Photo: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Oscar Valdez made the leap from prospect to contender, and served notice to the featherweight division that he is a force to be reckoned with, by dominating and knocking out former title holder Evgeny Gradovich in the fourth round of a scheduled 10-rounder. Valdez, a 2008 and 2012 Olympian for Mexico, was in control from the opening bell, circling and controlling the distance as Gradovich – who, admittedly, has looked something of a spent force of late – chuntered forward ineffectually. While the “Mexican Russian” was arguably doing more work, constantly advancing and pumping out punches, the Mexican Mexican was doing by far the more effective work.
A nice Valdez combination to the head and body in the second round stiffened Gradovich (21-2-1, 9 KOs), and by the end of that round he had a bad cut by the right eye. Valdez (19-0, 17 KOs) was happy to circle and look for an opportunity, and when he saw one, dig his feet into the canvas and let fly with hard combinations.
The end came suddenly: Valdez, retreating strategically as Gradovich came forward, landed a short right and then a crunching left hook that caused Gradovich to crumble to the canvas. Gradovich beat the count, but referee Russell Mora looked into his eyes and decided he had taken enough punishment. Official time was 2:14 of the fourth round.
After HBO’s Max Kellerman suggested that he had turned in his best performance as a professional against his best opponent as a professional, Valdez said that, “I said at the beginning when I turned pro, that I wouldn’t get the toughest fights at the beginning, but that as I started to get tougher opposition, that I would have to evolve, and I think I’ve evolved since I turned professional. I think I’ve earned my spot to challenge for a world title.”