TUCSON, Ariz. — When Oscar Valdez fought for the first time in Tucson in 2015, he was a fast-rising prospect. But he promised he would return someday to fight in his childhood hometown as a world titleholder.
That is just what he did.
Valdez retained his featherweight belt for the third time in an action-packed unanimous decision against Genesis Servania on Friday night before a raucous crowd of 4,103 in the main event of the Top Rank ESPN card at the Tucson Arena.
Valdez lived in Tucson from ages 4 to 9, before moving back with his father to his native Nogales, Mexico, just over the border. He still has plenty of family, including his mother, and friends who live in Tucson. And he and Servania gave them quite a show.
Valdez won by scores of 117-109, 116-110, 115-111 in a slugfest in which he and Servania exchanged knockdowns. ESPN.com scored the fight 116-110 for Valdez.
“I’m very happy to fight here,” Valdez said. “Every corner I looked at I was seeing friends and family members. I love this place. I got much love for this place.”
Trainer Manny Robles said he thought Valdez was overanxious fighting at home.
“He’s got to listen. He lets his emotions get in the way,” Robles said. “He can make things a lot easier on himself, but fighting at home really got to him. He wanted to put on a show. Oscar is an aggressive fighter. He’s a crowd-pleaser. He wants to take these guys out and bang, but knockouts aren’t always going to be there. He was on a mission to get this guy, and it didn’t happen.”
The 26-year-old Valdez (23-0, 19 KOs), a two-time Mexican Olympian, opened the fight like he typically does — throwing left hooks and jabs and establishing his range. Servania was bouncing up and down and wasting energy but threw very few punches.
Valdez continued to throw left hooks to the head and body and also a stiff jab. The punches were audible at ringside, as Servania took a lot of heavy blows.
But when Valdez was backing up in the fourth round, Servania landed a right hand to the side of the head that dropped Valdez. Valdez didn’t appear hurt, but it was the second time he suffered a knockdown as a professional.
“He caught me square, I can admit that,” Valdez said. “He got me good, but I wasn’t hurt.”
Valdez stormed back in the fifth round, sending Servania hard to the canvas with a hard overhand left. Valdez landed several thunderous shots in the round, but Servania took everything. Servania forced Valdez back in the sixth round and landed an assortment of clean shots that had Valdez uneasy in a fight that appeared to be getting closer by the round.
Valdez, whose face was showing the wear of the tough fight, seemed to maintain his edge. He was simply throwing more and landing more punches than Servania — who found his target, just not often enough, though he marched forward round after round.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Valdez, whose purse was $400,000, landed 192 of 697 punches (28 percent), and Servania, who earned $55,000, connected with 120-of-450 (27 percent).
Valdez and Servania continued to go at each other in the 11th round, but it was Valdez, with a right hand, who knocked Servania off balance in the final seconds of the round.
They traded toe-to-toe during the 12th round, as the crowd cheered “Oscar! Oscar! Oscar!” Servania got in an uppercut and a right hand that knocked Valdez back, but Valdez ripped Servania with 1-2 combinations. They finished the fight in a heated exchange to conclude a tremendous battle.
“We knew this guy was tough,” Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said of Servania. “The guy had never lost. His reputation was that he was a real scrapper. But I think Oscar is the kind of guy who can beat any of these featherweights.
“He hits hard, and he’s a clever boxer. He’s a very, very good fighter. The only guy I wouldn’t put him in with is [junior lightweight world titleholder Vasyl] Lomachenko.”
Servania (29-1, 12 KOs), 26, of the Philippines, was facing his first name opponent. He was upset by the scorecards being so wide.
“Let’s do it one more time,” Servania said. “Valdez knows how much I hurt him. I hurt him a lot. He knows it. Valdez knows he felt my power. It was wrong the way the scorecards came up.”
Valdez offered his assessment.
“I knew he was a tough fighter,” Valdez said. “I knew. But I’m not hurt, I’m not tired. I’m ready to go. I was hitting him with some good shots. I had to stay focused knowing we might go 12 rounds when he took my shots. He had a tough chin. I thought maybe I could pull [a knockout] off. But he could take a punch.”
Arum hopes to match Valdez next year with former junior featherweight and featherweight titlist Carl Frampton (23-1, 14 KOs), 30, of Northern Ireland. Frampton signed a few days ago with manager Matthew Macklin, who has a close relationship with Top Rank.
“We’re going to try to get Frampton,” Arum said. “We would do it next year, and we would put maybe someplace in Texas or maybe Las Vegas. Frampton would probably object to coming to Tucson, but we can find a place to do that fight. It’s a great fight.”
That is a great plan as far as Valdez is concerned.
“I’m ready for whoever,” he said. “But Frampton, or [titleholder Leo] Santa Cruz, I am ready. Whoever it is. But I want Frampton. He has name. Let’s do it.”