- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
Miguel Berchelt puts his WBC junior lightweight world title on the line against Oscar Valdez, a former featherweight titlist, in the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN boxing card Saturday night at the MGM Conference Center in Las Vegas (ESPN and ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET, with undercard fights at 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN+).
Berchelt (38-1, 34 KO) won the title with an 11th-round KO victory over Francisco Vargas in 2017. Berchelt, 29, of Cancun, Mexico, has defended the belt six times, including a sixth-round TKO in a rematch with Vargas in May 2019.
“Styles make fight, and I believe my style and Oscar’s style will make for a great fight, so we’ll see what happens,” Berchelt said at a news conference on Thursday. “I want to tell my fans not to miss this fight. This is going to be a great fight. I know what it’s taken me to get this title, and I’m sure I will defend this title successfully again.”
Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs) won the WBO featherweight title with a second-round victory over Matias Carlos Adrian Rueda in 2017. He defended the belt six times before moving up in weight. Valdez, 30, of Nogales, Mexico, has won his two fights at junior lightweight by stoppage, including a 10th-round TKO of Jayson Velez in July.
“This is my opportunity. I’m not going to go in there and not give it my all,” said Valdez. “I’m going to do whatever it takes. If I have to box, I’ll box. If I have to bang it and brawl it out, then I’m willing to do that, too.”
In the co-main event, Gabriel Flores Jr. (19-0, 6 KOs), faces Velez (29-7-1, 21 KOs) in a 10-round junior lightweight bout. Also on the card, hard-hitting junior welterweight prospect Elvis Rodriguez (10-0-1, 10 KOs), of Dominican Republic, meets Argentina’s Luis Alberto Veron (18-2-2, 9 KOs) in an eight-round battle.
Stay here for live results and analysis.
Fight in progress: Elvis Rodriguez vs. Luis Alberto Veron, 8 rounds, junior welterweights
Zayas dominates Martin in one-sided decision win
Xander Zayas, one of Top Rank’s most prized prospects, continues to progress nicely as he thoroughly dominated James Martin over six rounds in their welterweight clash.
Zayas (7-0, 5 KOs), of San Juan, Puerto Rico, set the tone early with heavy left hooks to the body, followed by combinations to the head. Martin (6-2, 1 KO), a 23-year-old fighting out of Philadelphia, showed heart in the pocket and fired back with bad intentions, but Zayas’ defensive skills proved to be equally impressive to his offense. He routinely slipped out of harm’s way, and fired back with thudding shots to Martin’s midsection.
The 18-year-old welterweight failed to record a knockout for the first time in four appearances, but that did little to dampen the performance. He strung together a lot of unanswered punches on the ropes near the end of the fourth round and appeared to hurt Martin with a looping overhand right in the fifth, but Martin was never in serious danger of being stopped.
Zayas, who signed with Top Rank at the age of 16, picks up the second win of his career in Las Vegas. This was his first appearance in Top Rank’s bubble, as he fought exclusively in Florida in the second half of 2020.
Martinez finishes Wagner in the first round
Middleweight prospect Javier Martinez made quick work of Montana’s Billy Wagner, scoring a blistering TKO stoppage just 1:15 into the first round.
Martinez (3-0, 1 KO), 25, staggered Wagner (3-2, 1 KO), 28, badly with a counter right hand, which was ruled a knockdown after Wagner fell hard into the ropes. The bout was waved off moments later, when Martinez landed another monster right hand and a straight left down the middle. Wagner’s corner actually threw in the towel at the same moment the fight was called by the referee.
Fighting out of Milwaukee, Martinez’s win was his third in nine months.
Rosario stops Villanueva in Round 2
Omar Rosario picked up the first knockout of his professional career, as he put Uriel Villanueva down with a left hook to the body at 2:38 of the second round of a scheduled four-round junior welterweight battle.
Rosario, (3-0, 1 KO), who is from Puerto Rico, donned the late Roberto Clemente’s No. 21 on his trunks. He landed a crisp right hand to the head of Villanueva in the first round that might have been the best shot of the frame, but the bigger story was his consistent work to the body. That work paid off in the second round, when he forced Villanueva (1-1) to take a knee twice before the fight was called.
Rosario, 23, turned pro in August 2020.
Still to come
Title fight: Miguel Berchelt vs. Oscar Valdez, 12 rounds, for Berchelt’s WBC junior lightweight title
Gabriel Flores Jr. vs. Jayson Velez, 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Esquiva Falcao vs. Artur Akavov, 10 rounds, middleweights
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