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.
Oscar Valdez Knocks Out Miguel Berchelt
By Caryn A. Tate on February 20, 2021
Valdez showed a whole other layer of his skills. (Mikey Willams/Top Rank/Getty Images)
On Saturday from “The Bubble” in Las Vegas, and televised live on ESPN, Miguel Berchelt (37-2, 33 KOs) defended his WBC world super featherweight title for the 7th time versus former featherweight world title holder Oscar Valdez (29-0, 23 KOs). Going in, Berchelt was the heavy favorite; as I detailed in my preview of the bout, Berchelt has proven himself to be a well-rounded boxer—more than just a big puncher—while Valdez has had inconsistent showings.
In the early rounds, Berchelt was somewhat tentative as he got a look at Valdez. Valdez utilized the jab well and just let his hands go, a critical move against a volume puncher like Berchelt. He gave Berchelt a lot of looks: Valdez feinted frequently and just moved a lot and changed up his timing. Berchelt is one of those fighters who is well-rounded, so to effectively beat him you have to really show him a wide variety of looks to keep him from drawing a bead on you, and that’s just what Valdez did.
Valdez showed a whole other layer of his skills tonight. He boxed beautifully, utilizing angles, feints, showing different looks, and showing incredible intelligence in the ring. His footwork was tremendous and fluid, and he consistently turned Berchelt, keeping him from getting a foothold and getting comfortable.
In the fourth, Valdez caught Berchelt was a few sharp, clean left hooks upstairs that wobbled Berchelt’s legs visibly. Berchelt showed a lot of heart, doing everything he could to stay on his feet, and stay there he did for longer than most probably would have been able to. But eventually his legs just couldn’t hold him up anymore and he fell back against the ropes. Referee Russell Mora correctly called it a knockdown, as the ropes held Berchelt up. The action continued, with Valdez delivering an onslaught of punches. It looked dire for Berchelt, but he made it through the round.
In five, Berchelt’s legs were still wobbly and he seemed out on his feet. But Valdez now appeared a little tired, perhaps having punched himself out, and he wasn’t able to follow up on his work from the prior round.
In the 6th Berchelt began to come on. He seemed to have gained confidence from the knowledge that Valdez had caught him with his best shots and he was still here. He began to utilize his volume, deciding to just let his hands go—he seemed to know if he didn’t, he would likely lose this fight and his belt. It was the first round I scored for the champion.
Between rounds 6 and 7, coach Eddy Reynoso reminded his fighter Valdez to go back to the left hook upstairs.
During round 7, Berchelt continued utilizing his volume to good effect. Valdez was holding on, tired, at different points throughout. At the end of the round Valdez rallied and hurt Berchelt a bit again, but at least on my card, it wasn’t enough to score the round for Valdez. One had to wonder if Valdez had done his best work; would he be able to sustain it for five more rounds?
In the 8th, Valdez switched to southpaw for quite a while and utilized it very well. He used his smaller size to his advantage, crouching low and pawing with the jab to perplex Berchelt. Berchelt wasn’t able to land much clean on him.
Valdez was explosive in the 9th; he landed a right hand-left hook combination upstairs on Berchelt that dropped the champion again. Berchelt made the count, but he was clearly hurt. He used his legs and moved around the ring, trying to avoid Valdez’s punches, but thanks to Valdez’s great feet, he wasn’t able to stay away for long. Valdez pounced on him again, but Berchelt made it through the round.
In 10, Valdez fought going backward as Berchelt barreled in; Valdez slipped a left hand from Berchelt and let his own left hook go. It landed square in Berchelt’s face and he never saw it coming. He was out cold, falling forward face-first.
It was a scary knockout. Thankfully, Berchelt appeared to be all right during the time of the broadcast; he got to his feet and was speaking with Valdez the last we saw of him on camera.
Valdez proved nearly everyone wrong tonight. He showed another level of boxing ability that we haven’t seen from him before. He never lost his composure and never got sloppy or complacent despite his success, and he put on a tremendous, multi-dimensional performance against a longtime, excellent champion in Berchelt.
In the first fight on the ESPN broadcast, lightweights Gabriel Flores Jr. (20-0, 7 KOs) and Jayson Velez (29-8-1, 21 KOs) fought in a 10-rounder. Flores is a skillful 20-year-old, and he started out the fight by frequently moving to his own left, towards Velez’s right hand. Much of the time he got away with it, but Velez is an extremely tricky and difficult fighter and he occasionally timed Flores, landing his right hand upstairs.
But in the 6th, Flores utilized his feet to stay at the best angle for his offense and defense as Velez moved in. Flores timed Velez, catching him with a quick left hook to the temple that immediately took Velez’s legs as he crumpled to the canvas. Velez made the count but his legs were wonky. Referee Tony Weeks allowed him to continue. Velez, to his credit, gave it his all. He let his hands go but his legs just weren’t there, and Flores knew this was his chance. He went after Velez with his feet set, with power shots, and eventually landed another hook that dropped Velez. The referee waved it off. It was just the second time Velez has been stopped; the first time was versus main event fighter Oscar Valdez. It said a lot about Flores that he was able to stop a guy as difficult and durable as Velez.