It’s a battle of undefeated champions as Shakur Stevenson (17-0, nine KOs) and Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) are set to face off in a junior lightweight unification bout Saturday night at the Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Stevenson, the WBO world champion, is a rising star in boxing. The 24-year-old is coming off an impressive stoppage win over Jamel Herring in October. He’s looking to up the ante and truly establish himself as a force with his first title defense and a win over perhaps his toughest opponent to date.
Valdez is the WBC world titleholder and a proven veteran champion. He previously held the WBO world featherweight title from 2016 to 2019, making six successful defenses. He hasn’t been fighting at 130 pounds for long, but he’s yet to lose and has a chance to score an upset on Saturday night.
Stevenson vs. Valdez Fight Info
When: Saturday, April 30, at 9 p.m. ET (main card start)
Where: Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas
TV: ESPN (US), Sky Sports (UK)
Live stream: ESPN+
Odds: Stevenson -600 (bet $600 to win $100), Valdez +425 (bet $100 to win $425)
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
Stevenson has been tipped as a star for some time now thanks to his strong amateur career (2016 Olympic silver medalist at bantamweight) and succession of lopsided wins as a pro. But it’s his last fight that really got people talking, as he dominated Herring en route to a 10th-round technical knockout win in Atlanta.
What was supposed to be a major test turned out to be another day at the office for Stevenson, who had previously earned lopsided victories over Jeremia Nakathila, Toka Kahn Clary and Felix Caraballo at 130 pounds. The southpaw’s fast hands and powerful, accurate combinations had Herring’s face badly swollen by the middle rounds. Even though Herring—who was coming off an impressive win over Carl Frampton—never hit the canvas, the stoppage did him a favor. The judges had scored the bout 90-81, 90-81, 89-82 in favor of Stevenson up to that point, per BoxRec.
The Herring bout was an impressive showcase, but Stevenson’s next challenge could really set him apart.
“I feel like [my star] is skyrocketing,” he said, per the Washington Post’s Glynn A. Hill. “I feel like after this fight I should be making big paydays; I should be getting The Ring magazine belt, letting it be known that I’m the best fighter at 130 pounds. So, I definitely could see myself skyrocketing, but we gotta handle business first; the job’s not done yet.”
Even though he’s a heavy favorite, Stevenson really can’t underestimate Valdez. The 31-year-old Mexican has overcome every obstacle in his career and isn’t far removed from his own career-best win, a stunning knockout against Miguel Berchelt in Feb. 2021. Valdez was a heavy underdog coming into that one, but proved the doubters wrong with one of the best punches of the year.
A few months after that win, Valdez tested positive for a banned central-nervous stimulant, per ESPN.com’s Mike Coppinger. He was allowed to keep his title and successfully defended it with a decision win over Robson Conceicao in September. Even though Valdez wasn’t quite as sharp in that contest as he was against Berchelt, he still figures to pose a threat to Stevenson.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who shares a trainer with Valdez in Eddy Reynoso, believes Valdez shouldn’t be counted out.
“I’m surprised about that because Oscar can do many things in the ring,” Alvarez said, per BoxingScene.com’s Keith Idec. Alvarez is also aware of the danger posed by the multi-faceted Stevenson, as Idec reports he’s told his stablemate “you need to keep focus and win the fight, not to put on a show for the people. Because [Stevenson is] a really good, skilled fighter, moves around. So, if you go forward, he’s gonna do his fight.”
Fans can expect to see plenty of action at the MGM Grand. Stevenson can throw punches in bunches, but he’s also a defensive wizard. Valdez will be looking to disrupt his rhythm early on and can do so with his aggression and physicality. Whichever fighter gets the first good read on the other is likely to win the fight. The other will still likely make it tough on them.
Ring Magazine’s Anson Wainwright asked 20 experts and insiders to make their picks: 19 are backing Stevenson, while just one picked Valdez.
We could be in store for another surprise on Saturday night as Valdez has proved once his power translates to 130 pounds, but look for Stevenson to be the sharper fighter over 12 rounds and continue his path to superstardom.
Prediction: Stevenson by unanimous decision