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. 

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