This weekend at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Shakur Stevenson, and Oscar Valdez will face each other in a super featherweight unification showdown. Valdez and Stevenson were both accomplished amateur boxers and Olympians. As professionals, both men are undefeated, each holds a version of the super featherweight title, and they are both in their prime. It's the kind of fight that boxing fans live for.
Oscar Valdez is an unrelenting pressure fighter with knockout power in both hands. Shakur Stevenson is a highly skilled boxer who effectively utilizes the jab to set up combinations that neutralize his opponent's attack.
In this “styles make fights” kind of match, it's hard to clearly predict the winner or outcome of this fight. They both are skilled at what they do, and each fighter has a weakness that the other can exploit. I will analyze the keys to victories for both fighters and determine who has the best chance of winning this fight.
Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs):
Oscar Valdez is a fighter that likes to move forward and impose his will on his opponent. Valdez closes the distance between him and his opponents quickly. Once inside his opponent's guard, the Mexican unleashes unforgiving combinations to the torso and head of the other fighter. Once he's inside the guard, little can be done by the other fighter to get Valdez off him. Eventually, most of his opponents succumb to the pressure while others weaken as the fight goes on, and Valdez gets stronger.
Oscar is quick on his feet and makes swift adjustments to deliver punches from different angles. Valdez likes to keep the fight close, therefore smothering the effectiveness of the other fighters' blows. This tactic allows Valdez to sit on his punches and comfortably deliver powerful shots.
Keys to Victory:
While Valdez's “in your face style” has been successful, this will not be enough to beat Shakur Stevenson. Valdez is a former two-time Olympian that can box just as well as he can brawl. He will need to tap into some of those boxing skills to be victorious against Stevenson. Shakur is an accurate puncher who throws nearly five hundred punches in a fight and lands on average forty percent of his shots. Stevenson likes to control the action in the middle of the ring and counterpunch his opponents. Therefore, Valdez must make the young champion uncomfortable and do what he does best, impose his will on Stevenson.
However, he can't barge in against the younger champion. Valdez must utilize his own jab to disrupt Stevenson's jab. He needs to move his head out of the line of fire when doing so. He will fall prey to Stevenson's counterpunches if he doesn't. Valdez is a great body puncher, and he must attack Stevenson's body. Once he's inside, he must quickly make his attack and slip away before Stevenson can counter. Attacking Shakur's body from the onset will eventually slow him down, and that's when Valdez must test the chin of the young champion. If Valdez can do these things, he can potentially hurt Shakur Stevenson and eventually knock him out.
Weaknesses: Valdez's style and lack of head movement make him vulnerable to counter punches. As a result, Valdez has been dropped by two different opponents and suffered a broken jaw against Scott Quigg.
Shakur Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs):
Shakur Stevenson is a highly-skilled fighter that controls his opponents with accurate and quick combinations. He has excellent ring-generalship and likes to keep the fight at the center of the ring. He's methodical when he attacks and doesn't throw punches in vain. In addition, he has an excellent jab that he frequently throws to set up his combinations. In his fight against Jamel Herring, Stevenson through five hundred thirty punches, forty-seven percent of which were jabs. This allowed him to neutralize Herring and keep the battle at the center of the ring. And while Stevenson only has nine knockouts to his credit, the accuracy of his punches overwhelms his opponents and eventually wears them down.
Keys to Victory:
Stevenson needs to fight the way he always fights. He needs to use the jab to thwart Valdez's forward momentum and keep the fight at the center of the ring to pick Valdez off from the outside. However, Valdez closes the gap quickly, probably faster than any fighter Stevenson has faced. So, Shakur will need to utilize quick footwork to maintain the distance – as he did in his fight against Jeremiah Nakathila. Every time Nakathila took a step forward, Stevenson took two steps back and kept the Namibia native at bay. Additionally, he must be aware of his surroundings and not get backed into a corner or on the ropes. If that happens, Valdez will unforgivingly attack the young champion.
Weaknesses: Stevenson tends to keep his hands low. He needs to keep his guard up, especially during exchanges. Valdez can be deceptively quick, especially with hooks to the head after a body attack. Valdez is the hardest puncher Stevenson has faced in his career. So, it's fair to assume that Shakur's chin has never really been tested.
When two elite fighters face each other, it is always tough to clearly pick a winner. Valdez and Stevenson are the best fighters in the world in their division. However, they have vastly different approaches to how they execute their craft. And Shakur Stevenson performs his craft slightly better than Valdez does. The Mexican champion has shown that he has difficulty imposing his style when boxers prevent him from getting on the inside. Adam Lopez was outboxing Valdez when he kept him in the center of the ring. He even dropped Valdez with a left hook in the second round of their fight.
When Valdez is getting outboxed, he likes to lunge with his punches, making him vulnerable to counterpunching. This plays perfectly to Shakur Stevenson's style of fighting. Look for Shakur to keep the fight at the center of the ring while looking for opportunities to counterpunch. Oscar Valdez is a “creature of habit,” and I don't think he will change his style of fighting against Stevenson. And if he does, Oscar Valdez will not outbox Shakur Stevenson.
Oscar Valdez is resilient and can take a lot of punishment. So, it is unlikely Stevenson is going to knock him out. Look, anything can happen once these two get in the ring. But I don't think Stevenson will sit on his punches long enough to deliver the power necessary to knock out one of the toughest fighters in the world. So, the only way Valdez wins this fight is to knockout Shakur Stevenson. Therefore, this fight goes the distance, and Stevenson will win by decision.