EXCLUSIVE: Bob Arum confirms Valdez vs Stevenson unification plans

Bob Arum of Top Rank

Mark Robinson

Junior lightweight world titleholders Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez, who are widely regarded as the best two fighters in the 130-pound division, are likely to meet on April 30 in a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card.

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said that is the fight the company is working to finalize.

“Shakur, I think the fight for him is against Valdez and that would be a corker and I’d love to get that fight done,” Arum told World Boxing News. “That’s what we’re looking to do, yeah. I think before the end of April.”

Last week, the Nevada State Athletic Commission released the agenda for its monthly meeting, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, and one of the date requests is from Top Rank to hold an event on April 30 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas for broadcast on ESPN.

When asked about that date in relation to a Valdez-Stevenson fight, Arum responded, “Well, there you go.”

That date is key for Top Rank broadcast partner ESPN because it will televise the annual NLF Draft, which will take place in Las Vegas, from April 28 to April 30, and it wants to have another notable event on the same weekend in the same city like it does each year when it has Top Rank put on a boxing event at Madison Square Garden in New York to immediately follow its broadcast of college football’s annual Heisman Trophy Award show, which also takes place in New York.

“Other people in the company are doing the negotiations and I don’t think there will be any roadblocks,” Arum said of finalizing Valdez-Stevenson.

Oscar Valdez
Mikey Williams

A source involved in the fight – not Arum — told World Boxing News that the deal is far down the road and that contracts could be signed as soon as this coming week.

Making the fight marked a change of direction for Arum, who in late November said he was hoping to match Valdez with featherweight world titlist Emanuel Navarrete, who would have risen in weight for the bout, and Stevenson with former unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, either at lightweight or for Stevenson’s title at junior lightweight.

“I thought so, but we’re off that pretty much and we’re looking to put together Shakur and Valdez,” Arum said. “We’d do it as an ESPN linear (televised fight).”

It is the fight Stevenson has been vocal about wanting.

“There’s only one fight left at the end of the day,” Stevenson told World Boxing News in late November. “It’s the biggest fight in the division. Oscar can’t keep ducking. It’s time for him to fight. It’s me versus Oscar Valdez. There’s nothing else to look forward to. The 130-pound division, we need to unify. Let’s get it.”

Arum said that the Valdez camp is on board with the fight, mainly because Eddy Reynoso, the 2021 consensus trainer of the year, who trains Canelo Alvarez, Valdez and others, gave the thumbs up for the bout.

Stevenson, a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, and Valdez, a 2008 and 2012 Mexican Olympian, are both undefeated former featherweight world titleholders who both won junior lightweight world titles in 2021.

The 31-year-old Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs), a big underdog, dominated and spectacularly knocked out Miguel Berchelt in the 10th round on Feb. 20 in Las Vegas to win the WBC title. He won a disputed decision in his first defense against amateur rival and 2016 Brazilian Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao on Sept. 10 in Tucson, Arizona, where Valdez grew up.

Valdez was dogged by controversy even before the outcome of the fight because regulators allowed it to take place despite Valdez returning a positive test for the stimulant Phentermine, which is banned by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, which was overseeing testing for bout, but not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency during the time frame Valdez had it in his system.

Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs), 24, a southpaw from Newark, New Jersey, claimed the vacant WBO interim title by shutout decision over South Africa’s Jeremia Nakathila on June 12 in Las Vegas and then turned in a brilliant performance to take the full title from Jamel Herring by one-sided 10th-round knockout on Oct. 23 in Atlanta.

With Arum no long pursuing Valdez against Navarrete or Stevenson against Lomachenko, Arum said Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs), 26, of Mexico, and Lomachenko would face other opponents.

Shakur Stevenson beats Jamel Herring
Mikey Williams

NAVARRETE

“Navarrete, there are a lot of guys he could fight but we’ll figure it out,” Arum said. “He can fight the winner (of Valdez-Stevenson).”

Arum had a better handle on what he hopes to do with Lomachenko (16-2, 11 KOs), 33, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, a three-division world champion and the former pound-for-pound king. He hopes to match Lomachenko with unified champion George Kambosos Jr. (20-0, 10 KOs), who won the belts from Teofimo Lopez in November.

Lopez had previously outpointed Lomachenko in an October 2020 unification fight. Kambosos and his promoter, Lou DiBella, are also looking at a possible fight with WBC titlist Devin Haney.

“Lomachenko wants to fight Kambosos and we want to do that fight in (Kambosos’ native) Australia and we can raise a lot of money to do that fight, but we can’t do it in the face of Covid,” Arum said. “The (Australian) government won’t give us money with Covid rampaging now through Australia. I really believe – I’m optimistic — that this is the last of the Covid with (the) omicron (variant) surging all over but not doing much damage.

“It’s like a fighter in the late rounds throwing a lot of punches but he’s so tired the punches have no effect on the opponent. I’d like to do the fight in Sydney. We’ve explored ways that it could be done. I’m very optimistic. I know (Kambosos manager) Peter Kahn is optimistic, but let’s see.”

Award-winning writer Dan Rafael is the Lead Boxing Contributor for World Boxing News. Follow Dan on social media @DanRafael1.