For 10 rounds, Oscar Valdez was painting a boxing masterpiece Saturday on ESPN. That’s about as far as the painting metaphor goes, though, because it’s not often that Picasso or his ilk probably finish things up with a final stroke that outshines so much else of what had previously visited the canvas.
Or maybe… yes, “canvas,” there is life in this painting metaphor yet. That’s where Valdez put Miguel Berchelt at the close of the 10th — one second before the bell — with an oh-my-god-is-that-dude-alive KO. Berchelt’s whole body went down in sections.
We’ll return to the ending; let’s set up what got Berchelt to that point.
Valdez, in just his third fight as a junior lightweight, was taking on the highly dangerous puncher Miguel Berchelt, #2 in the division according to the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. Both had reps for big offense and leaky defense, so you could imagine how fun this one might be. Given the size and experience difference, Berchelt came in as the betting favorite, although the degree of that softened after it looked to some as though he was weight-drained the day before.
The big mean slugfest didn’t materialize. That doesn’t mean it lacked for excitement or enjoyment.
Valdez, you see, had decided maybe he liked defense after all. Switching to trainer Eddy Reynoso was the clue, even if the expected gains hadn’t materialized in the subsequent three years. Whelp, here they were, suddenly. Valdez was the epitome of “stick and move” through three rounds, and the slow-to-warm Berchelt couldn’t find him as easily as Valdez’s jab found Berchelt’s nose to produce blood.
The 4th was when things got dramatic: A left hook on Berchelt’s temple erased his balance. He spent much of the rest of the round looking like a screwball comedy actor swinging his arms to avoid falling off a cliff. Essentially, he was unconscious. And he was for much of the 5th, too. It felt like maybe somebody should call the fight off; the referee threatened such.
Yet somehow in the 6th, Berchelt snapped to. He was hunting Valdez, hitting him with combinations, forcing Valdez to curtail his own offense. It was the same in the 7th. Perhaps the barnburner would indeed arrive! Would Valdez have the energy to hold off Berchelt’s fearless charges?
Only that was about the end of Berchelt’s run, basically. At the end of the 7th, Valdez surged back a bit, and by the 8th, he unveiled new tricks: switching stances incessantly to flummox Berchelt, landing a shot or two, and ducking out of there as Berchelt tried to return fire.
A little bit of a Floyd Mayweather-Diego Corrales dynamic that was already there began to develop. Mayweather’s mix of offense and defense there against a possibly weight-drained bigger man (see?) was far more graceful than Valdez’s, so, OK, maybe this is an unfair comparison. But like that fight, it was again beginning to look like someone needed to pull the plug for a too-tough Berchelt.
Especially in the 9th, when, after Berchelt waved Valdez in, Valdez obliged with an uppercut/left/right combo that put Berchelt down again.
Which brings us back to that ending. Berchelt, bless his heart, was still moving forward. It would be his undoing. A lunge put him in perfect place for a counter left directly in the chin/mouth area, and after that he was down for a frightening period of time as Valdez danced around the ring in celebration.
So here we have it. There are people who are going to want a date with Valdez, like Shakur Stevenson and Gabriel Flores, Jr., who himself scored an impressive knockout on the undercard. Valdez just announced himself as a force, most forcefully, in the junior lightweight division.
.@oscarvaldez56 HAS DONE IT!!!!!
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) February 21, 2021