By David A. Avila / Photo by JP Lim
When you look back at the featherweight division even going back to the 1930s it’s a weight class that can bloom some of the best in prizefighting.
Henry Armstrong began as a featherweight. So did Juan Manuel Marquez.
So will it not surprise anyone if Evgeny Gradovich (21-1-1, 9 KOs) and Oscar Valdez (18-0, 16 KOs) electrify the 14,000 fans at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday April 9th. HBO will televise the pay-per-view featherweight clash and don’t be surprised if it’s the fight of the night.
Even the two fighters involved expect no less.
“He (Gradovich) has that fan pleasing style, he likes to come forward,” said Valdez.
Gradovich agrees and said “My fight should be the main event.”
Top Rank groomed Gradovich all the way to the IBF featherweight world title. After four consecutive title defenses the prizefighter known as the “Russian Mexican” lost to Lee Selby by technical decision last year. By no means is he out of the featherweight world title scenario.
“He’s a tough, tough guy. They don’t call him the Mexican Russian for nothing,” said Valdez, 25, a very confident former 2012 Mexican Olympian. “He doesn’t let the fighter breathe. He’s on top of you.”
A loss by either fighter does not mean the end of a career. But it depends on how much punishment goes with the loss — or the win for that matter.
Mexican native Valdez, who moved to Tucson, Arizona in his early youth, now lives and trains at the Rock Gym in Los Angeles. It’s a haven for a flock of young hungry boxers of all weight classes. Whenever he needs sparring there’s plenty to choose. If that’s not enough, there are plenty of featherweights in Southern California. Featherweights are probably the greatest boxing commodity in the sunny state.
Russian native Gradovich moved to Oxnard, but trained in Riverside for this training camp. Robert Garcia saw the advantage of bringing the former featherweight champ to a gym filled with featherweights and super featherweights ready to spar on a daily basis.
Trainer Garcia, a former super featherweight world champion, said his charge seems to be the dessert on a platter for Valdez, the new kid on the block.
“They’re expecting Valdez to be sensational,” said Garcia, adding that he’s been around the block to see what’s transpiring. But he likes Gradovich’s chances.
Valdez’s trainer Manny Robles does not see it as dessert.
“Gradovich can throw 100 punches a round if you stand in front of him,” Robles said with some discomfort. “It’s not an easy fight.”
Who knows what will happen when the former champ meets the fresh new kid.
Ironically, another former undefeated featherweight champion, Mikey Garcia, trains in the same Riverside gym as Gradovich. He knows a thing or two about dissecting another prizefighter’s style and exploiting the weaknesses.
The Russian featherweight has adopted many of Garcia’s weaponry and the aggressive nature that all Mexican fighters value highly.
“I trained with Mexicans,” said Gradovich who also enjoys a lot of support from Mexican fans that like his style. “Robert worked with me a lot. This will be a good fight.”
Featherweights. It’s a weight division that historically produced prizefighters that can grow from the 126-pound weight class to the 147-pound welterweight limit. Guys like Tony Canzoneri, Armstrong, Erik Morales, and Manny Pacquiao fought as featherweights and tangled with welterweights.
What do all these prizefighters have in common? They can plain flat out fight.
That’s what we will see with Valdez and Gradovich.
“He’s a great fighter, he has a great trainer, Robert Garcia. He was a world champion,” said Valdez. “If I beat him, it’s a big step toward my dream to be world champion.”