Glynn Evans delves into the backgrounds of Top Rank’s trinity of rising Azteca warriors who audition to be considered Mexico’s ‘Next Big Thing’ when they defend their WBO belts at the Stubhub Center, Carson, California on Saturday evening. BoxNation screen live.

Oscar Valdez

Expect the WBO featherweight king to pick up the torch left by his namesake De La Hoya and transcend the Hispanic and US pay-per-view markets.

The 26-year-old from Nogales, a border town to the state of Arizona, oozes boyish charm and is fluent in English having passed 10 childhood years in Tuscon. Already he is the face of Wild Cat energy drinks and, like ‘The Golden Boy’ he leaves the dames drooling. A pet alligator named ‘Steve’ provides requisite ‘colour’.

All that is incidental if you can’t fight, of course, but 21-0 (19) credentials suggest he’s no charlatan.

Already vicious Valdez has a strong claim to be considered the nation’s best ever vested fighter, having secured the Land of the Sombrero its first ever World Youth title (Guadalajara, 2008) and its first World Seniors medal (bronze, Milan, 2009). He was also a double Olympian (Beijing and London)  and three time Pan-Am Games finalist.

Oscar Valdez

[Image credit: Inquirer Sports]

Managed by Frank Espinoza and coached by the upwardly mobile Manny Robles, the 5ft 5 ½ in golden child has machine-gunned his way through the 126lb ranks since debuting in March 2012. He passed through a trial for world level by snapping the jaw of Russia’s ex IBF boss Evgeny Gradovich (rsc4) in April 2016. Three months after, he formalised his arrival by carving up 26-0 Argentinean banger Matias Carlos Adrian Rueda in two rounds with his calling card left hooks to the liver, to claim the vacant WBO strap.

Behind the sparkle, Valdez appears to own the speed, skills, smarts and inherent thirst for violence to elevate himself into the pantheon of Mexican greats.

On the weekend, he sits his sternest exam thus far against clattering Columbian Miguel ‘The Scorpion’ Marriaga (25-1, 21 quick). But expect Oscar to graduate with distinction and advance to salivating unification spats with Leo Santa Cruz, Lee Selby or Gary Russell Jr in a division that is presently hotter than Tabasco sauce.   

Gilberto Ramirez

Despite his swarthy looks and stellar 34-0 (24) stats, the 25-year-old ‘Zurdo de Oro’ (Golden Southpaw) is far from your stereotypical Mexican gunslinger.

For a start, as his nickname implies, he’s one of the nation’s few fighting left handers. In Mexico, portsiders are said to ‘have the devil in them’ and are invariably converted from birth!

Secondly, there’s a matter of his size. Mexico rarely delivers world class talent above the welterweight division and, of his compatriots, only the late light-heavy Julio Gonzalez has claimed a world crown at a heavier weight than this 6ft 3in super-middleweight, with the 75in wingspan.

Gilberto Ramirez

Finally, there’s his calculated ring manner. Though a self-confessed former street slugger from the mean streets of Mazatalan, Sinoloa, rangy Ramirez applies far more science than savagery to his work. He possesses a stabbing southpaw jab, tight guard and impressive capacity to adapt mid fight. Clearly, he is keen to preserve his matinee idol looks.

Starting out at 12, ‘Zurdo’ lost his first seven amateur fights, primarily because he couldn’t afford the bus fare to train at the gym. At 18, he joined the profession under Jesus and Hector Zapari and served a quality (but no doubt painful) apprenticeship as a spar hand to ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

A longstanding WBC Youth champion, Ramirez navigated his way to the mandatory slot with the WBO and, last April at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he knocked the crown off ‘King Arthur’ Abraham’s head, logging a 120-108 clean sweep on all three official cards. Surgery to a finger on his lead right hand has rendered him dormant since.

On Saturday, Ramirez eases back with what should be a routine maiden defence against the Ukraine’s Max Bursak (33-4-1). Key interest will centre on whether the rising star possesses the acumen and ammo to become the first to halt the rugged former European middleweight czar.

Thereafter, the lefty could feature against any of the plethora of world grade British 12 stoners (DeGale, Groves, Smith, Cox) or either winner/loser of next month’s Civil War between compatriots Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

Jessie Magdaleno

The current WBO Super-Bantam boss was actually born in Pomona, California and raised in the fight capital of Las Vegas but is far more in tune with the fighting traditions of his Mexican ancestry than native son Ramirez.

Jessie Magdaleno

Formerly a senior USA champion and national Golden Gloves winner at just 17, the younger but more naturally blessed sibling of two-weight world title challenger Diego Magdaleno has long been considered one of the sport’s most gifted rising prospects.

During his opening six years in the profession, his stiffest opponent was the fridge. However, since aligning with torrid taskmaster Manny Robles last year, joltin’ Jessie has acquired the discipline to manage his weight and is now primed to realise his considerable potential.

A naturally right handed southpaw, the 25-year-old hadn’t ventured past round eight when slung into a daunting WBO duel with seven-time, four-weight world champ Nonito Donaire last November. But the 5ft 4in talent shocked the trade by drubbing ‘The Filipino Flash’ by wide 12 round decision at the Thomas and Mack in his home city.

Magdaleno fits the Mexican mould of a busy and skilful front foot pressure fighter and he can certainly crack as 17 stoppage wins on his perfect 24 fight slate testify. Eight of those early wins came in the opening frame and already he has mastered the Mexican national dish; chopped liver.

Another managed by Frank Espinoza, Magdaleno should sizzle in his opening defence this weekend against carefully selected WBO number 12 contender Adilson Dos Santos from Brazil. It should be short and sweet.

A fascinating future unifier with much swerved division leader Guillermo Rigondeaux is possible rather than probable. Instead, expect his career defining gigs to lie four pounds north in the featherweight class.


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