Valdez's quest to be a three-division champion — and become a Mexican great


Oscar Valdez is listing Mexican boxing icons, and with each name, his excitement grows. And then he starts wondering what it will take for people to one day mention his name along with the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Canelo Alvarez.

“That’s my dream, my biggest dream is to become one of those Mexican icons that people will forever remember,” Valdez, a world champion in two weight classes, told ESPN. “You have Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Canelo, Ricardo Lopez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Carlos Zarate, Jorge Arce. … When people mention great Mexican fighters they mention these guys and when I retire I want to be in that list.”

Valdez (31-2, 23 KOs), from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, faces a younger contender in Liam Wilson (13-2, 7 KOs), from Queensland, Australia, for the vacant WBO interim junior lightweight title at the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona, on Friday (ESPN+, 6:05 p.m. ET).

And Valdez needs momentum, after unanimous decision losses to Emanuel Navarrete and Shakur Stevenson in two of his past three fights.

“To be in that list I have to win these fights and achieve a lot more things,” Valdez told ESPN. “Barrera lost, Morales lost. All these great fighters lost and came back to do great things, I want to do the same.”

Now at 33, Valdez is on a mission to become a three-time world champion after a six-defense reign as WBO featherweight champion (2016-2019) and one defense as WBC junior lightweight champion before suffering his first professional defeat to Stevenson in a title unification fight in April 2022.

“I just love boxing, it’s my life. There’s a lot of things I want to achieve still. … I want to conquer more things,” Valdez said. “I’ve always been a fanatic of boxing and fighters like Chavez, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Canelo and these guys conquered all the divisions and became unified champions, defended their titles many times.

But Valdez admits he needs to reestablish himself at this stage of a long professional career that began shortly after his participation for Mexico as an amateur at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“If I look at my resume, I haven’t done nothing yet so I have to be the most disciplined fighter to achieve this,” Valdez said. “To achieve those things I have to win this fight, which makes it important. If we are not looking for greatness, what are we doing it for? That’s why I have dedicated my life and body to this sport because I want to conquer bigger and better things.

Valdez says he feels great in training, saying he still has the strength, stamina and head movement to compete at the highest level, but he also understand that there’s no room for error against Wilson.

“I need to prove to other fighters and to myself that I still have it,” Valdez told ESPN. “I’m 33, but I don’t feel 33. Whoever wins this fight is a step closer to a world title, which makes it very important. I know what it feels like to be world champion, and I miss it so much, I have to win this.

With Navarrete (38-1-1, 31 KOs), ESPN’s No. 1 at junior lightweight and the WBO champion in the division moving up in weight to face Denys Berinchyk for the vacant WBO lightweight title on May 18, it is likely the winner of Valdez-Wilson will be elevated to full world champion status later this year.

“It’s not clear who is the best at 130, there’s an opportunity there and where there’s an opportunity there’s hope and I’m looking at this as a world title fight, I’ve been training as though it is,” Valdez told ESPN.

And Valdez misses being a world champion and the feelings that come with that prestige and the confidence he gets when he’s on top of the division.

“Every fighter out there knows what it feels like. Whoever’s been a world champion knows exactly what I’m talking about,” Valdez said on ESPN’s State of Boxing. Just walking to the gym, walking to your house, or just driving a car, feeling as a champion, knowing that you’re the world champion out there, knowing that you carry that belt, you feel proud of yourself for accomplishing something that you dreamed of.

“Ever since I was a little kid, ever since I was 8 years old, I dreamed of being a champion and for a time I was a champion, and I love that feeling. So I know what that feels like. I know what it feels like to lose a championship, so I don’t want to ever feel that again.”

Wilson, 27, who has been training in Las Vegas for the fight against Valdez, is No 2. with the WBO world governing body and in his last fight floored Navarrete in Round 4, before getting stopped by the champion in the ninth round of a thrilling fight. Wilson felt Navarrete was given a longer count than he should have been, allowing him to recover.

“I’m disappointed, but I knocked him down in the fourth round, and I believe the count was a bit longer,” Wilson said after that fight. “I thought I won the fight in that sense because I think it was about a 20-second count. I’ll be back. Make no mistake about it.”

But Valdez said that their fights against Navarrete are irrelevant to compare, and added he’s fixed the mistakes he made in that fight.

“I was a bit disappointed with my performance against Navarette. He’s an awkward fighter, a volume puncher. … I made a few mistakes and I would change a few things looking back, but you learn from your mistakes.”

And while bigger and better things are in store for Valdez if he wins, he said he’s prepared for Wilson’s style, including his reach and power.

“I have nothing but respect for Liam Wilson,” Valdez told ESPN. “He’s a legitimate fighter, he has a lot of heart and he has that long reach advantage. He had Navarrete hurt and he’s a dangerous fighter. I think Wilson will turn it into a brawl and I will love that, let’s have an old school brawl.

And for Valdez to be considered among the best Mexican boxers, he cannot afford to be on the losing side of that brawl against Wilson on Friday.



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