In one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of 2021, a Mexican derby to savour heads the latest Top Rank card.
A war is almost always guaranteed when compatriots from the Aztec country share the ring together, and we should expect nothing less as two top quality operators in WBC Super Featherweight champion, Miguel Berchelt (37-1, 33 KOs) and former undefeated WBO Featherweight boss, Oscar Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs), collide, with Berchelt putting his 130 pound title on the line.
Valdez competes at Super Featherweight for only the second time, and it’s a stiff test for the unbeaten Sonora born, California based 30-year-old.
Valdez built his reputation as a knockout artist, and claimed the vacant WBO Featherweight strap in July 2016, stopping Matias Rueda in two.
Following that was a seventh round stoppage of Hiroshige Osawa, but the early finishes then dried up, as a run of three straight points wins in 2017 and 2018 dropped his stock slightly, including a tough battle with Bury’s Scott Quigg, who broke Valdez’s jaw in a bloody contest.
That signalled the end of his relationship with Manny Robles, and he then linked up with Eddy Reynoso, who guided him to a seventh round knockout of Carmine Tommasone in February 2019.
After a final defence of his belt, a move up to Super Feather beckoned, and he struggled in his WBC belt eliminator, dropped for the first time as a pro by Adam Lopez, before returning the favour, and winning by stoppage in seven.
Oscar was last out in July 2020, stopping Jayson Velez in the tenth and final round as he shook off the cobwebs in anticipation of a meeting with Berchelt.
Miguel will start as favourite in this one, and rightly so, having made six defences of the title that he won back in January 2017, and he is a big puncher at the weight.
The Yucatan native has only a sole career defeat, and that came way back in March 2014 when caught cold inside a round against Luis Eduardo Florez.
The 29-year-old rebuilt, and won an interim WBO strap before knocking Francisco Vargas out in eleven in 2017 to capture the WBC belt.
A wide points win in his first defence has then been followed by five straight early victories, stopping Maxwell Awuku, Jonathan Victor Barrios and Miguel Roman before retiring Francisco Vargas in six in their rematch.
His last defence came at the back end of 2019, knocking out Jason Sosa in four in a one sided affair.
Berchelt did box in Mexico in June 2020, scoring a sixth round stoppage win over Eleazar Valenzuela, but the fight was ruled a no contest due to no commission being present due to COVID restrictions.
Prediction: This one could be a real barnburner, with both coming to fight and not take a backwards step.
Berchelt though, is firmly established at this weight, and hasn’t looked close to losing, where Valdez has looked a touch flat in his most recent performances.
I think it’ll be an energy sapping fight, and one that Berchelt can win in the championship rounds in a punishing affair.
Most recent Oscar Valdez foe, Jayson Valdez (29-7-1, 21 KOs) appears on this card too, and he has his hands full in a ten round Super Featherweight attraction against hot prospect, Gabriel Flores Jr (19-0, 6 KOs).
Flores is making steps up into fringe world class, and a statement win over a man that took Valdez ten rounds would be an impressive marker.
The 20-year-old is already into his 20th contest, and his last two outings have given him the full ten rounds and much needed experience.
His last appearance came in October 2020, where he dominated Ryan Kielczweski in a wide points win.
32-year-old Velez has only been stopped once in seven defeats, and that came last time out, and I can’t see Flores adding to that, instead having to settle for a clear points win.
At Middleweight, Brazilian banger Esquiva Falcao takes a marked step-up in class when he goes in over ten rounds with former two-time world title challenger, Artur Akavov (20-3, 9 KOs).
Espirito Santo-based southpaw Falcao (27-0, 19 KOs) hasn’t been in with too stiff an opposition so far, while Akavov has failed in two WBO tilts, against Billy Joe Saunders in a snooze fest in December 2016, and he was then stopped in the final round against Demetrius Andrade in January 2019.
Prediction: It’s a decent test for Falcao, and he may need all ten rounds to see off the Russian on points.
The sole eight rounder is a Super Lightweight affair, and Dominican knockout artist, Elvis Rodriguez takes on Argentina’s Luis Alberto Veron (18-2-2, KO9).
Veron (18-2-2, 9 KOs) hasn’t previously been halted, and has gone a ten round distance seven times, including against Michael McKinson.
Prediction: Rodriguez (10-0-1, 10 KOs) is taking a step up here, and if he can’t strike early, he’ll have to go the distance for the first time.
18-year-old Xander Zayas (6-0, 5 KOs) meets the durable James Martin (6-1) over six at Welterweight in what should be a comfortable points win, while at Super Featherweight, Bryan Lua (7-0, 3 KOs) should be able to outscore Frevian Gonzalez Robles (4-0, 1 KO) over the same distance.
There are three four rounders on the bill. At Heavyweight, Sonny Conto (6-0, 5 KOs) faces Waldo Cortes Acosta (6-3, 3 KOs) and should score an inside schedule win.
While at Super Lightweight, Omar Rosario (2-0) and Uriel Villanueva (1-0) clash in a contest that should go the way of Rosario on the scorecards. At Middleweight, Javier Martinez (2-0) should be able to comfortably outscore Billy Wagner (3-1, 1 KO).