While I’m sure the words “ya valio verga” have crossed the minds of countless Mexican boxers as they face the realization of inevitable defeat, Miguel “El Alacran” Berchelt actually voiced the words to his corner, serving as a premonition of the brutal knockout he would later suffer at the vicious hands of Oscar Valdez.
Before stepping in the ring this past Saturday night, most analysts predicted a toe-to-toe Mexican war, even expecting a Morales vs. Barrera type of rivalry. However, the majority of boxing fans expressed concern over Valdez’s safety immediately after the fight was official, believing the smaller fighter was making a mistake challenging the division’s longest-reigning champion. I was one of those concerned fans.
Though I’ve always liked Valdez, his career holds somewhat of a significance with my venture to start covering boxing in the summer of 2017. After accidentally joining the boxing media scene, I started frequenting Legendz Boxing Gym in Norwalk, Ca., where Valdez trained under Manny Robles’ guidance. I would visit every sparring day to witness the preparation for his fourth title defense against Scott Quigg, which was also the first fight I covered as credentialed media.
As the heavy rain poured over the open-air venue and few of us stood ringside as Valdez continued to pummel away at a much-bigger Scott Quigg regardless of a broken jaw, the Sonorense proved to have the heart of a Mexican warrior. Regardless of the victory, suffering that broken jaw was one reason he was the underdog against Berchelt, who is undeniably a harder hitter than any of Valdez’s former opposition.
Following the Quigg fight, Valdez made the career-changing decision to switch trainers looking to improve his defense and further avoid similar incidents. As renowned as Eddy Reynoso is, many fans, myself once again included, disapproved of the switch. When Valdez announced he was vacating his WBO Featherweight title, moving up in weight, the criticism against the new partnership intensified. Valdez now betraying his usual fan-friendly style, faced adversity in his first bouts at 130, even tasting the canvas against under-experienced opponent Adam Lopez in late 2019.
With the history of a broken jaw, what appeared to be an identity crisis, and judged to be too small for the division, most assumed Valdez would be food for the much bigger Berchelt. Others going as far as claiming Top Rank saw Valdez as damaged goods and were serving him to Berchelt on a silver platter. A sacrificial lamb, if you will. And while most fans, analysts, and former fighters favored Berchelt to win devastatingly, Valdez shut everyone’s mouths delivering outstanding performance and exceeding anyone’s expectations.
Early in the fight, both fighters felt each other out, with Valdez throwing everything with bad intentions and making Berchelt miss most of his shots. By the third round, it was becoming obvious Valdez was proving to be simply too slick, too quick, too crisp for the “Alacran” to properly give him a taste of the lethal venom he had promised.
As beautifully as Valdez baited Berchelt into the ropes, I kept my eyes wide open, awaiting the punch that would ultimately put a tragic end to Valdez’s attempts at glory. Our jaws dropped in the fourth round as Valdez caught Berchelt with a tremendous left hook that wobbled the former champion, followed by a massive left uppercut that further sent Berchelt into the ropes.
Though Berchelt ferociously fought back, Valdez’s left hook had found a home, causing a technical knockdown as Berchelt struggled to keep his balance while the referee gave him a count. Berchelt was saved by the bell and wobbled to his corner in Bambi legs. Seeing it now, this is where the fight should’ve been stopped.
Valdez had the champ Berchelt hurt BAD but he was saved by the bell 😳 pic.twitter.com/WX54dMgp1X
— ESPN Ringside (@ESPNRingside) February 21, 2021
The following rounds consisted of Berchelt head-hunting while simultaneously leaving himself wide open and prone to more accurate punches from Valdez. The Cancun native had a second wind in the second half of the fight, making us wonder if he’d successfully catch Valdez with a lethal shot and put an end to the vicious attack from the former Olympian.
As Berchelt preyed on him by recklessly moving forward, Valdez capitalized on his mistakes and delivered a combination that put Berchelt on his ass. Though he managed to survive yet another round, Valdez toyed with Berchelt switching up stances and finally putting an end to action in the 10th round with a monstrous left hook that immobilized Berchelt, sending him face-forward into the canvas. He literally got Pacquiao’d.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) February 21, 2021
Filled with overwhelming emotion, Valdez jumped around the ring in celebration as paramedics assessed an unresponsive Berchelt. Tears followed as Valdez embraced Reynoso, as well as his father and everyone in his corner. Teofimo Lopez was seen running around the MGM Bubble, completely impressed by the vicious knockout victory. Simultaneously, Shakur Stevenson sat ringside staring down Oscar, who had just earned the “prestigious” WBC belt.
Once Berchelt was conscious, Valdez kneeled in front of him and paid his respects.
Post-fight, Valdez made the “hush” motion with his finger, obviously throwing shade at those who had doubted him. Well-deserved shade.
“There’s nothing better in life than proving people wrong,” said Valdez. “I have a list of people who doubted me. My idols (including Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.) doubted me. 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.”
Getting predictions wrong doesn’t always feel too good, but this time it did. While my Mexican household had mixed emotions as we sympathized with Berchelt, Valdez’s triumph over adversity while being the heavy underdog seemed straight out of a movie.
When he said he doubted Berchelt trained harder than him, I believed it. I’ve first-hand witnessed his discipline and dedication to his craft; I simply thought the size difference would be too much for a Valdez who lesser punchers had previously floored.
The fight turned out nothing as I imagined, and it wasn’t even close to being reminiscent of a Morales vs. Barrera. However, seeing him switch from southpaw to orthodox did remind me of Morales pulling a similar stunt against Manny Pacquiao to prove he could do it all.
Boxing fans tend to be demanding, and regarding Valdez, there is no exception. Proving the majority of us wrong with such a spectacular performance will now only hold him to a higher standard, and fans will expect him to continue facing top opposition as a two-division world chamipion.
Before Valdez even had the chance to exit the ring, Stevenson— who vocalized interest in stepping in to fight Valdez last November when Berchelt tested positive for Covid-19— had already taken to social media to challenge Valdez for his new WBC belt. With WBO champion Jamel Herring also in the Top Rank stable, Valdez clearly has options to defend or unify with minimal politics getting in the way.
“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.”
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) February 21, 2021
After being proved wrong, I know Reynoso will help prepare him for whatever style may come. Valdez’s quickness, crispness, and perseverance prove he’s a force to be reckoned with in this new division after all.
Before Saturday night’s performance, I would’ve easily favored both Stevenson and Tank Davis over Valdez. Now, I think twice— three times— about doubting the Mexican warrior ever again.
As for Berchelt, Top Rank announced he had passed his CT scan and was able to go to his family and rest. On Sunday, he posted a statement to social media, apologizing for his short-comings but promising to come back stronger.
I personally hope Berchelt returns with plans to move up in weight, as fights at 135 could lead to some explosive matchups without the need for constant weight-drain. Others question if his previous Covid diagnosis negatively affected his performance, linking his defeat to other fighters who have looked unimpressive after suffering from the virus.
Looking at both the 130 and 135 landscape, I really doubt Berchelt could be crowned champion once again, though I’d love for him to prove me wrong just like Valdez did on Saturday night.