Oscar Valdez saw that this newspaper ranked him No. 2 behind Japan’s unbeaten super-flyweight world champion Naoya Inoue in a list of the best boxers ages 25 and younger last week.
“I always think I should be No. 1,” said Valdez, 25, the former Olympic boxer from Mexico who now lives and trains in the Southland and possesses the World Boxing Organization featherweight belt.
Valdez (20-0, 18 knockouts) will make the first defense of the belt he won in July with a second-round knockout of Argentina’s Matias Rueda when he returns to the ring Nov. 5 on the Manny Pacquiao-Jessie Vargas pay-per-view undercard at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
His opponent that night will be Japan’s Hiroshige Osawa (30-3-4, 19 KOs), the WBO’s top-ranked challenger, who’s won his last eight bouts by knockout.
Fretting about Osawa’s power punches is as great a concern for Valdez as avoiding the pitfall of contentment after claiming his belt.
“I’m trying to stay with the same mentality I’ve had … to not picture myself as the champion, to think of [Osawa] as having the belt,” Valdez said. “That’s what helps me. The belt’s at risk. That’s what I think about at camp.”
Valdez won the title on the lightly watched Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol pay-per-view card July 23.
By landing on Pacquiao’s return fight from a brief retirement to win a Senate seat in the Philippines, Valdez receives a greater boost of attention that can help his pursuit to become the world’s top featherweight.
Currently, fellow featherweight world champions Carl Frampton, Jesus Cuellar and Gary Russell Jr. fight under the Premier Boxing Champions banner of powerful manager Al Haymon, who hasn’t made a fight with Valdez’s promoter, Bob Arum, since the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Pacquiao fight last year.
“Valdez is a good fighter. He needs to do something to jump on everyone’s radar screen, and then it’s a matter of everyone coming together and getting it done,” PBC spokesman Tim Smith said. “That’s a possibility for him, but he’s got to get himself in that position of visibility, where guys see him and say, ‘Hey, that’s a fight I want.’”
Topping the destruction of Rueda will be difficult, but Valdez said he’s driven by the mentality, “Your next performance has to be better than your last performance. Every fight is more important than the last one.”
Valdez said he hasn’t yet broached the subject with Arum to press for a date with one of the PBC fighters, but said the day is coming soon.
Another possibility is once-beaten, former three-division champion Leo Santa Cruz of Los Angeles, who’s in negotiations for a rematch with Frampton with Dec. 17 in consideration in Las Vegas.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Valdez said. “If they have a belt, I want to fight them. I want the WBA belt, or the WBC belt. I haven’t thought about this since you asked me the question, and right now I’m strictly thinking about [Osawa], but I’d love to fight for those other titles.”