweight world titlist has options.
His next potential opponent might have been sitting ringside. The money fight for Valdez could very well be against Shakur Stevenson, the undefeated rising star who also happens to be a part of Top Rank's stable of fighters. He's also the No. 2-rated fighter in the division by the WBC, so it could make sense from that standpoint as well.
Congrats champ @oscarvaldez56 I respect what you did tonight surprised me.. It's only 1 FIGHT to make now!— Shakur Stevenson (@ShakurStevenson) February 21, 2021
Stevenson-Valdez would be an interesting contrast of styles and a fight that could put fans in the seats toward the middle of the year. Valdez was open to it after the fight as well, even suggesting it in his postfight interview.
It is the fight to make and seems to make the most sense in the immediate future. The other option, if Valdez decides he wants to try to start unifying the division, will be to watch the Jamel Herring-Carl Frampton fight later this spring and wait on the winner of that.
But even with that fight out there, Stevenson seems like the smarter way to go.
How did Berchelt lose, and what's next for him?
Okamoto: Berchelt didn't lose his title as much as Valdez took it from him. Let's make that clear right away. Valdez looked masterful from the start and Berchelt was stunned and fading by the fourth round, when Valdez put him on skates with a left and got his first knockdown. Valdez may have finished him off right there had the bell not come. Berchelt showcased a lot of heart in the ensuing rounds and tried to turn the tide with nothing more than sheer pressure and power.
It was clear, however, he didn't have an answer, at least not on Saturday, for Valdez's speed and stance changed. Berchelt looked lost early on. He never looked comfortable in his counter striking, and more or less abandoned it after the fourth round, when he committed to a high-pressure approach. At 29, he's still one of the top junior lightweights in the world, but he will unfortunately have to prove that is still the case over the next year or so following a result like this. He'll have to prove the devastating nature of this loss doesn't change his ability to take a punch, or his willingness to take a punch.
If and when he faces another quick, technical boxer like Valdez -- or Vasiliy Lomachenko, whom he might have called out had Saturday gone differently -- he'll need to prove he learned from this disaster. He'll likely need a comeback fight of some sort, an opponent not ranked in the top five of the division. If all goes well, a title fight won't be far away.
Perhaps he'll give some thought to a move up in weight as well, which also would have been a postfight topic had he won, but there's no reason to think 130 pounds still can't be a great home for Berchelt. But there will be inevitable questions he'll need to answer when he comes back.
Boxing needs fans again
Okamoto: I was ringside for Saturday night's fight in Las Vegas. I figured this would be a night in which fans would be missed -- I just thought it would be due to a back-and-forth war, and not a one-sided masterclass by Valdez. But regardless, the reality is the same. Boxing sorely missed its fans.
There was a moment before the walkouts, when the ballroom at the MGM went dark and the house music went off. It was one of those moments that lets everyone in the building know, the main event fighters are about to walk. I've experienced that feeling in a packed arena hundreds of times, and I can't even really put into words how odd it felt on Saturday. It was so silent, you could hear individual conversations taking place in the room.
When the fighters did walk and they were announced -- honestly, I think Top Rank does about as good a job of manufacturing energy as you can -- but it's just barely relatable to an actual crowd. And of course, the fight itself, when Valdez dropped Berchelt in the fourth, and Berchelt was trying to will his way into a victory in the ensuing rounds when he was still hurt, a crowd would have added so much to that. Hopefully, we're close to that.
Top Rank believes Saturday was its final night in the bubble. The promotion intends to move to Florida and/or Oklahoma for its next events in April, and then be back in Vegas in May -- at a time when, hopefully, fans will be allowed back in attendance.
Gabriel Flores Jr. finds big KO as rising prospects get rounds on Berchelt-Valdez undercard
Rothstein: Gabriel Flores Jr. looked less than sharp. Jayson Velez was landing some punches and putting together some combinations. But then, in the sixth round, the 20-year-old Flores showed why he's considered a rising prospect in the junior lightweight division.
A right to Velez's head sent him down once. A flurry of punches ended the fight moments later, locking in an important win for the Stockton, California, native. It was a big showcase in the co-main event, catching fans who tuned in a little early for that title fight.
That Flores was able to put together a knockout -- his first since a third-round KO of Eduardo Pereira Dos Reis on May 4, 2019 -- was an added bonus, since it was only his second knockout in his past 14 fights. It showed off some of Flores' combination speed and power. After the fight, Flores said he "sent a statement that I'm ready for a world title."
That feels a little bit soon for him, considering the strength of the division. Beyond Berchelt and Valdez, there's also Shakur Stevenson, Leo Santa Cruz, Joseph Diaz Jr., Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, Jamel Herring and more in the division.
But it was an impressive showing that should give him a real chance at a high-level opponent next. If Flores wins that fight, then maybe there is a title shot in his near future, especially since the IBF belt is currently vacant.
The other two prospects on the undercard -- junior welterweight Elvis Rodriguez (11-0-1, 10 KO) and welterweight Xander Zayas (7-0, 5 KO) -- got rounds in, which was key for the development of each fighter, with Rodriguez at 12 pro fights and Zayas at seven, and a lot of short nights thus far in their careers.
For Rodriguez especially, it's the first time he went the distance in a fight and this fight should give him a good amount of tape to work with as he works on improving some key elements in the ring. Rodriguez admitted as much after the fight against a fairly game Luis Alberto Veron (18-3-2, 9 KO), saying he needs to return to the gym and work on letting his hands go more.
These kinds of learning experiences can be beneficial a year or two down the road, when the stakes get higher.
What did Saturday's fight against Jovanie Santiago tell us about the current state of Adrien Broner?
Baby: Saturday night was Adrien Broner in a nutshell. He showed flashes in the ring against Jovanie Santiago in a unanimous yet controversial decision. Broner landed 100 fewer punches than Santiago and once again looked sluggish in the ring. And perhaps his most entertaining moments of the night came in the postfight interview, when Broner's boisterous persona was clearly not rusty despite the lack of action.
In other words, it was peak Broner. And at this point, that's not enough to challenge anyone elite at 140 pounds, where he wants to fight, and 147 pounds, where he actually fights.
Broner's best moments came in the middle rounds, including one in the eighth round when a Broner hook caused Santiago to do the splits and he came inches away from touching the canvas.
But Santiago rallied in Round 12 and made the fight close, at the very least. Even though there should have been a large gulf between the two men, that wasn't apparent on Saturday. And yes, Broner is coming off a long layoff, but when he missed weight by six pounds and the bout was changed to the welterweight limit toward the end of fight week, his dedication to being in fighting shape is hard to believe.
With his win (featuring some very questionable scorecards, including an inexplicable 117-110 from Peter Hary), Broner likely secured at least another sizable payday. At this point in his career, that's probably the best he can ask for.