Notebook: Valdez faces Lopez in rematch with title shot on line
Charlo given defense deadline; Nevada commission extends Puello's suspension; Diaz, Golden Boy sign new deal; Quick hits; Show & tell
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Oscar Valdez has won featherweight and junior lightweight world titles and is one win away from getting another chance to fight for a junior lightweight belt.
Standing in his way is Adam Lopez, an opponent he knows well after Lopez dropped him and gave him a tough fight when they fought more than three years ago on short notice.
This time they have both had plenty of time to prepare for their 10-round rematch that will serve as the co-feature of the Devin Haney-Vasiliy Lomachenko undisputed lightweight title fight on Saturday (ESPN+ PPV, 10 p.m. ET, $59.99) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
A win will catapult Valdez into a shot at WBO 130-pound titlist and Mexican countryman Emanuel Navarrete (37-1, 31 KOs) this summer in what most would peg as a can’t-miss action fight.
But Valdez has stayed focused on Lopez and for good reason. When Valdez moved up to 130 pounds and made his debut in the division in November 2019, Lopez (16-4, 6 KOs), 27, of Glendale, California, knocked him down in the second round before Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs), 32, rebounded to stop him in the seventh round of a competitive fight.
Lopez took the fight on one day’s notice and moved up from the undercard when Valdez’s original opponent, Andres Gutierrez, missed weight by an outrageous 11 pounds.
Valdez enters the rematch coming off his first defeat, a lopsided decision to Shakur Stevenson in a junior lightweight unification fight 13 months ago, also at the MGM Grand.
Valdez’s layoff was caused by injury. He and Navarrete were due to fight for the vacant WBO title on Feb. 3, but Valdez withdrew due to a back/rib injury. Navarrete stopped replacement Liam Wilson in the ninth round of a rousing battle to claim the belt with Valdez watching at ringside knowing he would get the first crack as long as he won his return bout.
“I’m excited because it’s been one year since my last fight. I’m coming off a loss, so I’m motivated,” Valdez said this week. “It doesn’t matter if you lose. What matters is how you come back. I’m going to come back and make a statement.”
He had no problem squaring off again with Lopez either.
“This is the perfect time for the rematch,” said Valdez, who shares trainer Eddy Reynoso with Canelo Alvarez. “This is what I love to do. I love being in the gym. I love training. I love fighting. You’re going to see something different Saturday night.”
Lopez is coming off a wide 10-round decision loss to Abraham Nova on Jan. 14.
“I’m surprised this rematch is happening,” Lopez said. “Oscar said he’d give me the rematch after our first fight. But it never happened. We went our separate ways. But it’s coming back full circle. I think it’s great that it’s happening on this card. It’s a huge fight. People wanted to see it. I’m excited for it.
“I’m a different fighter now. He fought me when I was 23 years old with 15 fights. I’m 27 now with 21 fights (including one no contest). I’ve been in there with some of the best since the fight with him. I’ve taken some losses, but I have learned from them. I’ve always taken tough fights. I’m at my best. It’s a different story this time. If he thinks this is a tune-up fight, then he’s going to have a long night.”
10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV ($59.99)
Lightweights: Devin Haney (29-0, 15 KOs) vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko (17-2, 11 KOs), 12 rounds, for Haney’s undisputed title
Junior lightweights: Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs) vs. Adam Lopez, 10 rounds
Lightweights: Raymond Muratalla vs. Jeremia Nakathila (23-2, 19 KOs), 10 rounds
8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN+
Junior bantamweights: Andrew Moloney (25-2, 16 KOs) vs. Junto Nakatani (24-0, 18 KOs), 12 rounds, for vacant WBO title
Middleweights: Nico Ali Walsh (8-0, 5 KOs) vs. Danny Rosenberger (13-9-4, 4 KOs), 8 rounds
6 p.m. ET on ESPN+
Lightweights: Emiliano Vargas (4-0, 3 KOs) vs. Rafael Jasso (3-0, 1 KO), 4 rounds
Lightweights: Abdullah Mason (7-0, 6 KOs) vs. Desmond Lyons (8-2, 2 KOs), 6 rounds
Junior featherweights: Floyd Diaz (8-0, 3 KOs) vs. Fernando Saavedra (9-8, 3 KOs), 8 rounds
Middleweights: Amari Jones (8-0, 7 KOs) vs. Panchino Hill (8-2-1, 6 KOs), 6 rounds
Puello’s PED suspension extended
In a formality on Wednesday at its monthly meeting in Las Vegas, the Nevada State Athletic Commission voted 5-0 to extend the temporary suspension issued to former WBA junior welterweight titlist Alberto Puello.
Puello tested positive for the banned performance-enhancing drug clomiphene in a sample provided to the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association on April 5. When the results came back positive on April 19, Puello was dropped from what was to have been his first title defense against Rolando Romero this past Saturday in a Showtime main event at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and temporarily suspended by the commission.
Last week, the WBA stripped Puello of the 140-pound belt and named him a “champion in recess” while his case was dealt with by the commission. The WBA also sanctioned Romero against Ismael Barroso, the mandatory challenger, for the vacant title. Barroso, who was already scheduled to box on the undercard, suffered an extremely controversial ninth-round stoppage against Romero.
Puello’s full case is expected to be heard at the commission’s next meeting, which is likely to take place June 20.
Puello (21-0, 10 KOs), 28, a southpaw from the Dominican Republic, won the vacant belt by split decision against Batyr Akhmedov last August, also on Showtime.
The WBO on Tuesday issued a deadline by which undisputed junior middleweight champion Jermell Charlo must face overdue mandatory challenger Tim Tszyu, pending a Tszyu win over Carlos Ocampo in defense of the interim belt on June 17 (Showtime, June 18 in Australia) at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in Broadbeach, Australia, Tszyu’s home country.
According to the WBO resolution on the matter, Charlo-Tszyu must take place “no later than” Sept. 30 with no intervening bouts permitted.
“The winner must be available, ready, willing, and able to face in his next bout the WBO junior middleweight champion within the above referenced period,” the WBO wrote.
The Tszyu camp was pleased to have clarity.
“It’s massive. It’s the news we’ve been waiting on but again highlights just how big a risk Tim’s fight next month on the Gold Coast is,” said Tszyu promoter George Rose of No Limit Boxing. “If Tim’s loses, it’s over. No Charlo, no undisputed, no nothing.
“After all the waiting and uncertainty, it’s crazy to think it’s Jermell Charlo who has the advantage. He’s prepping now and doesn’t have a world-class, tough Mexican in Carlos Ocampo trying to take everything away from him. (Tszyu-Ocampo) has just become a whole lot bigger. The stakes couldn’t be higher. (Tszyu’s) shot at undisputed depends on it.”
Tszyu (22-0, 16 KOs), 28, was supposed to challenge Charlo for the undisputed 154-pound crown on Jan. 28 in Las Vegas but Charlo fractured his left hand in two places during training, forcing him to postpone the fight.
That paved the way for Tszyu to knock out former titlist Tony Harrison in the ninth round to win the vacant interim belt on March 12 in Sydney with the hope of the Charlo bout taking place in June. But with Charlo still not ready, Tszyu was scheduled to stay busy against Ocampo (34-2, 22 KOs), 27, of Mexico.
Golden Boy re-signs ‘JoJo’ Diaz
Golden Boy announced on Wednesday that it has re-signed lightweight Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr., a former junior lightweight titlist and 2012 U.S. Olympian.
Golden Boy president Eric Gomez told Fight Freaks Unite that the company signed Diaz to a multi-year deal and that he probably would have his first bout of the new contract on the undercard of the highly anticipated fight between WBA “regular” welterweight titlist Eimantas Stanionis and mandatory challenger Vergil Ortiz Jr. on July 8 (DAZN) at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
“He’s been with us since Day 1 and we still feel he has a lot of fight in him,” Gomez said. “His losses have been to top guys, he’s a former world champion and we still have a lot of belief in him. He grew up with us and he’s part of our Golden Boy family.”
Diaz said he also felt like Golden Boy was family to him.
“From start to finish, my legacy will be with Golden Boy,” Diaz said. “That’s loyalty. I’m honored and thankful.”
Diaz, who has had legal issues outside the ring, also has been on a slide inside the ring having lost his past three fights. He lost a unanimous decision challenging Devin Haney for the WBC lightweight title in December 2021 followed by a lopsided decision to William Zepeda and, most recently, a very surprising split decision verdict to former title challenger Mercito Gesta on March 18.
Diaz (32-4-1, 15 KOs), 31, a southpaw from South El Monte, California, won the IBF junior lightweight title by upset decision over Tevin Farmer in 2020 but never defended it. For his first defense against Shavkat Rakhimov in February 2021, Diaz was 3.5 pounds overweight and stripped of the belt. The fight went on and resulted in a majority draw with the belt remaining vacant. Diaz then officially moved up to lightweight.
Rafael joins Mannix
I was pleased to accept an invite from my longtime pal Chris Mannix, the DAZN commentator and Sports Illustrated writer, to be a guest on his podcast his week. We discussed the historically bad stoppage in last week’s Rolly Romero-Ismael Barroso fight, previewed Katie Taylor-Chantelle Cameron and Devin Haney-Vasiliy Lomachenko and touched on some other topics. Give it a listen here:
DAZN continues to make deals to carry boxing events from promoters others than Matchroom Boxing and Golden Boy, the two companies it has exclusive deals with. Wasserman Boxing and DAZN announced Wednesday that they have partnered on a June 24 card that will be headlined by junior middleweight Josh Kelly (13-1-1, 7 KOs), 29, a 2016 British Olympian, defending a regional title versus Gabriel Corzo (18-0, 3 KOs), 27, of Argentina, at Vertu Motors Arena in Newcastle, England. British heavyweight Nathan Gorman (19-2, 13 KOs), 26, will appear on the undercard. “I’m thrilled to be teaming up with DAZN and fully intend on producing a stellar performance that will be seen around the world on their platform,” Kelly said. DAZN’s Joe Markowski added: “We look forward to following Josh Kelly every step of the way on his road to a world title shot.”
Daniel Dubois, the WBA “regular” heavyweight titlist, has split from trainer Shane McGuigan after two years together and teamed with Don Charles, according to multiple reports in Dubois’ home country of England. The reports said that lightweight Caroline Dubois, Daniel’s younger sister, 2020 Olympian and promising prospect, will continue to be trained by McGuigan. Daniel Dubois (19-1, 18 KOs), 25, who is coming off a knee injury, made the change just when a purse bid was scheduled this week for May 25 in Houston for his mandatory bout with three-belt unified titlist Oleksandr Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs).
Junior middleweight contender Charles Conwell (18-0, 13 KOs), 25, a 2016 U.S. Olympian from Cleveland, has signed with manager Wise Owl Boxing manager Mark Habibi after splitting from David McWater, who signed him out of the amateurs. Conwell, who is promoted by Lou DiBella, is coming off his most notable win in November, when he outpointed Juan Carlos Abreu in a 10-rounder on the Regis Prograis-Jose Zepeda PPV card. DiBella said he has petitioned the WBC seeking to have the organization order interim titlist Brian Mendoza to make a mandatory defense against Conwell.
The Boxxer card headlined by hot British junior welterweight prospect Adam Azim (8-0, 6 KOs), 21, against Ukraine’s Aram Fanyan (22-1, 4 KOs), 26, has been moved from June 10 to June 16 (Sky Sports in the U.K.), still at London’s York Hall, Boxxer announced. Boxxer said one of the reasons for the date change was to avoid going against the Champions League final.
Show and tell
The late Hall of Famer Arturo Gatti, my all-time favorite fighter, was a stalwart of HBO’s boxing franchise for years, having engaged in several action-packed battles even before his all-time legendary trilogy with Micky Ward. Two fights after Gatti was stopped by the much bigger Oscar De La Hoya, and in the fight after Ward lost a split technical decision to James Leija, Gatti and Ward were matched in a 10-round junior welterweight fight in a one-bout “Boxing After Dark” telecast. Expectations for an action fight were high, but few expected it to be one of the best fights in boxing history. Gatti was penalized one point in the fourth round for a low blow by referee Frank Cappuccino and then got knocked down in the ninth round with a hellacious body shot he incredibly survived in one of the greatest rounds in the history of gloved prize fighting. The level of drama and unrelenting action in the fight was off the charts. It was an instant classic, which Ward won by majority decision — 95-93, 94-93 and 94-94 — in a mild upset. Had Ward not won it is unlikely there would have been two more chapters of a rivalry that began with the fighters not knowing each other and ended with them becoming best friends.
I was working for USA Today when the first fight happened and was scheduled to travel to the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, to cover it. However, a day or two before I was supposed to leave I came down with flu-like symptoms and was out of commission. I was really disappointed to miss the fight, which I watched live curled up in a ball on a bed in the guest room of my old townhouse with a fever and a cold towel on my head. I did cover the second and third fights at ringside, but it still depresses me that I missed the first fight. That unforgettable battle took place on May 18, 2002 — 21 years ago on Thursday. The casino made only a few site posters to hang around the property during fight week and they are extraordinarily rare. I have two of them, an unsigned one and this one that is signed in gold ink by both fighters. It is one the centerpieces of my poster collection that numbers more than 5,000.
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Photos: Valdez-Lopez: Mikey Williams/Top Rank; Puello-Akhmedov: Esther Lin/Showtime; Tszyu/No Limit Boxing; Diaz Jr.: Cris Esqueda/Golden Boy
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