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Making Berchelt the favorite was logical, but perhaps a bit narrow-minded. Had they forgotten who Berchelt fighting?

Two days before the fight, 18 of 19 experts picked super featherweight champion Miguel Berchelt to win. He was too big, they said. Too powerful. And, more importantly, he’d looked super while starching five straight fighters.

His opponent, Oscar Valdez, had hardly looked sharp in his last few fights. His defense was iffy at best. He honestly looked lost between two styles. Was he a slugger boxer, or boxer slugger? He fought like he wasn’t sure. He had struggled mightily against Adam Lopez, touching the canvas, before winning by controversial stoppage.

He was aware that most figured he’d lose. He was OK with that, he said. More motivation, he added.

Making Berchelt the favorite was logical, but perhaps a bit narrow-minded. Had they forgotten who Berchelt fighting?

Valdez was undefeated and a world champion He had engaged in 28 fights, winning 22 of them by knockout. Three years ago, Valdez fought and won with a broken jaw. The break came early in the fight. Valdez ignored it. Paid no mind to the blood in his corner. After the fight, he laughed and celebrated.

Not seeing the possible outcomes in sports is common. We writers and fans get too caught up in the now. A couple of historical upsets come to mind.

In 1964, hours before the opening bell, Sonny Liston was a seven-to-one favorite over Cassius Clay.

When forty-six experts were asked who would win the fight, forty-three picked Liston.

Clay’s style was underrated at the time. Oh, he was fast they said, but he didn’t hit very hard, or take a punch. Legendary columnist Jimmy Cannon said this about Clay a few days before the match.

“Clay doesn’t fight like the valid heavyweight he is. He seldom sets and misses a lot. In a way, Clay is a freak. He is a bantamweight who weighs more than 200 pounds.”

Huge underdog Clay won by stoppage after six rounds.

Ten years later, the former Cassius Clay, now Muhammad Ali, did it again. He was fighting the invincible, like Liston before him, George Foreman.

A few weeks before the bout took place, ABC sports broadcaster Howard Cosell spoke of the match in hushed tones, suggesting Ali was engaging in his “Last Supper.” “The time may have come to say goodbye to Muhammad Ali, because very honestly, I don’t think he can beat George Foreman.” said Cosell a few weeks before the fight took place.

Ali, seated near Cosell during the broadcast, shook his head and muttered, “You’re crazy.”

The New York Times agreed with Cosell. “Ali will be out in the first round,” they wrote. “George could hurt him badly,” said the great novelist Budd Schulberg.

Foreman was brimming with confidence – just like Berchelt was a few hours before he fought Valdez. Asked how he felt then, Berchelt said, “Look at my face. I’m smiling.”

I remember thinking he looked too confident. Seconds before the bell to start the fight, Valdez stood in his corner staring at Berchelt. The determination was obvious. I muttered, “Valdez is going to win.”

And boy, did he.

The fight began slowly. Respect. Valdez was moving and punching. He likely banked the opening stanza. As advertised, Valdez was the smaller man by far, but much quicker. His jab was on point. Had he found his style? That jab caused blood to leak from Berchelt’s nose.

Berchelt landed a right in round three. Valdez snapped his head back with more jabs. He also landed a sweet left hook. Berchelt was stalking, but not rocking. He had said he’d knock out Berchelt. Instead, in round four, he was the one who was almost unconscious. A counter left hook wobbled him. Valdez opened up, sending Berchelt to the ropes – an automatic knockdown.

In round five, Valdez went right back to work. He landed another left to the head. Berchelt looked weak. Valdez connected with a hard right. Berchelt was still hurt, but hung on. He finally landed a right to Valdez’ ear. Berchelt looked fully recovered in round six. He went to the body. Valdez connected with a left. Both landed hard punches. Valdez switched to southpaw.

Valdez went back to jabbing in round seven. He was fighting the perfect fight. Berchelt chased Valdez – landing a right. Valdez fought back with hooks that landed. In the next heat, he connected with a beauty of a one-two.

His jab was on point again. In a move that foreshadowed the end, Berchelt ran into a punch.

Berchelt was told he was likely behind on the scorecards. Valdez continued to get off first in round nine. A three-punch combination put Berchelt on the seat of his pants. Valdez kept his cool. The assassin-in-waiting. Berchelt made it to hear the bell. Valdez went back to the stick in round 10. Berchelt’s face swelled, his legs wobbled. Valdez landed a long right. The end was near.

Near the end of the round, as Berchelt chased after him again, Valdez exploded with a left hook that landed on Berchelt’s chin. The now ex-champion folded up and collapsed to the canvas.

The fight was emphatically over.

“There’s nothing better in life than proving people wrong.” said Valdez. “Don’t let anybody tell you can’t do anything.”

You said it, Oscar.

Source: John J. Raspanti

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