LAS VEGAS — Since he was a young boy, Oscar Valdez dreamed of being like his heroes Erik Morales, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and Jose Luis Castillo and winning a world title.
Dreams do come true.
Valdez turned in a sensational performance as he knocked out Matias Adrian Rueda in the second round of an overwhelming performance to win a vacant featherweight world title Saturday night on the Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol undercard at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“This was my dream since I was 8 years old,” Valdez said, holding back tears. “It is the dream we shared, me and my father. I just work hard in the gym. We got to accomplish our dream. Now I want to fight the best. Whoever it is, let’s do it.”
Valdez won the 126-pound world title vacated last month by Vasyl Lomachenko after he moved up in weight and won a junior lightweight title. And Valdez did it in explosive fashion.
He repeatedly rocked Rueda in the first round with left hooks to the head and then destroyed him in the second round.
Valdez (20-0, 18 KOs), 25, Mexico’s only two-time Olympic boxer (2008 and 2012), began the round by rocking Rueda with a right hand to the head. Then he landed a left hook to the body that forced Rueda to take a knee.
Rueda (26-1, 23 KOs), 28, of Argentina, beat the count, but it was only a matter of time. Valdez went on the immediate attack and lashed him with punches. He put together a five-punch combination, four clean head shots followed by another powerful left hook to the body that dropped him again. As soon as Rueda went down referee Russell Mora waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 18 seconds.
“He caught me with a real good body shot and that was it,” Rueda said through an interpreter. “I could never recover. He really hurt me with that [first] body shot.”
Although Valdez was born in Mexico and still lives there, he spent most of his childhood living in Tucson, Arizona, where he went to school. A delegation of city officials were in Las Vegas for the fight to meet with Top Rank promoter Bob Arum about scheduling Valdez’s first defense in the city on Nov. 26 pending a victory.
Benavidez outpoints Santana
Welterweight Jose Benavidez Jr. (25-0, 16 KOs) has been seen by some as a disappointment because of injuries and weight problems when he was at junior welterweight, but the former interim titleholder turned in a good performance in a hard-fought unanimous decision win against Francisco “Chia” Santana (24-5-1, 12 KOs).
It appeared to be a very competitive fight, but the judges did not all see it that way. Judge Adalaide Byrd incredibly scored it 100-90 while the other two judges had it 98-92 and 96-94. ESPN.com had Benavidez winning 96-94.
“I want Jessie Vargas next,” Benavidez said of the world titleholder. “I had the harder, cleaner punches. I was in full control of the fight, but he was a lot tougher than I thought. He took a lot of punches.”
Benavidez, 24, of Phoenix, was much faster, but he spent a lot of time on the ropes, where he seemed to feel comfortable, but it also allowed Santana to charge right at him. He hurt Santana, 30, of Santa Barbara, California, with a left hook and marked up his face in the first round and had a huge second round, but Santana never stopped bulling ahead as he made Benavidez work hard round after round.
“I think I won the fight,” Santana said. “I threw more punches, I connected more punches. I did everything possible to win. He never hurt me.”
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Santana landed 244 of 862 punches (28 percent), and Benavidez landed 280 of 643 (44 percent).
Blue chip light heavyweight prospect Oleksandr Gvozdyk (11-0, 11 KOs), a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist from Ukraine, knocked out two-time world title challenger Tommy Karpency (26-6-1, 15 KOs) with a body shot in the sixth round in the opening fight of the HBO PPV telecast.
“The straight right to the body was a hard punch. It went deep. It felt right,” Gvozdyk said of the finishing punch.
Karpency, a 30-year-old southpaw from Adah, Pennsylvania, pulled a surprise in the opening round when he nailed Gvozdyk, 29, with a clean right hand he did not see and dropped him with 70 seconds left. Gvozdyk was hurt by the shot but cleared his head and finished the round without any issues.
“We got caught in the first round. It’s all part of boxing,” Robert Garcia, Gvozdyk’s trainer, said. “He was able to recover.”
Gvozdyk took control against the slower Karpency and opened a gash on the bridge of his nose in the fifth round. In the sixth round, Gvozdyk damaged his eye and then followed with a right hand to the body that dropped him to a knee, where he took the full count from referee Kenny Bayless at 2 minutes, 21 seconds.
“He’s a very good fighter. He will be a world champion,” said Karpency, who got knocked out in the third round by world champion Adonis Stevenson in September and lost a 2012 title fight by decision to then-titleholder Nathan Cleverly.
The fight was added to the card on short notice when super middleweight titlist Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez pulled out a title defense against Dominik Britsch after tearing a tendon in his knuckle during a sparring session.
Middleweight Ryota Murata (11-0, 8 KOs), 30, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist from Japan, destroyed “Comanche Boy” George Tahdooahnippah (34-3-3, 24 KOs), 37, of Lawton, Oklahoma, in the first round. Murat knocked him down in the opening seconds with a body shot and he never recovered. Murata was all over Tahdooahnippah, blasting away with a series of powerful right hands when referee Benjy Esteves Jr. waved it off at 1 minute, 52 seconds.
“I worked on better balance to develop more power and it worked tonight,” Murata said. “I felt strong in the ring. I would like to fight [titleholder Billy Joe] Saunders for the world title.”
Australian welterweight Lenny Zappavigna (35-2, 25 KOs) knocked out China’s IK Yang (19-2, 14 KOs) in the sixth round of a mild upset. Zappavigna, 28, was winning by a shutout on all three official scorecards going into the sixth round when he badly hurt Yang, 31, with a pair of right hands that drove him into the ropes. Zappavigna continued to pound him until referee Vic Drakulich stepped in and called off the fight 43 seconds into the round.
The fight was supposed be a junior welterweight world title elimination bout with the winner moving a step closer to a shot against Russian titleholder Eduard Troyanovsky. However, the fight was downgraded Thursday to a 10-rounder without title implications because Yang was not going to be able to make 140 pounds at Friday’s weigh-in. Instead the contract was changed to 144 pounds.
Detroit welterweight Edward Williams (12-1-1, 3 KOs), 32, won a unanimous decision against Christon Edwards (6-2, 3 KOs), 23, of Houston, in a hard-fought battle, winning 59-55, 59-55 and 58-56.
Middleweight Stanyslav Skorokhod (11-1, 8 KOs), 27, of Ukraine, won a lopsided decision against Hakim Bryant (6-1, 4 KOs), 26, of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Skorokhod, whose lone loss came in the semifinals of ESPN’s 2015 junior middleweight Boxcino tournament, dropped Bryant twice in the first round and won 60-52, 60-52 and 59-53.
Light heavyweight Steve Nelson (3-0, 3 KOs), 28, of Omaha, Nebraska, knocked out Tim Meek (5-3-1, 3 KOs), 28, of Canutillo, Texas, 32 seconds into the fourth round and final round. Nelson dropped Meek late in the first round and dominated until the stoppage.