Oscar Valdez played a dual role over the last seven rounds of his WBO featherweight title defense against Scott Quigg on March 10, 2018, at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
It was about all Valdez could do to handle Quigg, a former super bantamweight world champion who fought with courage and desperation throughout the bout.
Considered one of boxing’s rising stars, Valdez looked good over the first four rounds. He’d rake Quigg with combinations, though they weren’t having a discernible impact and certainly didn’t slow Quigg’s attack. Quigg had a sizable weight advantage in the ring after missing weight the day before, and was giving as good as he got.
An overhand right by Quigg in the fifth round landed squarely on Valdez’s jaw. That single punch not only changed the way Valdez had to fight that night, it had the larger impact of changing his career.
Valdez felt that overhand right, perhaps more than anything else Quigg had landed up to that point.
“The pain was horrible,” Valdez says now.
The punch broke Valdez’s jaw, and while the immediate question he had to confront was whether to take the safe option, prevent any further or more serious damage and surrender his title by quitting, or whether to fight through the pain.
The answer was a no-brainer.
“Not for a second,” Valdez said when asked if he’d ever seriously considered quitting.
The punch that landed — clean, hard and directly on the target — was symptomatic of a larger issue that those around Valdez had become concerned about to the point they began to consider a change in trainers.
Manny Robles had developed Valdez, a 2012 Mexican Olympian, into not only a world champion but one of the game’s more exciting young fighters. Fans love to hail an offensive talent as the next Arturo Gatti, but they’re often oblivious to the damage taking so many punches does to the fighter and how it makes winning more difficult.
Valdez’s father, Oscar Sr., manager Frank Espinoza Sr. and Top Rank officials preferred a change in approach.
And so, as he prepares to return for the first time since his injury when he defends his belt on Saturday on ESPN in Frisco, Texas, against 2016 Italian Olympian Carmine Tommasone, Valdez will have a new voice in the corner.
He hired Eddy Reynoso, Canelo Alvarez’s long-time trainer, to improve his approach.
“I don’t want to be a guy who, the fans are booing when I’m in there fighting,” Valdez said. “That’s just not who I want to be. But in talking with Eddy, he made it clear that I didn’t have to be one or the other. You can still make good fights and be a guy people want to see while learning some defense.”
The transformation actually started during the Quigg fight, as Valdez walked to his corner after breaking his jaw in the fifth.
He couldn’t just allow Quigg to hammer away at him given the injury he’d suffered, but he wouldn’t for a minute consider quitting.
“I changed my plan way different [after breaking my jaw] because not only was I fighting my opponent, I was fighting against the referee, the doctor and the judges. I was trying to hide the injury. I didn’t want them to know and have the referee come over and say, ‘OK, this is enough, I’m going to stop this.’ So I had to hide it and I had to change my game plan.
“I think I did a great job hiding it, because neither referee, the doctor or my opponent found out my jaw was broken. I think I did a great job with that.”
It was only after Valdez had taken a wide unanimous decision, by scores of 117-111 twice and 118-110, that he revealed the injury.
But he showed over those final seven rounds the ability to adapt, and to fight smart. Those are some of the tenets of Reynoso’s system, and so when the switch from Robles to Reynoso became official, Valdez was comfortable even though he admits it will take a while to be the fighter Reynoso wants.
He’s doing a lot of drilling on specific moves, far more than he ever had, and is trying to be diligent in absorbing his new coach’s teachings. But he knows that when the adrenaline is pumping and the crowd is roaring, he could revert to instinct and fight the way he knows best.
“I’m definitely not going to stand here and tell you that I’ll learn it all in one camp,” Valdez said. “But we’ve had a good camp together and I can see a difference. This is a process, and it’s going to be learning, learning, learning until I have it where it’s second nature to me.”
But he’ll never forget that night against Quigg. It was the kind of fight that makes the StubHub Center one of the most legendary boxing venues, a place where so many jaw-dropping bouts have taken place over the last two decades.
Despite a persistent rain, the crowd was loving what it saw.
“It was definitely a lot of fun that fight and to hear the crowd going crazy, I mean, how can you not love that?” he said. “It was outdoors and it was raining, and so not as many people went because of the weather, but the people who were there, they were super excited and I could hear every single one of them.
“It was a back-and-forth fight and it was a bloody fight. I broke his nose. He broke my jaw. It was a great atmosphere and this may sound crazy to someone who is not a boxer, but it really was fun. I loved it, man. It was awesome.”
Valdez, and his father and his manager and his promoter and anyone who cares about him will tell you this fight will be more awesome, though, if he wins and doesn’t take as much physical abuse. That’s Reynoso’s task and Valdez is aware of it.
“It’s going to be a slightly different version of me, but it’s still going to be me up in there,” Valdez said. “We’ve worked a lot on our defense and I’m feeling like a more complete fighter. I’m just trying to be a lot smarter with how I approach things now.”
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