Oscar Valdez is in the company of several fight experts who believe the featherweight division is boxing’s best.
Saturday night, inside the same StubHub Center ropes where his Southland neighbors Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares wore their 126-pound world-title belts, Valdez brings his in with an opportunity to further stir the debate over who’s best while hoping the argument can get settled.
Valdez (21-0, 19 knockouts) will defend his World Boxing Organization belt against his mandatory challenger, Colombia’s Miguel Marriaga (25-1, 21 KOs), in the main event of a Top Rank-produced pay-per-view card.
Also featured are Valdez’s Carson-based stablemate and WBO super-bantamweight champion Jessie Magdaleno, WBO super-middleweight champion Gilberto Mendoza and U.S. Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson in his professional debut.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Valdez said. “I’ve been asking for those big fights. They’re here now. People say be careful what you wish for. People might not know Miguel Marriaga because he’s from Colombia, but he’s a tough fighter.”
Marriaga, 30, who’s only lost to former super-featherweight champion Nicholas Walters, is hopeful of generating some of the famed fighting fireworks at StubHub Center that Valdez has watched Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado and Lucas Matthysse and John Molina stage.
“There’s something magical there at StubHub; it always attracts great fights,” Valdez said. “This is my chance. I’ve watched those fights since I was a kid and people around this area are passionate about boxing.”
Valdez has fought at the venue three times, producing two 2013 knockouts and then engaging in some of his own drama in 2015 when Ruben Tamayo dropped him in the first round.
Since then, Valdez has dominated the subsequent 30 rounds, defeating Tamayo by unanimous decision, and is riding a five-fight knockout streak heading into Saturday’s card.
Under trainer-of-the-year contender Manny Robles, Valdez has advanced his power punching and a universal skill set that can now be more fully appreciated beyond undercard bouts distracted by still-arriving fans and beer orders.
“I’ve been waiting for these big fights and the big opportunities,” Valdez said. “Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares are [World Boxing Assn.] champions. I want to make it clear I’m the best at 126. I’m not looking past this fight, but these fights are the ones that not only I want to see, but the fans want to see. … I will fight anybody.”
Valdez is burdened by the difficulty his promoter Bob Arum has in making fights with Santa Cruz and Mares’ manager, Al Haymon, who also has ties to World Boxing Council champion Gary Russel Jr.
But as Arum and Haymon have eased their past friction, former Mexican Olympian Valdez, 26, wants to make himself an undeniable player in the division.
“A lot of people might say my other fights were easy, like knocking out the ‘Mexican Russian,’ [Evgeny Gradovich] in the fourth round. Maybe it was because I trained a little harder, did some more work,” Valdez said.
“I put in the time and know exactly what guys are going to do. We work on footwork, distance, closing the gap, getting hit as less as possible. I would like people to see not just the hard-hitting shots, but my whole technique of boxing.”
Oscar Valdez (21-0, 19 KOs), Lake Elsinore, vs. Miguel Marriaga (25-1, 21 KOs), Colombia, for Valdez’s WBO featherweight belt
When: Saturday, pay-per-view portion begins at 6 p.m.
Where: StubHub Center
Television: Pay-per-view, $44.95
Tickets: $36.70, $52, $77.50, $128.50 at axs.com, StubHub box office
Gilberto Ramirez (34-0, 24 KOs), Mexico, vs. Maxim Bursak (33-4-1, 15 KOs), Ukraine, for Ramirez’s WBO super-middleweight belt; Shakur Stevenson (pro debut), Newark, N.J., vs. Edgar Brito (3-2-1, 2 s), Phoenix, featherweights; Jessie Magdaleno (24-0, 17 KOs), Las Vegas, vs. Adeilson Dos Santos (18-2, 14 KOs), Brazil, for Magdaleno’s WBO super-bantamweight belt.