Tucson-bred featherweight Oscar Valdez likes to study tons of fighters, but he didn’t need much to form an opinion of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s challenger Saturday.
“Just by little clips I’ve seen of (Conor) McGregor, I say, ‘Oh, man,’” said Valdez, in Tucson on Thursday to promote a Sept. 22 defense of his WBO title. “He’s good. He’s the king in his world. But he’s not nearly as good as Mayweather. It’s not a competitive fight.”
Valdez went as far as to say he wouldn’t agree with commissioners for letting the fight happen, and that the Tucson bouts will be much more competitive.
To Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, they have to be.
Arum says McGregor and the mixed martial arts world have gained popularity in part because of exposure via free and nearly free channels such as Fox and FS1, while boxing for years has put its best matches on pay-per-view or premium channels such as HBO and Showtime.
Now Top Rank has a multiyear deal with ESPN, which aims to show premium-quality cards such as the Sept. 22 event in Tucson, which will feature Valdez (22-0, 19 KOs) fighting undefeated Filipino challenger Genesis Servania (29-0, 12 KOs) and WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez (35-0, 24 KOs) taking on Philadelphian Jesse Hart (22-0, 18 KOs).
Arum said the Tucson Arena card, which is priced between $25 and $100, could attract up to 100 million viewers worldwide because it will be distributed via ESPN and other largely free channels and streams — though he said China often distorts the numbers because it offers millions of viewers but little revenue.
Essentially, it’s a long-term bet boxing is making in order to gain fans back, while potentially giving up some short-term gains they might see if the same fights were shown on premium platforms.
“Everything has changed in the world,” Arum said. “This is a major multi-million deal with ESPN and the one thing we can’t do is have mismatches.
“On this card, Oscar is fighting a really tough Filipino … and Gilberto is fighting a guy who a lot of people are touting to win. Jesse Hart is a hell of a puncher, and that’s as close and as competitive a fight as you can make in the super middleweight division. That’s what ESPN is paying us for. That’s what the partnership is about.”
Arum said he hopes the deal can lead to a boxing channel developed in conjunction with ESPN and parent Disney but that it could only happen if the public “realizes they’re getting quality.”
Arum is not convinced those buying the $100 pay-per-view for McGregor and Mayweather will get that.
In fact, he’s sure they aren’t.
“But these promoters aren’t putting a gun to anybody’s head,” Arum said. “Anybody who pays the money to watch has only themselves to blame. But McGregor has absolutely no chance.”
Arum cites some boxing science to explain why.
“When fighters throw punches in MMA they’re wrong-footed because they have to guard against any kick or getting taken down,” Arum said. “Boxers have a different stance and get a lot more power into their punches.
“So McGregor, for this month that he’s trained, he cannot change his style. It’s like somebody who’s a great athlete going to Wimbledon and playing tennis. Ain’t gonna work. Once in a while maybe it’s an ace. But it ain’t gonna work. He doesn’t know how to play tennis.”
Ramirez, a native of Mazatlan who trains in Los Angeles, summed it up in his ever-improving English:
“The people who really know boxing, they know it’s only a show for the money,” Ramirez said. “The UFC fighters don’t have skills for boxing. It’s different. They have wrestling, jiujitsu, but boxing, not too much.”
Ramirez and Hart, meanwhile, have been touting their potential appeal to the boxing purist. Also promoted by Top Rank, Hart attended Ramirez’ last fight in April, a 12-round unanimous decision over Max Bursak in Carson, Calif. Hart sat ringside and declared afterward to the Los Angeles Times that “no one can take away my shot now. … Jesse Hart wants Gilberto Ramirez now.”
Ramirez, meanwhile, said Thursday that “a lot of people are trying to get my belt but it’s impossible because I train really hard … and I’m really focused.”
For Valdez, his bout with Servania is not only about defending his WBO title for the third time, but also about returning to Tucson, where half of his family still lives. Having attended elementary school in Tucson, Valdez now mostly lives in Hermosillo, Sonora, and trains in Los Angeles.
Valdez last fought at the Tucson Arena in December 2015, beating Ernie Sanchez in a third round TKO, then won his title in July 2016 by stopping Matias Rueda in the second round of a Las Vegas bout.
“When I came here in 2015, I said the next time I come to Tucson I’m going to come with a belt,” Valdez said, “and I’m not planning to leave that belt here.”