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Valdez to defend featherweight title vs. Sanchez

Featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez will make his sixth defense on June 8 — just not against the opponent originally anticipated.

Valdez will defend his 126-pound belt against Jason Sanchez in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on June 8 (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 10 p.m. ET, with preliminaries streaming on ESPN+ beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET), at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada.

Initially, Valdez was supposed to face 24-year-old Erick Ituarte (21-1-1, 3 KOs), who has won 14 fights in a row. However, the WBO declined to sanction the bout for its title because Ituarte, from Santa Ana, California, is not in its featherweight rankings.

So Top Rank made the switch to Sanchez (14-0, 7 KOs), 24, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who made his debut with Top Rank on Feb. 2 and knocked out Daniel Olea in the second round.

“Jason Sanchez is the real ‘Cinderella Man,'” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “He is young, hungry and capable of pulling off a major upset. It should be an exciting battle.”

Sanchez will be a major underdog — as Ituarte would have been — as he steps up to face his first big-time opponent in Valdez. Valdez is in his second training camp with Eddy Reynoso, who is best known as the head trainer for unified middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez.

“I’m excited to be back in the ring for the sixth defense of my world title. I know there is a big target on my back because I’m the champion, but nobody is going to take this title away from me,” Valdez said. “Training with Eddy, I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I felt great in the ring during my first fight with Eddy in my corner. I know that I will look even better this time out. The fans in Reno and watching on ESPN and ESPN Deportes can expect a great showing from me on June 8.”

A win could pave the way for a fight later this year between Valdez and former two-division titlist Carl Frampton, who recently signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank.

In his first fight with Reynoso in his corner and his first since suffering a badly broken jaw in a decision win over former world titlist Scott Quigg in March 2018, Valdez (25-0, 20 KOs), 28, a two-time Olympian from Mexico, knocked out then-unbeaten Carmine Tommasone in the seventh round of the same card on which Sanchez stopped Olea in Frisco, Texas.

Sanchez was very excited to get a most unexpected shot at a world title and could become the fifth fighter from New Mexico to win a world title, joining Hall of Famers Bob Foster and Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero and Austin Trout.

“I am truly honored and blessed to have an opportunity like this,” Sanchez said. “Coming from Albuquerque, New Mexico, I knew I had to work extra hard to be noticed and to get where I’m at right now. I will be bringing this belt home to Albuquerque, to my family, my supporters, and most of all, my late brother Alan Sanchez. I believe he guided me down this road and that my journey is only beginning.”

Top Rank also announced that light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera will face Michael Seals in the scheduled 10-round co-feature.

Barrera (22-2, 14 KOs), 37, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, has lost only to now-retired former unified light heavyweight titlist Andre Ward by decision in a non-title bout in 2016 and a 12th-round knockout challenging world titleholder Dmitry Bivol in March 2018. Barrera rebounded with a lopsided decision win over Seanie Monaghan in November.

“I am very excited to have signed with Top Rank, a world-class organization with the best light heavyweights in the world,” Barrera said. “I am excited about the future, but the first step is to handle business June 8 and then I can look forward to a shot at a world title. My ultimate goal is [a fight with titlist] Sergey Kovalev. I’ve been chasing him my whole career. Hopefully, we can finally fight this year.”

Top Rank is very deep in the light heavyweight division as it promotes or co-promotes world champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk, titleholders Kovalev and Artur Beterbiev, former titlist Eleider Alvarez and Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, a super middleweight titlist who recently moved up in weight.

The 36-year-old Seals (22-2, 16 KOs), a native of Mobile, Alabama, and a former linebacker for Alabama A&M University, has won two fights in a row since getting disqualified in the second round last May for hitting Michael Gbenga when he was down. But Seals is best known for his wild three-round shootout with Edwin Rodriguez, who won their 2015 fight of the year candidate.

“This means everything to me. I had a great opportunity with Edwin Rodriguez, but I went into that fight with a torn rotator cuff,” Seals said. “I was basically fighting with just my right hand. Now, I am 100 percent healthy. This is my time. Barrera had his time. I feel good. I feel sharp. I feel young. I have sacrificed so much and have had a lot of time to reflect on the decisions I’ve made and all of the hardships I’ve gone through.

“On June 8, I’m going to unleash all of my frustration on Barrera. I don’t want to take anything away from Barrera. He’s a world-class fighter, but I am as well.”

The card will also feature lightweight prospect Gabriel Flores Jr. (13-0, 6 KOs), 19, whose opponent has yet to be announced. Flores is coming off a one-punch, third-round knockout of Eduardo Pereira Reis before more than 10,000 fans in Flores’ hometown of Stockton, California, on May 4 on the ESPN-televised undercard of Beterbiev’s defense against Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic.

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