Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Manager Frank Espinoza on Valdez's Victory over Berchelt

Frank Espinoza Jr. has been one of the guiding lights of Oscar Valdez's professional boxing career. Espinoza, along with his father, Frank Sr., has been with Valdez from the beginning. The Espinozas have watched their fighter, a Mexican Olympian, align with Top Rank, win a world title at featherweight and become a fixture on the American boxing scene. 

Yet something wasn't working. A pivotal fight against Scott Quigg in 2018 led to a different trajectory for Valdez's career. Although Valdez won the bout, he suffered  a broken jaw, which led to him being out of the ring for almost a year. The Espinozas along with Oscar's father, Oscar Valdez Sr., knew that something needed to change. 

Oscar's brain trust decided that their best move would be to enlist Eddy Reynoso, Canelo Alvarez's trainer, as their new coach. From the outside, it seemed to be an unusual pairing. Valdez was known as a come-forward slugger while Reynoso often focused on more foundational boxing elements. 

Oscar Valdez, with much to celebrate in his career.
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

The early results of the Valdez/Reynoso partnership didn't win many over. Valdez was dropped by light-hitting Adam Lopez, who was a late replacement and thought to be overmatched in the fight. Oscar also looked caught in between styles against Jayson Velez. Although he won those fights, both performances left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, Valdez pursued a matchup with junior lightweight champion Miguel Berchelt, a knockout artist who was among the top punchers in the sport. 

Valdez entered last month's fight against Berchelt as a significant underdog, but from the opening bell he established himself as the superior boxer and athlete. Scoring three knockdowns in the fight, including a pulverizing left hook to end it in the tenth, Valdez put forward the performance of his career. 

This week I reached out to Frank Jr. for his thoughts on the victory, Valdez's past struggles, his switch to Reynoso and other topics. The interview is below. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.  

Frank, thank you for your time today and congratulations on the victory. I know it must have been a great moment for you and your family. 

Thank you very much. It definitely was an amazing experience. Everything really came together. 

I wanted to start by asking you about Oscar's decision making process after moving up to 130 lbs. Why did Oscar choose to go after Berchelt instead of Jamel Herring, or other fighters who had titles at junior lightweight. 

Well, we certainly had that conversation with Oscar where we presented Herring and Berchelt as possible options. Oscar made it very clear that he wanted to fight Berchelt because Berchelt was considered the best in the division. He wanted to fight someone where if he were to win, he would get that respect, and that’s what he was gunning for. He was 100% sold on it. He felt like he knew that style and how to beat him. After having that conversation, it was pretty much set in stone what direction we would follow. 

What were the feelings of Oscar and the team heading into fight week? 

During fight week we actually were very confident going into it. I’m not going to lie. Miguel Berchelt is a big puncher. He’s a well-respected world champion. He already had six title defenses. We knew what was at stake and that there was a lot of risk. But I will say that seeing Oscar during training camp, looking at him in the gym, seeing how everything was coming together, honestly, we felt really good. Surprisingly, me and my father didn’t feel quite as nervous as we did in previous fights. I don’t know if we were just confident. But we were pretty much calm. 

Prior to his fight with Berchelt, some of Oscar's performances had been lacking sharpness. There was a concern that he was starting to plateau, that he wasn't achieving all he could in the ring. What had been going on with Oscar during the last few years and how was he able to turn it up another level against Berchelt? 

To be quite honest with you, we had that conversation – myself, Frank Sr. and Oscar Valdez Sr. – after the Scott Quigg fight. We noticed that when Oscar was with Manny Robles he was starting to brawl a little too much for our liking. He was fighting off heart and a tremendous amount of balls, but that style comes at a cost. After the Scott Quigg fight, we knew we had to have a discussion about what was next for him. We knew that Oscar put on great fights, but at the end of the day his health and career could be short-lived if he continued in that direction.

It was certainly a critical time and a critical decision in Oscar’s career to make a change in trainers. And we also knew it was going to take a couple of fights for it to work. I feel the switch to Eddy Reynoso is one of the best decisions that we made. People are now seeing what we envisioned Oscar could do under Eddy Reynoso. 

Why did you think that Oscar and Eddy would be a good match? 

Eddy, at that time, wasn’t really training anyone but Canelo. My father has a good relationship with him. After talking with Oscar Sr. and Oscar about him, we all liked the idea of that move. One thing I really liked about Eddy was that he was going to add more wrinkles to Oscar in the ring. 

One of the first things he told Oscar was that some fighters hit the mitts with ten-punch combinations, but that wasn't going to happen under him. It may look great on video, but when’s the last time you saw a fighter do that in the ring. He said, "I’m going to take you back to basics and teach you combinations that you are actually going to use." 

Eddie is such a student of the game. I'm not sure if people know this about him but he has a huge library of boxing videos. And he's always studying films of past fighters. He wants to be considered one of the best. We felt that the chemistry between him and Oscar would gel, and it did. 

Oscar had a lot of success against Berchelt fighting in the southpaw stance, which wasn't something we saw too much of earlier in his career. Had he always been able to fight as a southpaw or was this something he had developed with Eddy Reynoso?

Oscar’s been switching to southpaw in sparring for the longest time, but I can honestly say that he’s never felt confident enough to do it that much in a fight. In previous training camps, there are videos of Oscar fighting southpaw. Eddy, knowing that Oscar could fight southpaw, wanted to use it against Berchelt. He said, at some point we’re going to switch to southpaw. 

Certainly, we felt that it was going to confuse Berchelt, and it did. One of the first things that Oscar said in the locker room after the fight was that turning southpaw was one of the keys. He said, "Man, he looked so confused. I knew I had him." 

What has the last week been like for you after the victory? 

This is what you are here for, winning world championships. With Oscar’s experience with that broken jaw [after the Quigg fight], I literally saw his struggles. He wasn’t able to eat the things he wanted to eat. It was a long road to recovery. And then the switch of trainers... 

For me, I was extremely happy for him because it was a such a tough, long road back. It showed so much character from Oscar. Thank god he trusted the process because it all paid off in the end.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Ring City Newsletter

I'm excited to announce that I will be contributing to the Ring City newsletter on a regular basis. My first piece is out today and it looks at nine emerging prospects in the 154-lb. weight class. To subscribe to the newsletter, click here: 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Fight City Podcast

I joined this week's "The Weekend That Was" podcast with Alden Chodash of the Fight City to recap a great fight weekend, including Berchelt-Valdez, Flores-Velez and Kelly-Avanesyan. We also looked ahead to the Roman Gonzalez-Juan Estrada rematch. To listen to the podcast, click on this link:

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Opinions and Observations: Berchelt-Valdez

In observing Oscar Valdez's recent outings against Adam Lopez and Jayson Velez, it's safe to say that he was a fighter caught between styles. As a young pro, he had risen as a brawling pugilist with a nasty left hook. But a switch to trainer Eddy Reynoso led to Valdez incorporating additional elements of a purer boxing style into his attack – boxing off his back foot, switching stances, and using his legs more. Until Saturday's fight against junior lightweight titlist Miguel Berchelt, these disparate styles had yet to coalesce. What Reynoso was requiring of Valdez did not necessarily seem natural for the fighter and furthermore, it seemed that Valdez's natural aggression and offensive talents were being marginalized.

Yet on Saturday, it all cohered seamlessly, as if everything the pair had been working on for the last two years had been building to this one, singular performance. Valdez's stunning tenth-round knockout of Berchelt was a product of these years of hard work. And what had seemed like a series of strange career decisions and ring tactics now revealed themselves to be profound calculations by a young fighter taking control of his career and a trainer who has emerged as one of the best strategists in the sport.

Oscar Valdez (left) lands a left hook
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Valdez's performance on Saturday illustrated a complete mastery of a tough opponent. And for everything great that Valdez did in the fight, I believe that two specific attributes were chiefly responsible for his win: the application of a speed advantage, and sowing confusion. 

Although Berchelt held massive physical advantages over Valdez, Reynoso believed that his fighter had superior speed that, if applied correctly, could provide the open window needed for winning the fight. And it's this specific application of Valdez's speed that highlights Reynoso's strategic brilliance and Valdez's overall skills as a fighter. To Reynoso, many of the traditional measures of speed in the ring would not be effective against Berchelt. He didn't emphasize being first during exchanges or want Valdez necessarily running around the ring hoping to tire Berchelt out; how he envisioned Valdez’s speed advantage was far more subtle. He wanted everything to be quick: incisive jabs, sharp lead left hooks, in-and-out movement, turning and spinning off the ropes, and fast changes to the southpaw stance. In the early rounds, everything was one shot and out.

Reynoso believed that it was imperative to minimize Berchelt's comfort in the ring. He didn't want Berchelt to be able to plant his feet or establish a consistent offensive rhythm. A large part of accomplishing this goal was for his fighter to avoid slugging it out in the center of the ring, where Berchelt could unfurl his numerous offensive weapons. 

With Reynoso's plan, Valdez could also marginalize Berchelt's physicality. In particular, Valdez avoided two tactics as best as he could: inside fighting and clinches. Throughout the fight, Valdez did almost all of his work from mid-range and distance. Rarely did he try to grapple with Berchelt or assert himself in the trenches. Even when Berchelt was able to corner Valdez along the ropes, Valdez did not initiate a clinch or hold, where he could be worn down by Berchelt's more muscular frame. Instead, he expertly used his hands and body to maneuver himself away from Berchelt, often by spinning Berchelt or manipulating him away from the action. These moves were quick and subtle, but they were highly effective. 

The early-round success for Valdez culminated in a knockdown in the fourth. Because he was able to establish a punishing jab from the outset of the fight, Valdez forced Berchelt into making a mistake. In the beginning of the fourth, Valdez cocked his left hand and Berchelt extended his arms expecting to block a jab. However, Valdez followed with a sharp left hook that bypassed Berchelt's outstretched arms and landed with maximum authority. Immediately, Berchelt's legs turned to jelly. Valdez would land another half-dozen pulsating left hooks in the round and eventually would get a knockdown. But all of this started with his hard jabs earlier in the fight and Berchelt being wary of them. 

After Valdez failed to get the stoppage in the fourth, he increasingly decided to fight in the southpaw stance, which seemed like a strange choice at the time. After all, he had just had his best moments of the fight in the orthodox stance. By the sixth and seventh rounds, Berchelt was able to work his way back into the fight by landing a number of hard straight right hands to the head and left hooks to the body. It appeared that the tide of the fight was turning. Despite being on wobbly legs and seriously hurt, Berchelt continued to press forward and his confidence grew. 

However, the final three rounds of the fight illustrated the mastery of Valdez and Reynoso's plan. It was a clinic on how to confuse a technically limited opponent. Valdez would hit Berchelt with almost every shot imaginable, and from unpredictable angles: lead hooks and jabs in the orthodox stance, overhand rights, right hooks out of the southpaw stance and perhaps most notably, rear hooks out of the southpaw position. This final punch set up the second knockdown of the fight in the ninth round, where Valdez detonated a rear left hook from southpaw then switched to a right uppercut in the orthodox stance; Berchelt had no idea where the shots would be coming from or how to defend them. 

In the final moment of the fight, Valdez landed the signature punch of his career, a short, rear left hook out of the southpaw position. The shot was so fierce that Valdez didn't even bother to look at Berchelt once the punch connected. He sprinted around the perimeter of the ring and then jumped into the clutches of his team. He knew that this was the moment of his career. 

It should be noted that Berchelt was a sizable favorite coming into the fight. He entered the contest having defended his junior lightweight title six times, which included five stoppages, many of which were brutally impressive. More than a few, myself included, thought that Valdez was nuts for pursuing a Berchelt fight in that he would be severely undersized and outgunned. 

However, one needs to understand that there is a certain arrogance that can be a blessing (or a curse) at the top levels of boxing. There is a belief by fighters and trainers that they can overcome any challenge or opponent. Now of course every team thinks that they have a strategy to beat the favorite, but it's not often where one witnesses a game plan executed to such perfection. All of what Reynoso had been building over the last few years – the back-foot boxing, the switching, the limiting of opportunities by opponents – led to Saturday's victory. 

And as brilliant as Reynoso was on Saturday, he wasn't the guy in the ring. Valdez was the one who had the capacity to execute such a specific game plan. He had the physical ability and intellectual aptitude to add things to his craft. Not only could he switch stances, but he could initiate fight-ending sequences with them, a rare gift. He had the tools AND fully comprehended when, where and how to use them.  

When Valdez left trainer Manny Robles for Reynoso, he had decided to undertake a radical transformation of his fight style, with no guarantee that it would be effective. His move was risky and had a chance of backfiring, but he maintained a belief in his chosen path, even despite spotty initial results. Not only does Valdez deserve credit for envisioning a more well-rounded style for himself in the ring, but he had the perseverance to stick with it even after getting dropped by an undersized Adam Lopez and looking less than menacing against Jayson Velez. 

Valdez scored a knockout for the ages on Saturday; that left hook will always be the first clip of his career retrospective highlight reel. But what should not be forgotten about Saturday's performance is the culmination of an unusual journey, the transition from a front-foot slugger to a slick boxer-puncher. Valdez had bet on himself and won, validating one of the biggest decisions of his career. He saw something different in himself and, with Reynoso, a way to get there. And together they slayed a giant.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

In this week's Punch 2 the Face podcast, Brandon and I previewed a busy boxing schedule for the upcoming weekend, including Diaz-Rakhimov, Teixeira-Castano, Smith-Vlasov, Commey-Marinez and more. We tried to make sense of the Josh Warrington situation. We also looked at the rancor between Top Rank and Teofimo Lopez. 

To listen to the podcast, click on the links below: 

Also, find us on Spotify: Punch 2 the Face Radio: #208. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.