By Jake Donovan
Everything about Oscar Valdez’s next ring appearance will feature a brand new look—even the part where he returns home to headline at a venue at which he’s previously fought.
Returning for the first time since recovering from a broken jaw sustained in a March win over Scott Quigg, the unbeaten featherweight titlist is slated to headline the January 12 edition of Top Rank Boxing on ESPN. Valdez will face Spain’s Andoni Gago in the main event at the Tucson (Ariz.) Convention Center, which also hosted his thrilling points win over Genesis Servania last September.
In attempting the 5th defense of his featherweight title, Valdez (24-0, 19KOs) will come in with a new perspective following his extended layoff. The night will mark his first time under the guise of Eddy Reynoso—the famed Mexican trainer best known for his work with reigning World middleweight champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez—after parting on amicable terms with previous trainer Manuel Robles.
The corner change was viewed as a necessity by Valdez and his team, as was the intention of returning to familiar scenery for his next bout.
“Oscar and his family have strong roots in Tucson,” notes promoter Michelle “Raging Babe” Rosado, who has been at the promotional forefront of increased regional interest in the sport and who will once again play an integral role with Valdez’ homecoming. “It’s where he first stepped into a gym, and Tucson boxing fans know and love him.”
Valdez is originally from Nogales, Mexico and represented his birth nation in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, but also calls Tucson home, having lived in the area as a child and still boasting family in the area. His forthcoming defense versus Gago (20-3-3, 6KOs)—who fights for the first time both in the U.S. and for a major title—will mark his third in the city as a pro, all of which have taken place at the Convention Center.
The local fans were in full force for his last appearance, fending off a determined Servania to retain his featherweight title in their ESPN-televised headliner. More than 4,100 were in attendance thanks to a strong grassroots promotion, but the telecast produced mixed reviews due to preceding chaos from a lead-in Major League Baseball game running late and forcing earlier portions of the show to ESPNews and ESPN2.
The series has since grown, as has Valdez’ standing in the featherweight division. His bravery was on full display in March, agreeing to proceed with his fight versus Quigg despite the visiting Brit badly missing weight and enjoying a considerable size and strength advantage on fight night. Valdez had a tooth knocked out and suffered a broken jaw over the course of their 12-round war in Carson, Calif., but ultimately prevailed in their ESPN headliner which drew favorably in the ratings.
He returns 10 months later to a series which has gained considerable momentum since his last ring appearance, and to a Tucson hometown which has proven to support any quality product brought to the area.
As much has been evident in Rosado’s Guerra de Gallos series, with its July and November entries drawing fans in full force. The November 17 show—headlined by Valdez’ cousin Thomas Valdez in a gutsy win over Luis Coria—played to a near-capacity crowd.
“I don’t think people understand how much the people of Tucson love boxing,” Rosado explains. “It’s like a hidden gem, overshadowed by Phoenix and LA. The town has shown up over the past six months and it’s great to be able to continue that momentum and have Oscar defend his title at home for the second time.”
The brass at ESPN and Top Rank were thrilled with the turnout last September. This time around, surpassing the mark is the expectation. An added bonus would be to take a run at Tucson’s all-time boxing attendance mark of 6,422 established by Hall of Fame legend “Sugar” Ray Leonard back in 1979, the same year he would go on to win his first world title.
Regardless, the reception he will receive will be louder and prouder than ever before.
“This time around will be even bigger,” Rosado promises. “Boxing has grown in Tucson even in the past year with our Guerra De Gallos series. Oscar and his team will most definitely get a warm, loud welcome from boxing fans on January 12th. We can’t wait.”