- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
LAS VEGAS — Many expected Saturday’s WBC junior lightweight title fight between Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez to be a back-and-forth battle between two Mexican warriors. As it turned out, the violence was mostly one-way traffic.
Valdez (29-0, 23 KOs), a former two-time Olympian, scored a significant upset against Berchelt (38-2, 34 KOs) at the MGM Grand, rocking him with a left hook in the final second of the 10th round in an immediate favorite for knockout of the year.
Valdez, who entered the fight as a plus-240 underdog, claimed Berchelt’s WBC title and earned the greatest win of his professional career.
The stunning walk-off shot might have overshadowed the fact the much smaller Valdez dominated the fight. He scored knockdowns in the fourth and 10th rounds and was well ahead on all three judges’ scorecards at the time of the finish.
Judges had Valdez, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Arizona, ahead by scores of 89-80, 88-81 and 87-82.
Berchelt, whose only other professional loss came via TKO in 2014, remained on his back on the canvas for several minutes but was eventually able to sit and stand with assistance.
The left hook and jab were Valdez’s weapons of choice, as he played a very skillful, vicious matador to Berchelt’s bull-like aggression. He had Berchelt out of sorts from the opening round, as he darted in and out with the jab, then surprised him with the left hook over the top. Berchelt looked as though he wanted to counter with his signature power, but he never looked comfortable with Valdez’s skill and speed.
By the third round, Berchelt was more or less chasing Valdez around the ring. The third round ended with Berchelt running after him and lunging forward with shots.
Although it wasn’t the strategy Berchelt came out with, he did have his moments. He scored with power shots to Valdez’s body, and it looked as if he might be turning the tide in the seventh, as Valdez repeatedly tied him up in clinches to slow the pace.
But in the eighth, Valdez returned to his effective jab work, and he made Berchelt miss along the ropes.
The 10th round was brilliant for Valdez, as he opened up with combinations and had the referee taking a close look at Berchelt. The walk-off left hook proved to be a fitting end.
Valdez outlanded Berchelt 149-99 in total punches and 103-64 in power punches, according to CompuBox.
The victory, which is Valdez’s third consecutive appearance at 130 pounds, could set up a junior lightweight title fight between Valdez and Top Rank’s Shakur Stevenson (15-0, 8 KOs), who was in attendance inside the “bubble” on Saturday and has expressed interest in taking on Valdez. Top Rank president Todd DuBoef said he would love to set up a fight between the two undefeated junior lightweights.
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