Oscar Valdez fought depression before his return to the ring

PHOENIX — It’s April 2022 and Oscar Valdez is leaving the ring as a loser for the first time in his pro career.

He had just faced Shakur Stevenson — an arguable pound-for-pound No.1 boxer in the future — and surrendered a lopsided decision win to the canny American.

Stevenson beat him to the punch, dropped him midway through the fight, and even showboated before the bell as he pitched a punch-perfect game. 

In a city renowned for its comedy, music, and acrobatics, Stevenson’s masterclass remained one of the best performances Las Vegas had seen that year.

It was not what Valdez was used to.

Valdez had gotten accustomed to swarming opponents with punches so blistering they can’t help but stagger, and dropped men with such aplomb that referees waved the bout in an instant.

He’s beaten Scott Quigg on points, knocked out Miguel Berchelt to win the WBC super featherweight title, and defended that belt by decisioning Robson Conceicao. 

Valdez is a two-time Olympian and a two-weight world champion.

After facing Stevenson, Valdez was left with a cut below the eye and superficial bruising. His greater injuries, though, were mental. The defeat left him down.

Valdez told ProBox TV off-stage Thursday that he suffered “minor depression.”

“I want to say that there were very sad moments, for me, for at least a couple of weeks,” he said.

Valdez was defeated on the night against Stevenson, and beaten mentally from April through May. 

A fighter returns

Valdez is one of boxing’s toughest men, and has the unmistakable aura of a champion.

He’s one of Top Rank’s marquee fighters, and an inspiration to young Mexicans just like Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Fernando Vargas were an inspiration to him growing up.

But he too, like many of us, has his down days.

One morning, the days no longer seemed as bad for Valdez.

Time is a great healer and he realized his dream of becoming one of Mexico’s great boxers was not going to present itself to him from the cold side of his pillow. 

“I’m a fighter,” Valdez started thinking, increasingly unfazed as the days went by. 

“I’ve been fighting my whole life in and out of the ring. I’m going to do it one more time.”

“It was time to get back into the ring,” he told himself. “So I got up and I started fighting.”

Valdez returned three months ago to out-point Adam Lopez at the MGM Grand Garden Arena — the same Vegas venue he had lost in more than one year before.

The victory showed to Valdez that boxing is a sport that offers highs and lows in successive nights, for he was happy once again.

“Don’t give up on your dreams,” Valdez told ProBox TV. Things can change overnight, over weeks, or over months, he said. “But they do change.”

On Saturday, at the Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Valdez challenges Emanuel Navarrete for his WBO junior lightweight championship. It is the biggest test of Valdez’s post-Stevenson career. 

“This fight means the world to me,” Valdez said earlier this week. “The loss to Shakur sparked something different in me. It woke something up.”

Valdez missed the sport, he said, and missed being a world champion in the year he spent away from the ring. 

It’s something he can recover Saturday should he slay Navarrete in this world title fight.

“I want to win,” he said. “I am ready.”

Valdez’s world title fight with Navarrete airs Saturday from 5 p.m. PT on ESPN.