By Robert Aaron Contreras
Top Rank was back on ESPN, pitting two sound technicians against unshakable opponents at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada. In both affairs, the A-side pulled out a victory but nuanced as the fight game is, not every unanimous decision is made equally.
Oscar Valdez (26-0, 20 KO) def. Jason Sanchez (14-1, 7 KO) by unanimous decision
Featherweight champion Valdez retained his WBO belt over a hardened challenger in Sanchez, marking six consecutive title defenses. The Mexican-bred former Olympian floored Sanchez in the fifth round, and battered his face with left hooks and overhand rights into the final round.
Valdez, fighting for the second time under Eddy Reynoso, had to plug away at Sanchez for 12 full rounds. The young challenger dished it back, throwing almost twice as many punches, but landed at a drastically lower clip as Valdez bludgeoned and bloodied the right side of Valdez’s face, winning 118-109, 117-110 and 117-110 to lay the groundwork for a possible move to the junior lightweight division.
“I feel like I am improving with Eddy [Reynoso],” the Valdez told Bernardo Osuna in the ring post-fight. “I want to listen to my body, sometimes I feel like I get tired in there. I feel like it’s because of the weight loss. I am hoping for another fight at 126. But I’m not 100 percent… or go up to 130. We’ll talk about it as a team. I’m willing to fight anybody, to be honest—130 or 126, let’s do it.”
Valdez, 28, set the tone early in Round 1. He stayed tight behind his gloves as Sanchez hurled haymakers into him. The dance continued in the second period: Sanchez’s fists oscillating at an incredible pace, but Valdez, crouching and timing his man, curling right hands around Sanchez’s loose defense.
Sanchez, 24, kept up the output, never wavering. Overhand rights were connecting over the next two rounds. Some audible. But behind bolting jabs, Valdez would remind him who had the belt. Valdez was still being outworked but when he opened up for punches, Valdez was visibly shaken up.
Just seconds into Round 5, a left hook finally clipped Sanchez and put him on the seat of his trunks. When the action resumed, more counter left hooks crashed into the younger man.
Sanchez continued to give everything he had in the sixth period, his grunting coinciding with every punch he threw. By the seventh stanza overhand rights from Valdez had drawn blood from Sanchez’s nose. The challenger again dug deep and charged into Valdez, hoping to ruffle his composure.
Valdez though was back to slamming left hooks into his opponent’s face in the eighth round—blood now pouring over Sanchez’s mouth.
Amazingly, Sanchez wasn’t just still standing by the end of Round 9, but had shoved Valdez into the ropes. The Mexican champion seemed to take fleeting moments off as he calmly deflected his man’s wave of punches—more concerned with avoiding a dustup than finishing Sanchez for good.
In the tenth, Sanchez was sapped of energy. But not mettle. Over and over, Valdez teed off: jab, right hand, left hook—ever committed to his gameplan.
More overhand rights earned Valdez the penultimate round. The right side of Sanchez’s face was a mess, his only goal was staying upright until the final, forgiving bell. And the champion didn’t make that easy for him, prolonging the onslaught in the final round, perhaps most punishing of all.
Sanchez, surviving the sport at its highest level, would hear the scorecards, widely in favor of Valdez. The CompuBox numbers reflected as much.
Valdez landed 195 of 509 total punches (38 percent) and 113 of 262 power shots (43 percent) while Sanchez connected on 107 of 869 total punches (12 percent) and 91 of 500 power punches (18 percent).
Already two wins on the year, Valdez is well ahead of his pace last year, when he only competed once. And still on the right side of 30, a move to 130 pounds makes a lot of sense considering Top Rank represents two of the division’s champions, Miguel Berchelt and Jamel Herring.
Gabriel Flores Jr. (14-0, 6 KO) def. Salvador Briceno (15-4, 9 KO) by unanimous decision
Graduating to the eight-round distance, Flores Jr. bided his time outworking Briceno, who made his way from Mexico. The 19-year-old lightweight wunderkind was equipped with a sharp jab and a sweeping left hook, picking apart his opponent to the tune of an unanimous decision verdict.
“We’re happy,” Flores summed up his performance after the fight. “My jab was nice—I should’ve thrown it more. But there’s always something to do better.”
His offense was clean, and combination punching hardly missed its mark, but his relying on singular punching allowed Briceno to pick up a couple rounds on the scorecards through the middle stages.
After a timid start from both men in the opening round, Flores began beating Briceno to the punch, jabbing low and immediately following it upstairs. It was easy to recognize a speed advantage for the teenager and he took the first three minutes with more crisp jabs and lead left hooks.
In Round 2, Briceno took the center of the ring—he would hold it the rest of the way. Flores was happy to step in with double jabs and leaping left hooks. And the third round saw him parry body blows with one hand and simultaneously fire back straight punches with the other.
The third and fourth stanzas made it clear Flores had his mind on testing himself over the distance. He was patient, too patient, but landed at will. Briceno took advantage of the lack of urgency over the next two rounds, following his younger counterpart around. The visiting Mexican shoveled punches at Flores, hardly landing anything with upshot but showing off for the judges.
Flores relied on more singular punching over the final three rounds. He was far and away the stronger fighter and still had plenty of zip to his punches in Round 8, where Briceno followed him around as Flores sat on right and left hooks. An occasional three punch combo gave promise to the California prospect’s future.
In the last 50 seconds, Briceno with nothing to lose hurried his pace, closing the fight by spamming straight right hands, but Flores had a left hook for him anytime the Mexican leaned over.
When asked what his next step was, Flores was to the point: “Fight again. Over the next two, three months. I feel great. I hardly got touched.”