If history is any indication when two rugged and elite Mexican boxers face off in a career-defining fight, fans should expect Saturday's junior lightweight title bout in Las Vegas to be nothing short of an instant classic. WBC champion Miguel Berchelt (37-1, 33 KOs), currently the longest-reigning titleholder at 130 pounds, will look for the eighth defense of his belt when he takes on former featherweight champion Oscar Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs) inside the Top Rank bubble at the MGM Grand Conference Center (10 p.m. ET on ESPN and streaming on ESPN+).
No stranger to co-authoring a number of fight-of-the-year contenders in the past, including fighting through a broken jaw to outlast Scott Quigg in their 2018 thriller, the 30-year-old Valdez has heard all of the expectations heaped upon this fight by fans and media alike. Given the styles of both and their combined Mexican pedigree, Valdez believes he and Berchelt have all the ingredients to create a truly special night.
"I'm anxious to step into the ring, but I'm very excited because this is the fight of my lifetime," Valdez told "Morning Kombat" on Tuesday. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to take advantage of it and come back home victorious. I'm going to take that belt home back to my family and accomplish my childhood dream. Berchelt is a true champion, but nobody is invincible out there. Nothing is written in life."
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While the result of this weekend's showdown has yet to be determined despite oddsmakers installing the 29-year-old Berchelt and his nearly 6-inch reach advantage as a sizable betting favorite, boxing's contemporary history books are filled with unforgettable images of all-Mexican slugfests which have birthed new generations of fight fans time and again.
Valdez, who was born in the Mexican border town of Nogales and now fights out of southern California, in many ways was the target audience for such fights throughout his youth.
"I'm so excited because I grew up watching wars," Valdez said. "I grew up watching Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales. I grew up watching Israel Vasquez-Rafael Marquez. You had [Orlando] Salido-[Francisco] Vargas, Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios, Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas -- these are all great fights.
"There was something in common in all of them, and that's two Mexican fighters who were willing to leave their all -- their blood, sweat and tears -- inside the ring and do everything to try to win. That's my case. I know Berchelt is not going to let that title belt go easy. I know it's going to be tough, but it's not impossible."
Valdez captured the vacant WBO featherweight title in 2016 by stopping Evgeny Gradovich, and he went on to make seven title defenses before moving up to 130 pounds in 2019. But he's catching Berchelt at a time when the native of Cancun couldn't be any hotter or more established as the class of the division.
Although Valdez has a solid amateur background as a boxer, he has been too in love with his own natural inclinations to brawl time and again. Berchelt, on the other hand, manages the balance between working behind his heavy jab as boxer and knowing when to let it all hang out as good as anyone in the sport.
Berchelt's resume at 130 pounds features victories -- most by stoppage -- over a who's who of action fighters over the past decade including Francisco Vargas (twice), Takashi Miura, Jonathan Barros and Miguel Roman.
"I'm definitely the underdog as far as what's real. I don't know [by] how much and I don't really care, but I love that I am the underdog," Valdez said. "That brings so much motivation to myself. I just want to prove a lot of people wrong. A lot of boxing experts, like my idol, Julio Cesar Chavez, have said that Berchelt is going to win, and that just brings me more motivation. If you are telling me I can't do it, that's just going to bring out more motivation to prove you wrong.
"We always have plans and a strategy, but a lot of times once you get into the ring get hit with a good shot in the face, that strategy goes out the window. You have to brawl it out and see who has the bigger heart inside the ring. That has been the case for a lot of these fights. Of course, with the Scott Quigg fight, I had a game plan, and it was working until he broke my jaw with a right hand and started putting the pressure on me and we had to brawl it out."
This card will also see some of Top Rank's rising young stars return to the ring on Saturday night. Look no further than the co-main event for one of its most promising prospects in Gabriel Flores Jr., who takes on Jayson Velez at junior lightweight. Flores Jr. boasts an undefeated record at 19-0 with six knockout victories to his name. He fought three times in 2020, picking up decision wins in each bout. He hasn't scored a knockout in his last six bouts but continues to dominate mostly overwhelmed competition.
Fight card, odds
Odds via William Hill Sportsbook
- Miguel Berchelt (c) -340 vs. Oscar Valdez +270, WBC junior lightweight title
- Gabriel Flores Jr. -1100 vs. Jayson Velez +700, junior lightweights
Who wins Berchelt vs. Valdez? Visit SportsLine now to see Peter Kahn's best bets for Saturday, all from the fight game manager who is 32-7 on boxing picks since the sport returned, and find out.
There's no other way to say it: this is going to be a war. Although Valdez is often too quick to abandon his game plan and brawl as soon as the action starts to heat up, he has long proven to be a fighter who thrives within chaos. And luring Berchelt into the chaos with him early on just might end up being Valdez's best chance of winning.
The combination of Berchelt's reach advantage and his punishing jab will likely make it difficult for Valdez to win the majority of rounds by boxing. If he can't hurt Berchelt and finds himself chasing for too long, the outcome will likely be the same.
Berchelt has long been comfortable playing the matador to the bull and catching his lesser-skilled opponents coming in by using their desperation against them. That's why it's imperative that Valdez establish his presence early and have some big moments in order to force the champion to adapt.
It's a tightrope walk that won't be easy, which is why the odds are against Valdez as Berchelt is accurate and powerful enough to make him pay for overstepping his boundaries. But it's equally hard to imagine a Valdez fight going any other way because living on the edge is what brings out the best of him.
Expect the fight to come fairly close to living up to its all-action potential, with Valdez playing his part well enough to make it a two-way war. Berchelt's accuracy and poise has routinely been too much for his foes to handle, however, making a stoppage win on cuts a very likely scenario. Pick: Berchelt via TKO10