Catch & Counter with Caryn: Miguel Berchelt vs. Oscar Valdez
By Caryn A. Tate on February 19, 2021
It’s a highly anticipated bout, coming at a particularly opportune time for boxing fans.
On Saturday in Las Vegas, WBC world super featherweight champion Miguel Berchelt (37-1, 33 KOs) defends his title versus former featherweight world title holder Oscar Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs) in a 12-round main event live on ESPN.
It’s a highly anticipated bout, coming at a particularly opportune time for boxing fans—there has been a lull in the sport in recent months as far as high profile fights go.
Here, I’ll break down how the fighters practice their craft in the ring and how things might go when they go head to head on Saturday.
Berchelt, a four-year champion, is best known amongst boxing fans for his punching power. He does have a lot of obvious-to-the-eye power, and he gets a lot of knockouts. But what is really impressive about Berchelt are the skills he utilizes to deliver that power.
In late 2019, Berchelt showed against Jason Sosa that he can box off the back foot. Sosa came forward that night, with a good gameplan to try to pressure the “knockout guy,” back him up, and make him uncomfortable. It often works against big punchers. But it didn’t with Berchelt. The reason was Berchelt is just as comfortable boxing going backward as he is barreling in on someone. He also has very good footwork and positioning, remaining balanced as he moves and at a good angle for his own shots while maximizing his defense.
In the second round against Sosa, Berchelt also showed his ring intelligence and timing when he boxed going backward as Sosa came forward; Sosa turned, and Berchelt immediately let his hands go with a combination, catching Sosa unawares and off balance. Sosa went down, and nothing was the same after that. Berchelt landed more and more shots and it was clear they bothered Sosa. By the end of the same round, Sosa’s hand speed was drastically slower thanks to Berchelt’s dedicated body work. The fight ended up being stopped in the fourth round.
Power punchers often become too dependent on their power and either stop working on their boxing fundamentals or never worked on them to begin with—they think their power will always come through for them. That’s why you often see talented boxers beating knockout punchers by simply boxing and moving (hence the old adage “the boxer usually beats the puncher”). Berchelt has shown in recent fights that he hasn’t allowed himself to let his boxing skills deteriorate. That alone could extend his boxing career in the long haul, and that’s what will really make him difficult to beat.
Valdez is undefeated and carries quite a bit of power himself. He has solid fundamentals overall, but his defense has gotten him into some trouble in the past: against Scott Quigg, the bout turned into a brawl. Valdez won by unanimous decision, but he ended up with a broken jaw.
Since then, Valdez has been working with coach Eddy Reynoso, who is partially known for the excellent work he’s done with Canelo Alvarez (specifically Canelo’s superior defense). In Valdez’s last few fights, he’s less inclined to brawl which is good news for him; but now and then he seems to get pulled into fighting his opponent’s fight, in what I suspect is thanks to his temperament. Some people are just more inclined to react to adversity with offense; these people tend to need more help and training to change their habits to use their head more in the ring instead of relying on instinct.
For instance, when Valdez faced the prospect Adam Lopez in late 2019, Valdez was dropped in the second round by a precise combination from Lopez. It appeared Valdez just didn’t see the shot coming, and he was caught off balance with the right shot. Lopez is a good fighter, and the bout ended up turning into something of a war despite the fact that Valdez is a former world champion and perhaps should have been able to simply outbox Lopez. Again, it could be the temperament issue rearing its head.
It’s hard to say for sure, though. Now that Valdez is facing a truly top level opponent in Berchelt, we’ll be able to see if he’s able to sustain the boxing and tighter defense that Eddy Reynoso is no doubt focusing on with his charge.
Berchelt’s volume is going to be extremely difficult for Valdez to deal with, particularly combined with his other strong fundamentals. In order to win against Berchelt, Valdez is most likely going to need to be willing to throw with him—that’s a tough ask for any fighter when facing a volume puncher, but particularly when that volume guy is heavy-handed like Berchelt.
If Valdez can put the defensive skills and awareness that Reynoso teaches into play, he may be able to slip enough of Berchelt’s shots to land his own and hurt Berchelt to keep him honest. If that happens, Valdez definitely has a shot to win.
I expect an entertaining fight with lots of action, and Valdez will have his moments. But Berchelt will likely begin outlanding Valdez after a round or two, and at that point Valdez may begin fighting on instinct and stop thinking as much. If that occurs, the ball will definitely be in Berchelt’s court—it would be just the kind of fight he likes.
Due to all of these factors as well as the wear and tear Valdez has endured in recent years, I expect Berchelt will win a competitive, high-action fight by late-round stoppage or perhaps by unanimous decision.