OSCAR VALDEZ swayed back. He weaved under punches before bursting upwards, uncorking a hellacious left hook. Now a signature shot, it left Miguel Berchelt listing forward, falling headlong into the canvas like a tree ripped out by the roots. It’s a long way till the end of 2021, but it’s hard to imagine a knockout topping that this year.

For Valdez that finishing blow was a moment of release and relief. A ferocious training camp had, due to Covid delays, occupied him for almost the entirety of the past year and the intensity of his concentration remained unbroken throughout their contest. But as soon as that shot left Berchelt undone, Valdez knew it was over. He had won and those tamped down emotions burst out of him. Oscar Valdez bellowed, roaring in delight as Bechelt lay stretched out cold.

“I was celebrating because it was my dream, my long-time dream of being WBC world champion since I was a little kid. I dreamed about these moments. So of course I was very, very happy winning and proving a lot of people wrong,” he told Boxing News. “But at the moment when I realised he wasn’t responding, that got me very worried because I don’t wish him bad. He’s my friend. I want him to go back home to his family. Before the fight I prayed that whatever happens, as far as winning or losing, let us go back home, both of us, to our families safe and sound. So I’m glad he’s okay. I’m positive he will be world champion again, maybe at 135lbs. Because he’s a very good fighter. He’s a hard-hitting fighter. Every time he would hit my hands, where I was blocking the shots, I kept on repeating to myself I cannot get hit by one of his shots. Because if I get hit, it’s going to send me to the canvas and it could end the fight.”

Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez might not have shared a personal hatred but the two had been rivals ever since they contended for a spot on the national amateur team. Just as two brothers fighting can get out of hand, this all-Mexican clash for the WBC super-featherweight crown saw damaging punches flying in, mainly from Valdez, from the very beginning.

“In my mind it was way closer because I was so focused on not making a mistake. I’m very hard on myself as far as doing everything as I should. Once I saw the fight replay, I noticed that the fight was very one-sided,” Valdez said. “Me and Berchelt, we’ve had a rivalry for almost 10 years, as amateurs. It was a grudge maybe but at the same time me and Berchelt are good friends. We know each other. He’s been at my house and I’ve been to his place. We go out to eat together. We pretty much run at the same spot, we’re almost neighbours and I don’t wish him nothing but the best. Even though there was a rivalry, we always had respect for each other and like we said, the moment the fight was signed, we knew the friendship was over right there. But it was going to be back as soon as the fight was over.

“Win or lose, I would have still gone over to him and hugged him.”

Oscar Valdez
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

This result vindicated all Valdez’s efforts in the gym with now wildly successful trainer Eddy Reynoso. “It was an extremely hard workout that we’ve been doing, very focused in the gym,” Oscar said. “I kept on working, training, trying to stay focused. I stayed away from my family, round December, so no birthdays, no Christmas, no New Year’s. It was a lot of sacrifice being without my family, my kids. The most difficult thing is to leave them behind, just to accomplish a dream and just to get a victory to put food on the table. So it’s just a dream come true right now being home and being home as a champion.”

Home is Hermosillo in Mexico, south of bordertown Nogales where he was born. The welcome for his return as a two-weight world champion meant everything to Valdez. “It was something crazy. Every time I have a big accomplishment Nogales and my hometown receive me with open arms. But this time was very crazy. It was literally a parade and it was very hard to go through people because everybody was just going crazy and celebrating with me,” he said.

Valdez spent his formative years as a teenager in Nogales. “Going back to Nogales was one of the best things that happened in my life because you start realising what the struggle is. What the real fight in life is. There’s a lot of poverty. Nogales is very big on gangs, very big on the drug business. A lot of drug lords in Nogales. There are a lot of big cartels. So growing up in that environment made me realise what do I want in life. Do I want to take this route in life or do I want to take that route? And someone who is very important in my life is my father. He also grew up with that and he knows what the results are if you take the wrong path. So that’s why he always took care of me and always gave me the experience to make the right decisions and obviously boxing saved my life. But if I wouldn’t have seen that, if I wouldn’t have grown up with gangs and being surrounded by the cartels and everything that’s bad in Mexico, maybe I wouldn’t be here because I would have taken things for granted. And that’s why I also give back to the community because I try to give people a chance. A chance maybe to do sports, to do boxing, to do something different that’s maybe not the typical lifestyle especially in Nogales where there’s a lot of cartels, gangs, drugs, a lot of negativity. So without a doubt that’s why I always try to inspire kids to do the right thing,” Valdez said.

He is an example. “It definitely did take a lot of hard work. Nothing’s easy in life. You know me and my father have some rough stories, we had it bad. We were homeless for a lot of years. My father was living in the gym, I would live with a couple of my friends back and forth, wouldn’t have a place to stay. Now I’m a world champion. I’m grateful with God for putting my father in my life, putting certain people in my life to help me grow, not only as a fighter but as a person,” Oscar explained. “I’m just grateful that we have a lot of things now and most importantly we have health, we got family. That’s the real fortune in life.”

He can enjoy that for a moment, spend time with his family on his ranch in Hermosillo along with a large collection of animals, that includes an alligator called Steve. “Every since I was a little kid I always admired Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been a fan of animals. Instead of watching cartoons I would watch Discovery channel, Animal Planet, all those channels where they showed nature,” he said. His enthusiasm is such that his diet is now almost entirely plant-based.

Steve is joined by a menagerie of other creatures. “I got goats, I got miniature pigs, I’ve got a horse, I got a pony, I got birds, macaws, snakes, African tortoise, I got an iguana. I got a lot of animals and they all get treated very well back at my home. They’re not to eat, those are animals to enjoy their lives and to enjoy their time with myself,” Oscar explained.

An alligator, which he sometimes takes a dip with, as well as a snake would appear to be something of a risk. “It could be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve had a lot of experience with these animals. I know when to grab him, when to not grab him. I know when they’re okay to be safe and everything. If I didn’t think it was safe, I would not swim with him in a pool. I know what I’m doing in there. Obviously there’s always risks, things happening, not going the same way. But you know what, you only live once. These are things that I like to do and I try to always be cautious, not be scared of them but always show them respect,” he said. “Training camps are very hard for me. I go away from my family and train very hard physically and mentally for over two months and a half or three months, constantly thinking about my opponent, constantly thinking about boxing, trying to learn. So after many years it can get overwhelming. So I thank God for me having this one spot, my ranch, with all my animals, where I can adjust and just not think about boxing, think about something else. Think about nature and the love that I have for all my animals. That’s how we acknowledge this type of lifestyle, being an athlete but at the same time having a life, a personal life.”

Oscar Valdez

While he tunes out the sport in a nature reserve at home, he is still at the top of the boxing world. He can chart his own course and select his next move. But he wants to go straight back into real fights next.

Valdez boxed Vasiliy Lomachenko in the semi-finals of the 2009 amateur World championships in Milan. Valdez would welcome him back down to super-featherweight. “I would love these fights. These are very tough fights but back in the 80s, back in the 90s, fighters fought the best. Win or lose, people loved it. And even though Lomachenko I think is a very tough fighter I still carry that mindset of no one’s invincible. No one is invincible and everyone’s beatable,” he said. “I would also want someone like Gervonta Davis or the winner of Carl Frampton-Jamel Herring.

Carl Frampton, we’ve been wanting to fight him. He’s been wanting to fight me since we were in the featherweight division. I think it would be the perfect fight. I’ve got nothing personal with Carl Frampton, I think he’s a great guy, great human being, showed he’s a class fighter. He always shows respect to every fighter, that’s what I like about him. He’s also a great fighter so if the fans want it, I’ll gladly fight. With his style and my style it would be a great fight for the fans to watch.”

But Shakur Stevenson has got Oscar’s attention. “I was offended when he called me out and said that I’m scared of him or offended when he was putting posts up of things like a chicken or a duck. I’ve been a fighter my whole life, inside the ring and outside the ring. I’m not scared of no fighter, I’m not scared of nothing difficult in life. So for him to call me that and people to actually believe it, was very insulting. So that’s one of the main reasons why I would want this fight. To prove him wrong and prove a lot of doubters wrong,” he warned.

In his last fight Valdez proved others wrong and he proved himself. He would happily do so again.

“It’s an honour for me,” Valdez declared. “It’s an honour for me to represent, represent my country, represent my people, represent a lot of things, represent my last name. It’s an honour for me to be where I’m at right now. That I’m here right now, I have a big responsibility now and that’s to defend my title and to keep on improving and keep on showing and giving my fans what they want, which is good and great fights.”